Walerian Borowczyk on Surrealism
I saw in a basket thousands of live snails. Some, diverging from their number, crept along the edge. Terror staggered me: each was completely indistinguishable from another. William Rowney (1223-1264)
By Walerian Borowczyk
Surrealism is a program of absolute non-conformity, in life and in poetry, that speaks equally to the cinema. I’m all for it.
If I speak of surrealism, or if I intend to speak, I’m not thinking about Art. Art? This is the disciplines, constraints, the models, the artistic talents, psychology, theories, the schools. Art, that’s “the artistes”. Only creators are free.
In the domain of creation, all that exists without subscribing to a school always risks being dismissed as worthless.
It is not a genuinely surrealist film that’s determined by its script, the cinematic blueprint. That would require that a filmmaker could give birth to the camera, to the film and to the projector, so that the film would be the direct communication from his mind to that of another. For this diffusion of dreams not to bore, the sender would have to be unalike to the receiver.
One is unable to accurately reproduce one’s dreams from memory. Dissembling and rationalisation of their constituent parts is therefore inevitable. The definitive form of a work depends on the extent and control of this operation.
Inevitably, we arrive at the point at which we’re unable to avoid the application of aesthetic criteria.
In relation to sleep. I have invented and realised some of my films during the slumber of my producers and collaborators.
My criteria for evaluating a work of art, whether surrealist or marginal to that project, is the proportion of interest and tedium found within it.
A masterpiece is never tedious. What’s more, its interest is more durable than fashion.
I prefer those works which are the proof of an instinctive imagination, but not affectation or plagiarism. I admire humour, but never when its gratuitous or facile. I applaud rebellion, but not when its opposed to life.
In Dom, I gave a glass of milk to an orange, because it needed to quench its thirst.
I never work with recourse to the state of psychic automatism. But that’s not to say I’m incapable of employing a “modest apparatus of self-interrogation”.
The traditions of surrealism in past eras, heralded only now – the whole of that same involuntary surrealism – demonstrate that it is the beholder who is the source of surrealism. It is the virtue of these contemporary prospectors to be the creators of surrealism. The same subjectivity has allowed for the inventory of a number of passing impressions of involuntarily surrealist films. Rarely have these films been distinguished by their merits.
If we consider the cinematic apparatus, its luminous singularity, as a manifestation of surrealism, its not important what film is being projected to a surrealist.
The fact that cinema possesses the appropriate potential doesn’t constitute sufficient reason to really think that it is automatically predisposed to a place in the landscape of surrealist expression.
Extracts of a film, successive frames of a particular sequence – this tendency among surrealists – are like a film the complete print of which doesn’t exist. All film is a strip of celluloid, with images placed in the emulsion upon the surface of its length. Its not impossible to perceive, within a film, images that are good for their precision. Take your choice. That culminates in one composing anthologies.
“Nothing of nine!” exclaimed a woman after watching Renaissance. “Progress in reverse! Its taken 40 years for film to turn-about and go backwards!” And in 50 years, how many films have gone forwards? Nowadays, moreover, we exaggerate more and more (to the point of ridicule) form and technique. Neither one, nor the other possesses in other respects the primacy in film. It isn’t possible for any film to unspool in reverse. Film and action are shown today in fast forward (excluding projectionist error). The method of shooting (the means with which the author obtains the desired distortion) is of no importance. That’s a curiosity, merely a footnote.
I call for “Goyaesque scenes”, because they’ll provoke debate on scenes of war. Otherwise: “a film is surrealist because a gentleman walks upon the ceiling of a room”. The majority of film critics are the captives of a literary vision. They do not trouble with how, why; in what manner; for whom, is sufficient. It is not their duty to make a statement.
Translated by Jim Knox from the French. Originally published in Etudes Cinematographiques # 41/42 (1965) “Surrealisme et Cinema”; Yves Kovacs, editor.