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Mr Bongo and the works of Wojciech Has

This month saw the Blu-Ray release of Wojciech Has' 'The Saragossa Manuscript' and 'The Hourglass Sanatorium’. Mr Bongo fans may have noted that we originally released these two classic, psychedelic Polish cinema titles as DVDs back in 2007. We felt the time was right for these films to be seen in Blu-Ray too, and are delighted to see people receiving them so warmly.

The story of Mr Bongo’s relationship with the films of Wojciech Has goes back to when David Bongo was living in Brazil. Mr Bongo had just released the revolutionary classic ‘Soy Cuba’ and was enjoying considerable success with that title. It was the first of our world cinema releases on the label and set David off on a mission to increase the catalogue we could to offer movie fans. He searched in Brazil and found some incredible titles (such as Glauber Rocha's Trilogy & the Surf movie 'Rio Breaks'), but it was on a trip back to London that the connection with Wojciech Has began...

"Whilst looking for unreleased classics I wandered into an independent DVD shop in Notting Hill Gate. I struck up a conversation with the guy behind the counter, and it was in that conversation that he told me about 'The Saragossa Manuscript’. I had never heard of it before, but I bought a copy and loved it. The copy I had was the restoration that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Copola had funded. I had already worked with Scorsese on ’Soy Cuba’ so I contacted him about getting involved. They put me on to the original rights holders and we discussed opportunities. The films of Has are tricky to get hold of as they were originally released in the 60's during the Communist Poland era. There was only one film company at the time and they owned the rights - Filmowe / KADR. I manage to secure a license for the films through their sales agent in France. They sent a copy of the 35mm print from Filmowe and we planned our release. To launch ’Saragossa Manuscript’ with the fanfare it deserved we collaborated with the BFI for a one-off spectacular screening.

We had a live performance of the film’s score, and this was performed by ’The Recording Angel Ensemble’. The instrumentation was incredible and included 2 Edison phonographs inc. 6 ft Brass Concert Horn playing wax cylinders (own recordings) / 2 Horn Gramophones & assorted wind-up portables playing shellac & self-recorded acetate discs / Turntables playing vinyl & self-recorded acetate discs / Live electronics, laptop, synthesiser, loudspeakers / Stroh stringed instruments (historic horned mechanical-acoustic instruments from the early 1900s) forming a string trio & a string quartet (with the inclusion of A. Kolkowski on Stroh violin) / Human Voice / Spanish Guitar.

Quite an ensemble! It was pulled together by Merek and was both a hugely expansive and expensive production. The original score is famous in its own right, but this was our take on it.

 The BFI recently ran another screening of 'The Saragossa Manuscript' as part of Martin Scorsese's presentation of masterpieces of Polish Cinema. I hope plenty of you guys got to see it on the big screen.

After the BFI event we released 'The Saragossa Manuscript' DVD on. This was in 2007. It did so well that we wanted a Wojciech Has follow-up. By far the most popular title with the team here was ‘The Hourglass Sanatorium’, so that was selected as the second Has title for us to release.

Now in 2015 we decided to release on Blu-Ray too. These films deserved that treatment as not only are they classics, but they also so visually amazing and suit the format."

Both 'The Saragossa Manuscript' and 'The Hourglass Sanatorium' are available on Blu-Ray from Mr Bongo now.