‘Beauty and The What?!!!”

The Beast: available from Arrow Films

A few days ago someone asked me if I was “alright” or if anything was wrong. “No, everything’s fine.” I replied. “Why do you ask?” 
“It’s just I’ve noticed you’ve not been on facebook much and wondered if you were down or had maybe simply retreated from the world?” they said, basically implying that not constantly posting on social media meant that I had turned into Howard Hughes and was now pissing into milk bottles. When we’ve reached a stage in society that people thinking NOT being constantly online is a sign of poor mental health then the world has come to the point where I completely don’t understand it and I might as well change my name to Winston immediately and strap the rat to my face myself. The reason I hadn’t been online much was more prosaic: I wanted to unhook myself from the matrix, to only think about things that were purely part of my immediate reality and not get sidelined by the countless pieces of social media trivia and online fluff that make us irate, angry, incensed, deluded, proud, justified and so on.

It was time to simplify.

So I decided to get out of Memesville and go all Amish on your asses. I would connect only with direct reality. Be in the immediate present. I would gaze at the stars through the trees whilst the Moon overhead waxes like a Victorian military moustache. I would be a latter day Henry David Thoreau and the south side of Glasgow my Walden. And I decided to start off by doing what anyone would do if they wanted to connect more with immediate reality — watch the collected works of Polish/French animator and filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk, starting with his 1975 film ‘The Beast’.

Borowczyk started in animation (his incredible animated shorts from the 1960s show exactly the influence he had on Gilliam’s Python work) before moving into live action filmmaking, mostly with a predilection for mediaeval period settings portrayed with an unconventional slant. However, with Borowczyk there is a heavy emphasis on sex and this is nowhere more apparent than in ‘The Beast’, where a young American woman arrives at a crumbling French chateaux to be wedded to the estate’s son thus saving the family from financial ruin. However, the family and the estate have a dark secret. Ostensibly it’s a variation on Beauty and the Beast but it’s just a tad different from the Disney version.

To say ‘The Beast’ is sexually provocative would be a massive understatement as the very opening scene is one of the most hard-core sequences I have seen in a “mainstream” movie, as two horses are seen being studded and nothing is left to the imagination. And when I say nothing I mean it. For example, I had NO idea horse vaginas did that! On one level it’s the kind of scene that if it had a narration by David Attenborough over the top then it could possibly be shown on BBC 1 on a Sunday evening, but with the incredibly intense sound design of the clattering hoofs on stone and the whinnying of equines in heat the film hits you in the face like, well… like an erect three-foot horse schlong. It’s quite an opening. Literally. But that’s just the start, with the most outrageous sequence being a flashback to the 17th Century and the estate’s Countessa having the initial “encounter” with the beast… whilst Scarlatti plays full blast on the harpsichord. I won’t go into any more plot details because I don’t want to spoil anything, including anyone’s appetite reading this, but let’s just say Borowczyk does for a certain bodily fluid what early Sam Rami and Peter Jackson movies did for blood. It’s that ridiculous. And unapologetic. Unlike other films with pretty strong sexual content, such as Pasolini’s ‘Salo’ or Robbe Grille’s ‘Eden and After’, ‘The Beast’ is deliberately designed to titillate and arouse. The nudity and sex are not acting as subtext or metaphor for other ideas or concepts. It’s not about the horrors of capitalism, the degradation of culture or using tits to represent differential calculus (boobs, like mathematical equations, do function in “pairs” or “sets” after all). ‘The Beast’ is all about sex and in Borowczyk’s world sex means sex, no hidden meaning. It’s easy to turn other objects into a metaphor for an erect penis, but it’s almost impossible to turn an erect penis into a metaphor for anything else. A hard-on pretty much is what it is. It’s there and that’s that. No room for interpretation. Nature’s exclamation point.

However, ‘The Beast’ works and as more than just highbrow porn. It’s not just designed to arouse but also to make you laugh, think and sometimes just be downright appalled. It’s also beautifully shot. Being an animator, Borowczyk’s eye for framing and composition is extraordinary, especially the 17th Century sequences. At times it’s almost like watching Barry Lyndon except half-way through shooting Kubrick said “Fuck Thackeray! Let’s get a monster with a giant spurting cock on screen instead. And… action!”

‘The Beast’ is a ridiculously provocative film but that, along with its impressive execution and some fine gags, is inherently part of its charm. And if that in any way appeals to you then do check it out. Personally, I love it. However, if semen and Scarlatti are not your thing then you might want to give this a miss and stick to the Disney version instead.

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