If Daniel Bird’s name isn’t familiar to you, then you likely don’t know much about cult cinema, particularly of the Eastern European persuasion. This British-born cinephile has spent much of the last years living in Poland and he’s one of the world’s foremost experts on Polish expat directors like Walerian Borowczyk and Andrzej Zuławski. He wrote a book on Roman Polanski, has written for the illustrious Eyeball, and is all over plenty of DVD/Blu-ray special features, including Arrow’s Borowczyk box set, which he helped produce. Bird also recently curated the Borowczyk retrospective at the Lincoln Center this April, which is where I had the pleasure to meet him. He let me pick his brain for a bit about Borowczyk's fantastic work.
Satanic Pandemonium: What first drew you to Borowczyk? Not simply the first film you saw, but what about his directing style attracted you?
Daniel Bird: The way he conjures up atmosphere. Watching his films is like visiting new worlds.
SP: You’ve written/spoken about how you managed to track down Zuławski for an interview. What was it like trying to get ahold of Borowczyk?
DB: I took the plane to Warsaw, visited 61 Pulawska Street, where all the former Communist film studios are situated, entered the office of TOR, which produced Story of Sin, and asked for Borowczyk's number. Amazingly, they gave it to me. I immediately called him on a pay phone – this was 1997. I can't say he was thrilled.
SP: Do you have a favorite film of his?
DB: Story of Sin if I am in a good mood, Angels' Games if I am in a bad one.
SP: How did the Arrow project get started? Why were those films in particular included in the set?
DB: Ligia Borowczyk had the rights to nine shorts and two features. However, she did not have materials. I had approached a number of distributors over the years with the idea of distributing Ligia's titles but without success. In 2012 Francesco Simeoni contacted me about producing extras for some titles. I mentioned these Borowczyk titles to him, and he said that he was about to relaunch the Arrow Academy brand, and that this might be the project to announce what the new Arrow Academy was all about. These titles were then combined with those produced by Argos Films, which conveniently covered all of Borowczyk's work, excluding his work in Poland.
SP: Out of his remaining films, is there one in particular that you would really love to see get a special edition release?
DB: I would like to see Story of Sin and the Polish shorts released, as well as La Marge.
SP: I have something of a fascination for male directors' and their relationship with their muses/wives, so I was wondering if you could say anything about Ligia Branice? She seems to be Borowczyk's muse early on, but her appearances in his films trickles off, though I believe they remained married until his death.
DB: Ligia was Borowczyk's wife, muse and collaborator. She was born in Krasnystaw, a town in Eastern Poland, not far from the Ukrainian border. Ligia comes from a noble family. After the War, she moved to Krakow with her mother. They met in Krakow, when Borowczyk was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts and Ligia was still at school. During the mid 1950s they moved to Warsaw, where Borowczyk designed posters and Ligia studied acting. Ligia, of course, appeared in many of Borowczyk's early short films – Dom, Les Astronautes, Rosalie, etc. She also produced the drawings which form the basis of Le dictionnaire du Joachim. Ligia plays a key role in Goto, and Borowczyk conceived of Blanche as a film for her. Originally, she was supposed to play Ewa Pobratynska, the heroine of Story of Sin. However, the character in the book is around twenty, and Ligia was over forty, so she ultimately declined the role. Of course, this genre, if it can be called that, has trouble accommodating middle aged women. That said, Ligia's final film, Interno di un convento (Behind Convent Walls), is one hell of a swan song.
If you want to be a fraction of the Borowczyk and European cinema scholar Daniel is, check out the following:
An interview with Spectacular Optical on Borowczyk
A great interview with Moon in the Gutter on a number of topics
Slant Magazine’s article on Bird’s short Borowczyk documentaries
His essay on Goto, the Island of Love for Vertigo
Snippets from Borowczyk’s archive on Bird’s blog