Cartoonist, surrealist, artist, animator, screenwriter, television director, actor, prose writer, playwright
French illustrator, painter, writer, filmmaker and actor, known for the surreal nature of his work. He was of Polish-Jewish origin and spent the early years of his life in Savoy where his family hid him from the Nazi peril.
Roland Topor wrote the novel The Tenant (Le Locataire chimérique, 1964), which was adapted to film by Roman Polanski in 1976. The Tenant is the story of a Parisian of Polish descent, a chilling exploration of alienation and identity, asking disturbing questions about how we define ourselves. The later novel Joko’s Anniversary (1969), another fable about loss of identity, is a vicious satire on social conformity.
In 1965 David De Silva (Becca Productions Ltd) bought the film rights to “The Tenant” for $15,000 and sent the novel to Roman Polanski in the hope that he would consider directing it. De Silva made the mistake of phoning Polanski from New York around 7PM which would be just about midnight London time. He received Polanski’s response to the project in a letter dated May 4, 1966. Subsequently, De Silva sold the rights to Universal Pictures because Edward Albee wanted to adapt it as his first screenplay under a three picture deal with Universal but the deal never materialized. Polanski adapted the film 10 years later in 1976. De Silva believes Polanski never read the novel 10 years before. He says, “When the timing is right the timing is right”.
A new presentation of The Tenant by Roland Topor was released in October 2006. The book has Topor’s original novel, a new introduction by Thomas Ligotti, a selection of short stories by Topor, a representation of Topor’s artwork and an essay on the famous Roman Polanski film version. There is a working possibility of having Mr. Polanski write a new foreword to this edition.
Thomas Ligotti’s introduction clocks in at 3500 words and concerns the affirmative themes of world-renowned authors, focusing on Luigi Pirandello, with the negationist themes of Roland Topor’s The Tenant.
Roland Topor wrote two songs for Megumi Satsu, “Je m’aime” and “Monte dans mon Ambulance
With René Laloux, Topor made “The Dead Times” (Les Temps morts, 1964), “The Snails” (Les Escargots, 1965) and their most famous work, the feature length La Planète sauvage (1973).
Topor also worked as an actor, his most famous part being Renfield in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979). In the same year, he also performed the surrealistic paralyzed boss in the movie Ratataplan by Maurizio Nichetti.
Topor published several books of drawings, including Dessins panique (1965) Quatre roses pour Lucienne (1967) and Toporland (1975). Selections from Quatre roses pour Lucienne were reprinted in the English language collection Stories and Drawings (1967). His carefully detailed, realistic style, with elaborate crosshatching, emphasises the fantastic and macabre subject matter of the images.
1962 – Creates the Panic Movement (mouvement panique), together with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fernando Arrabal.
1961 to 1965 – Contributes to French satirical magazine Hara-Kiri.
1965 – Creates, with partner René Laloux, the animated short film “Les Escargots.” The movie won Special Jury Prize at the Cracow Film Festival.
1966 – Illustrates Daniel Spoerri’s An Anecdoted Topography of Chance (Re-Anecdoted Version) published by the Something Else Press.
1971 – Creates the drawings for the bizarre introduction of Fernando Arrabal’s film Viva la muerte.
1973 – Topor designs and René Laloux directs La Planète sauvage, a 72-minute long animated film, based on a novel by Stefan Wul.
1974 – Topor has a cameo in Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie.
1976 – Roman Polanski directs a movie version of Topor’s book The Tenant.
1979 – Plays the role of Renfield in Werner Herzog’s movie Nosferatu the Vampyre.
1983 – Creates with Henri Xhonneux the popular French TV series Téléchat, a parody of news broadcasts featuring puppets of a cat and an ostrich.
1989 – With Henri Xhonneux co-writes the screenplay for the film Marquis, loosely based on the life and writings of Marquis de Sade. The cast consisted of actors in period costumes with animal masks, with a separate puppet for de Sade’s anthropomorphised “bodily appendage”.
2011 – The Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne mounted a survey exhibition of 22 promotional posters designed by Roland Topor.