Roland Topor

1938 - 1997

Born in Paris (FR), died in Paris (FR).

Polish-Jewish writer, filmmaker and scandal artist Roland Topor grew up in Paris during the Second World War after his parents fled from Warsaw. Under the Vichy regime his father was arrested in France and taken to a deportation camp that would lead him to Auschwitz, but he managed to escape and live in hiding south of Paris for months. For fear of being betrayed his mother fled with 4-year-old Roland and his sister to the Savoy, where they lived in hiding until after the war. Roland Topor was registered as a Catholic schoolboy under an assumed name. In 1955 as an adolescent he joined the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and steadily started his artistic career as a writer and illustrator. In post-war Paris he gained fame with his surreal cartoons and pen drawings, his unruly humour, his grim depiction of reality and his excessive drinking.

Topor originally made ‘acceptable’ illustrations for Elle and the satirical magazine Hara-Kiri. He was also co-founder of the artistic movement (or anti-movement) Groupe Panique, but the fiction he gradually produced as a 'devil artist' was described as a form of post-surrealist 'horror' that transcends social boundaries beyond measure. He depicted a carnivalesque world full of bizarre situations in which the hidden human reality is revealed through (to use Topor's words): “le sang, la merde et le sexe" (blood, shit and sex). In between he also wrote music in which he explains dreams with a surrealist slant. “If you dream of a pig, it probably means that you will be eating charcuterie the next day.”.

Just as sensational as his scabrous phallic drawings or challenging book titles (Het mooiste stel tieten ter wereld) (The most beautiful pair of tits in the world) are the macabre short stories he sends into the world. With De klas in de afgrond (The class in the abyss) he shows  a school bus that has fallen into a ravine. The teacher refuses to be discouraged by the many dead and maimed among his pupils and takes the opportunity to start a class discussion. “Look at my fingers. I have five: this is the index finger, this is the middle finger, the ring finger, the little finger and that is the thumb. Who only has four? A little boy with a bloody face raises his right hand with the help of the left, because the first has been cut off. ‘Me,’ he says.”

In 1964 he published the novel Le Locataire chimérique (The Tenant) that was filmed by Roman Polanski in 1976. The tenant in question is a polite young man who hates nothing more than trouble. He tries desperately not to offend anyone but Topor steadily casts his main character into an inescapable hell of panic and persecutory delusions while the author laughs with palpable pleasure at his panic. A a director for film and theatre he also produced absurd stories full of macabre irony, scatology and cruelty. When his insane play Joko fête son anniversaire (Joko’sAnniversary) was performed in Brussels in 1972 a critic wrote plainly that “in some countries the author would be shot”.


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