Monthly recap: What have I been watching in August?

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western, which features in 22nd place on IMDB's top 250. Contines the filmmaking tradition of the 'Dollars trilogy', but with a bigger budget due to the success of aforementioned films. The opening scene is stunning to look at (see screenshots above)
A very good western, but I had a few issues. There were scenes when I felt the director was showing off his sets rather than getting on with the story.
Slower than The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), and with fewer memorable scenes. Lacked the urgency, and character motivation of that 1966 classic.
The score was amazing and so was the cinematography. I have to admit it was the harmonica character (Charles Bronson) that maintained my interest, and took over the 'man with no name' role Clint Eastwood had carried. I would have preferred to have seen Once Upon a Time in the West on the big screen. I like it more for the technical achievements, than from a storytelling standpoint.
The director Sergio Leone commissioned Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento—both of whom were film critics before becoming directors—to help him develop the film in late 1966. The men spent much of the following year watching and discussing numerous classic Westerns such as High Noon, The Iron Horse, The Comancheros, and The Searchers at Leone's house, and constructed a story made up almost entirely of "references" to American Westerns.
Minor spoiler: Did filmmakers cross the mark by gunning down an innocent boy near the beginning of the film? I thought so.
Favorite quote, Frank: "How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can't even trust his own pants!"
Rating 7.5

A Simple Life (Tao jie) (2011)
Contemporary drama by Hongkong director Ann Hui. A story about an elderly female servant, who has watched over a family for years. Be prepared for a tonal shift, in that the first 45 minutes play out as a drama. From 50 minutes and onwards there are moments of comedy, not laugh out loud jokes, still endearing and warm-hearted scenes that won me over, particularly between the son and the retired housekeeper. A little too overlong and slow for me to really fall in love with this film. At times I was a little bored, looking at my watch. Good, but not great, in my opinion. I wondered if the story could have been told in half the time. I didn't get much out of it, and don't think I was the key audience.
Rating 7.2

Me Myself I (1999)
Comedy/drama about a 30-year-old struggling to settle down. I didn't care much for movie Bridget Jones's Diary, and this is more of the same.
Did not finish

Sans Soleil (Sunless) (1983)
The director Chris Marker died in July 2012, so I decided to check out one of his key accomplishments. Sans Soleil is a unique and overwhelming globetrotting journey, consisting of a continuous, stream of consciousness blend of images and narration. Has aged very well, bearing in mind was made in 1980s.
A personal philosophical cinematic essay about among other things Tokyo, Iceland, Guinea-Bissau and San Francisco. Chris Marker visits the filming locations of Hitchcock's Vertigo, which was interesting for about 5-10 minutes. The animal hunting scenes I could have done without. A fair amount of the complex and poetic voice-over didn't make a lot of sense and went over my head.
According to Tylers review at Southern Vision: "Sans Soleil is apparently acceptable to watch without sound and with visuals, or without visuals and with sound."
Check this quote out for starters, brilliant, yet very complex:
"I'm writing you this from another world, a world of appearances, in a way the two worlds communicate with each other, memory is to one what history is to another, an impossibility. Legends are born out of the need to decipher the indecipherable. Memories must make do with their delirium, with their drift, a moment stopped would burn like a frame of film blocked before the furnace of the projector. Madness protects, as fever does. I envy him and his zone, he plays with the signs of his memory. He pins them down and decorates them like insects that would have flown beyond time, and which he could contemplate from a point outside time, the only eternity we have left. I look at his machines, I think of a world where each memory could create its own memory."
Rating 7.5

Never Let Me Go (2010)
Beautiful score, cinematography, and performances. I would recommend this more to girls than boys I think.
I liked that there was room for the audience to interpret, if it was a good idea for the youngsters to be told, or not told, about their future. The term 'complete' possibly had connotations to the term 'retire' in Blade Runner. The poetry Kathy reads at the 1 hour 15 min mark reminded me of Laura Marling - Night After Night, and the donation of body parts of 21 Grams (2003).
For me, Never Let Me Go is a story better suited for a book format than a film, the voice-overs were very book-ish. Innocent children being brainwashed is a scary thought. Maybe this knowledge of having a purpose is comforting to some degree?
The theme of Ishiguro's novel - that we all construct delicate fictions to mask the fact we are all going to die in the end, makes the story universal.
Your life is ending, one minute at a time...We may value our freedom even more when we see dystopian examples.
The author said in the making of: "essentially I structured the whole thing as a metaphor for how we face mortality, and the fact that we by our very natures we are we get older and then start to lose control of bits of ourselves, and then we die, we can't get away from that, we can work within that framework, and we can try and make the best of what we have, knowing that (...) and that's why these people don't run away from their fate, there is nowhere to run away to"
Rating 7.4

Carrie (1976)
I can see why some name it a classic. Visually stylish, decent story, but I didn't find it scary at all. I did think it was good for a one time watch. Would appeal more to a teenage female audience I guess.
Rating 7.6

Batman Unmasked - The Psychology of the Dark Knight(2008) (documentary)
Rating 7.8

Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman (2005) (documentary)
Rating 7.0

Camera Buff (1979)
A political spoof on the limits of the artist's role in Communist Poland. The main character seems older than 30?
Worth a look for diehard Kieslowski enthusiasts, or film students. The setting is a bit dated, quite interesting as a historical piece.
The theme of balancing your family life and artistic endeavours is timeless. Arguably the best pre-Decalogue Kieslowski film.
Favorite quote: "If you want something badly, you'll get it"
Rating 7.1

The Meetings of Anna (Les rendez-vous d'Anna) (1978)
French drama by acclaimed female director Chantal Akerman. A chance meeting between a woman and a man in a hotel. He tells her his life story. He clearly needs her more than she needs him. People Anna encounters on her journey want to reach out, yet Anna is pretty distant, not wanting to get deeply involved. The conversations were interesting, and there is a reason for her distance. The mostly unlikeable main character (Anna) and slow pace means The Meetings of Anna is not for everyone. I enjoyed it mainly for the conversations, or in a lot of cases, monologues. For Anna, comes down to a choice between a career and a family.
Another critic notes: The film is a travelogue almost devoid of any sight-seeing features.
Rating 7.4

Phenomena (Creepers) (1985)
Directed by Italian horror master Dario Argento. Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) is capable of communicating with insects on an instinctive level, often while sleepwalking. The premise of a girl arriving in a foreign country to attend a new school is a little overly familiar to Suspiria (1977), but it does have the director's trademark creepy atmosphere, suspense, and pulsating soundtrack. A minor problem I had was that the chance meeting between the insect expert (Donald Pleasence) and the lover of insects (Jennifer Connelly) was too contrived. Seems more Americanized than his early films. I would rank it among Argento's best. For pure escapist fairy tale fantasy, it does the job, and it has aged well too.
Rating 7.7

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
John Carpenter directed action movie. Violent, yet lots of edge-of-your-seat suspense. Considering a budget estimated at $150,000, Assault on Precinct 13 works as an action movie, which is mainly due to the claustrophobic atmosphere achieved by the director. A fairly unknown cast, and the death count is high. The 2005 remake got mixed reviews.
Rating 7.7

Deep Red (1975)
Probably Argento's most intricate script, but I respectfully disagree that it's his horror masterpiece. I don't know if a slow-paced horror film is the right way to go...I admire it, more than love it. Great soundtrack!
Rating 7.5

Inferno (1980)
I agree with reviewer Bonjour Tristesse, that the opening scenes are exceptional and very memorable. The trouble with it being a sequel to Suspiria (1977) is that the villain is not so surprising or shocking anymore. Even so, the visuals and suspense are top-notch. Could put you off buying a cat for good! Excellent sequel, the only problem I had was with the costume of the villain in the final moments, which didn't match the quality of the special effects in the rest of the film.
Rating 7.6

Opera (1987)
I'm not a fan of opera, so that didn't help. I didn't think it was quite as suspenseful as previous Argento horror movies. Not bad. Worth a watch.
Rating 7.3

Modern Times (1936)
Classic Charlie Chaplin. Satire of the machine age. I've read it was the last film in which the beloved tramp would star, a character that first appeared in 1914. Eating corn on the cobb at the automated feeding machine, carrying the roast duck in the crowd, and antics at the factory assembly line, were my favorite moments, and the biggest laughs this month!
Accused of being a communist was an interesting parallel to Chaplin's own life. The roller-skating close to the edge of floor in the store was spectacular, was that really Chaplin, or a stuntman?
Rating 8.0

Under African Skies (2012) (documentary)
About the tension between creative freedom and political responsibility.
The doc is about Paul Simon's acclaimed and popular album Graceland (1986), which grew out of a trip he made to South Africa.
I found the doc entertaining, but overrated, unnecessarily overlong, and quite shallow.
I'm glad Paul Simon shared the royalties with the African musicians, and so he should.
I didn't realize the musicians were banned to play outside South Africa.
Chances are if you know your Paul Simon trivia, this won't offer new revelations. The only reason for watching is a sense of reunion of band members, but I don't see the interest in that. Not recommended. I'm surprised at all the praise being thrown at this new documentary. You're better off just listening to the record, or reading the wikipedia article about the album in my opinion.
Rating 6.2

Damsels in Distress (2011)
I like Whit Stillman dialogue, I find it really unique. If you are into film history, a nice salute with the Max Ophüls and Jean Renoir posters. Despite the script was played for laughs, I found the depiction of college men alarmingly condescending. I mean, come on, nobody goes to college who doesn't know what colour their eyes are? Two guys in the same room are colour blind? Really? It did border on unrealistic at times, even though the boys are perceived through the eyes of the girls.
Gradually began to irritate me how dumbed down the characters were. I wasn't sure what the director was saying about college, was he mocking the students? Or celebrating the time spent there?
I agree with Eric's verdict at The Warning Sign, the opening was promising, but most of movie was all over the place and never really seemed like it knew what to be.
Rating 6.0

I'm Still Here (2010)
A lot of swearing, and the ambiguity was not there, because he has subsequently spoken out, if it was fake or not. Almost unwatchable because Joaquin Phoenix behaves like a jerk.
Did not finish

Le Havre (2011)
Good, but not great. I didn't really find characters interesting enough to care what would happen to them. Heart-warming, yet unremarkable. The simple story seemed more appropriate for a 30 minute short film. A little overrated I think.
Rating 6.8

Warrior (2011)
I'm not the biggest fan of combat movies or boxing, so I went into this with trepidation. The story held my interest throughout, even with a running time of over 2 hours.
I was confused by the rules of the combat, because during one of the early fights, you lose the first round and win the second round, surely that's a draw? Another issue I had was why Brendan's family couldn't afford to live in their house with three jobs?His daughter was sick, so maybe a critique of the American health insurance policy.
Rating 7.5

My top 5 of May:

1.) Modern Times (1936)
2.) Batman Unmasked - The Psychology of the Dark Knight (2008) (documentary)
3.) Phenomena (1985)
4.) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
5.) Inferno (1980)

6.) Carrie (1976)
7.) Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
8.) Sans Soleil (1983)
9.) Deep Red (1975)
10.) Warrior (2011)
11.) Never Let Me Go (2010)
12.) The Meetings of Anna (1978)

Agree? Disagree? Have you seen any of the above? What are the best films you saw during the month of August?

Favorite Twin Peaks moments 2

Readers, any thoughts on the screenshots?

Favorite Twin Peaks moments

Have you watched Twin Peaks, any thoughts?

Album: A Thing Called Love - Johnny Cash (1972)

Possibly the most under-appreciated album of Johnny Cash's career. Very personal songs about his father.

Melva's Wine - Johnny Cash

Daddy - Johnny Cash

Papa Was A Good Man - Johnny Cash

Listeners, any thoughts?

The Decalogue (1989) Episode 2

The Decalogue 2

Spoilers occur about the ending, this review is intended for those who have already watched the film.

The head doctor can sense that the younger woman in the block of flats they both reside in is troubled and wants to speak with him. He asks her what's the matter. It turns out her husband is hospitalized with cancer, and she is tormented about his survival. There is always a glimmer of hope, the doctor hopes to brush her off with that platitude. However, that is not enough for her, and she explains she's likely pregnant with another man, and it could be her only opportunity to fulfill her lifelong ambition of having a child. It is probable she can’t have kids with her husband. She puts the doctor in a morally ambiguous dilemma where the doctor is the judge of the survival of her husband and her child.

If the doctor tells her that her husband will survive, she will immediately have the baby removed. The doctor is placed in an awkward situation, where he is in control over life and death of the unborn child. A child's life can be saved, and the husband's situation looks hopeless. There is no way out, the doctor must act as if he is God, even though he doesn't want to, because he himself lost a wife and child during the war.

Analysis and interpretation:

Conversation With Kieslowski (1991): “I realized how many areas of life a documentary can’t cover. And then I started to move from social and political issues, that a documentary can easily deal with, to stories about interactions between people. And lately, it seems to me I make films about people’s innermost thoughts and emotions. About what they do not show to anyone. (...) All the films I make are about the need to open up. About the need to communicate on another level, rather than just talking about the quality of wine, car prices, etc. You have to break through the barrier of shame, and the feeling that you mustn’t be weak. That’s what I think”

Episode 2 deals with the commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

We witness a doctor who is in an impossible position where he must act as God, his recommendation could cost the life of an unborn child. What right does he have to decide who lives and dies? Should the doctor claim the power of God and pronounce the husband dead? The doctor, having apparently lost his entire family, knows what it is like to lose a child, so he knowingly lies to Dorota, influencing her to keep the baby regardless.

Episode 2 is, similar to Episode 1, about the unpredictability of future events. The blasphemy is in predicting the future, if a sick man will die, or a miracle will occur and he will survive. Only the future will tell us.

A feeling of a community runs through the entire series. For example the story of the second film is referenced in the eighth. The characters live in the same block of flats in Warsaw.

Dorota wants an abortion, as she loves dying husband. The doctor can't judge the patient, and conceivably believes more in intuition than rational knowledge from his training. The old doctor is calm, humble, and has a private God he listens to. Dorota on the other hand is a restless chain-smoker, she often stands at the window, staring into space, plagued by a choice she can't handle. She loves her husband, but also maybe the lover whom has impregnated her, and whom Dorota claims she has a special relationship with. Smoking when pregnant suggests she is not very considerate towards the baby’s well being, and it's up in the air, if she would be a good mother.

But does the doctor know about the illness and if it's fatal? As with other episodes in the series, Kieslowski creates an uncertainty around the characters motives. Perhaps the final scene is only going on inside her mind, which would not be a surprise, as Kieslowski cuts from a thoughtful looking Dorota, when she is sitting in the orchestra, directly to the scene at the head doctor's office.

Of course, Dorota may not want the lover’s child out of shame, and would rather start afresh from a clean slate, should the husband die.

On first glance, the doctor seems quite cold and wanting to maintain a strictly professional distance towards Dorota and her questions. As the story unfolds, it is Dorota's behavior that appears to an outsider as remarkably cold, she doesn't apologize for running over doctor’s dog, and she doesn't really care about her lover, if her husband should survive.

The timeline of the pregnancy and the cancer diagnosis suggests Dorota was leading a double life. The husband accepts the child at the end, even though they had trouble becoming pregnant before the health scare. Does the husband pretend to sleep and ignore his wife when she visits, or is it a coincidence he wakes up when she leaves his side? Has he forgiven her for her transgression? Does he know of the lover? Or does he not see any other way of moving forward than to take the child under his wing. We will never really know. Perhaps overcoming cancer is the most important battle of his life, and everything else is a bonus. In the film, the husband has taken a liking to the bee, which is fighting for its life in the glass, the survival of the insect is a good omen. Is the glass half full, or half empty? This is ambiguous.

The film is a comment on the choice between life and death, doctors maintaining their professional integrity, or if bending the rules is a positive. In my opinion Kieslowski is saying we should bend the commandment if the situation calls for it.
Maybe if the woman or doctor had been more likeable, I would have liked this episode more. The dilemma and motivations were interesting, but this episode lacks warmth. Especially the use of metaphors are noteworthy, and foreshadow Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy. As SJHoneywell points out at 1001plus: “each episode has its merits, and each is worth not just watching, but pondering over.”

Next time, I'll look at Episode 3. Readers of this review, any thoughts on Episode 2?

Kieslowski on Kieslowski / Danusia Stok

I Can Count To Ten - 1001plus

Conversation With Kieslowski (1991)

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I'm So-So (1998)

The Decalogue (1989) Episode 1

The Decalogue 1

Spoilers occur about the ending, this review is intended for those who have already watched the film.

Pawel is 11-years-old. He lives with his father, a doubter of religion, who is an
IT-teacher at the university. Pawel admires his father, who is so knowledgeable, and has taught his son to solve puzzles on their home computer. He agrees with his father, that a computer is an entity that can perform miracles. But Pawel is also curious of the things which can't be calculated, measured and weighed. He wonders about his aunt's faith, what is God? And what is a soul? Pawel can't ask the computer or his father these questions. On the other hand, the technology can be requested to answer queries about the depth of the ice on the local pond, if running on ice skates is safe or not. Pawel and his father trust the computer's calculations, but forget to use their common sense.

Analysis and interpretation:

Dekalog 1 is connected to the first imperative of the Ten Commandments: "I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me."

The father loses his only son, and feels responsible for the boy's death. He senses it’s a tragic event that could have been avoided.

Children can give parents the illusion of avoiding death, as their genes live on past their death, the next generation usually survive their elders. This possibility is lost, when a son dies before his dad.

Many parents fight an ongoing battle of having a guilty conscience, have they done enough for their child? In that way Dekalog 1 is very much relatable for parents, and the anxiety of failing as a parent.

The father in Dekalog 1, suffers a triple-fold failure, the loss of his son, the loss of his belief in technology, and the loss of his confidence to be a good father. When he doesn't believe in God, and technology has let him down, he has nowhere to turn to for comfort. He has a lot of love for his boy, and he can no longer channel that energy as he's been used to. The father's biggest fail-safe turns against him and is the tool of disaster, and he learns something about humility in the process. You should never rely on something 100%, but always have a critical viewpoint. The father has an existential, religious crisis at the end with no easy answers. He is the scientist who doubts science. He works out the strength of the ice, but also goes out to observe it.

During documentary Krzysztof Kieslowski: I'm So-So (1998), Kieslowski talks about his childhood: “Father talked to me often. I was frightened of him. Not because he hit me. But because of his authority. I didn’t like school at all, I dreamed of becoming a stoker. I dreamed of shoveling coal into a furnace. But my parents were not at all keen on the idea. So they tried to find a school for me. Wisely my father got me into a training school for firemen. A clever trick, I soon realized I didn’t want to be a fireman. Trying it for real would also have put me off being a stoker. (…) My father died when I was still at school. How did you react? It was hard. Did you cry? Yes. The school was incredibly good. It made us intellectually aware. It gave us a choice and that life was more than just practicalities.

The son Pawel naively has a blind admiration that his father can do no wrong and will always be there to protect him. Pawel is not so different from his father, blindly trusting. The events show the child's helplessness and total dependence on the surroundings. The audience can also relive childhood moments of disappointment, when parents were not there for them.

Irena, Pawels aunt, has faith in God, she regards man, in spite of all its knowledge, to be beneath a higher power. For her, a loving hug is more important and is the meaning of life, and further questions are rendered superfluous. Her pure love for the boy makes the audience yearn for a similar unconditional love.

In interviews, Kieslowski admitted he loathed technology such as phones, which create a distance. (On a side note, the director would probably have enjoyed the song Hard To Change by Meg Hutchinson)
It is likely that Aunt Irena is Kieslowski's spokesperson. She explains to Pawel what God is by holding him lovingly in her arms, without any ulterior motive, she doesn't expect anything of Pawel, love with no strings attached. Irena loves Pawel for simply existing, not for his performances. Kieslowski's understanding of love is an inner peace, which fills a person, not the love of expectations; I'll love you, if you do such and such. Kieslowski clearly doesn't believe if we are meticulous enough we can conquer the world as scientists.

The irony in the final moments of Episode 1 is that the father turns to God, because his faith in technology failed him. We sense faith in something bigger than himself will be essential for the father to move on from the tragedy. The father was equally as naive as his son, yet behaved as an atheistic intellect, arrogantly believing God was unnecessary in his life.

Another interpretation could be, that God is punishing the father for his blind faith in technology, and that "you shall have no other gods before me". I don't think this is the case here, but you can't rule it out. Most likely the accident is a random, unfortunate tragedy.

The lesson to be learned is technology has limitations, and the unpredictability of life is simply part of being human. It's healthy to always be sceptical of what you see. Certain important questions are impossible for a computer to answer, or are very subjective. The world of numbers and figures can fool you, when adults don't listen to their intuition and inner critic. As Jack writes at Not Just Movies: “the entire point of Decalogue I is not to mock science but blind faith in any philosophy.”

In an interview, Rene Girald expresses an opinion of the anti-icon, a logical assumption that people many years ago would feel safer with more than one God protecting them. The commandment “you shall have no other gods before me” was not necessarily what people believed, but were instructed to follow.

The Decalogue Episode 1 is memorable, intellectually stimulating, and perhaps the most moving and tear-inducing of all the episodes. The young boy talks philosophically and spiritually with his father and aunt, eager for answers. We are dealing with a very smart boy, who has a childlike naivety and curiosity.

Next time, I'll look at Episode 2. Readers of this review, any thoughts on Episode 1?

Kieslowski on Kieslowski / Danusia Stok

Review, Not Just Movies

Interview, Rene Girald

Conversation With Kieslowski (1991)

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I'm So-So (1998)

Johnny Cash - the early days

Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash

I Walk The Line - Johnny Cash

Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash

Understand Your Man - Johnny Cash

The Ballad of Ira Hayes - Johnny Cash

The Man in Black - Johnny Cash

(He wore the color black for the down-trodden and the poor. Also representing the dark side of Cash’s personality)

Thunderball - Johnny Cash

(A rarity, a James Bond theme song that was not used, instead Thunderball by Tom Jones made the cut)


Chicken in Black - Johnny Cash

(You sense Johnny Cash is satirising his recording contract, the chicken comparison especially. I think it was from the 80s)

Listeners, any thoughts on the music? Which do you think are Cash's best early songs? Did I neglect your favorites? Share your comments below

Funny screenshots

Readers, any thoughts?

The Decalogue (1988-89) - An Introduction

Everybody should see The Decalogue at least once in their lifetime. Directed by acclaimed Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski, it consists of ten one-hour films, set in modern Poland, loosely based on the Ten Commandments. The tv-series in its entirety reflects the invisible threads and values that bind us together as human beings.

Film critic Roger Ebert tried to match up the films and the commandments: "There isn't a one-to-one correlation; some films touch on more than one commandment, and others involve the whole ethical system suggested by the commandments. These are not simplistic illustrations of the rules, but stories that involve real people in the complexities of real problems" (...) "After seeing the series, Stanley Kubrick observed that Kieslowski and Piesiewicz 'have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them.' Quite so. There is not a moment when the characters talk about specific commandments or moral issues. Instead, they are absorbed in trying to deal with real-life ethical challenges."

A good description of The Decalogue is it’s a larger examination of smaller unsolved issues we all carry around in ourselves. Most of the problems could have been avoided if the character's had made different decisions. Kieslowski gives cinematic voice to ethical problems in a way perhaps that no other director has. The Decalogue series debates with itself, a discussion of fundamental life issues, which only ideologists and moralists have bow-tied solutions for, but which people in general can agree on are extremely complicated dilemmas.

What I like about Dekalog is that it resists the temptation of Kieslowski's earlier work to be focused on Poland, instead the episodes have a universal appeal, and take place in a vacuum outside of national or political spheres. Challenges you to figure out how to be a moral person in a world with no easy answers. The characters are relatable, they interact in intimate home environments, we get to know them on a very personal level.

Dekalog is a Greek phrase, and stands for the ten words. The Ten Commandments can be traced back to the Old Testament, where we hear about the pact between God and the Jewish people on the Sinai Mountain. Moses received the commandments written on stone tablets. Within Christianity and Judaism, the Ten Commandments have been regarded as an expression of faith and morality. For example, Jesus points to the commandments, when a rich man asks him what he should do to achieve eternal life. Right up until the present day, the commandments are a guideline for being a good citizen, no matter which religion you follow.

Having said that, I think Kieslowski's Dekalog series also reflects how breaking the rules can be a character builder, by testing the boundaries of what is right and wrong is how we develop as human beings. We can mirror ourselves with the universal issues. We have been in conflicts such as the 8th commandment, you must not testify against your fellow man. Who hasn't been in these situations?

Decalogue I: I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me
Decalogue II: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
Decalogue III: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Decalogue IV: Honor your father and your mother.
Decalogue V: You shall not murder.
Decalogue VI: You shall not commit adultery.
Decalogue VII: You shall not steal.
Decalogue VIII: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
Decalogue IX: You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
Decalogue X: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house,
or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Kieslowski: "I think that every person’s life is worth examining, and contains drama. People don’t talk about their life, it causes embarrassment. They don’t want to reopen old wounds, or are afraid of being old-fashioned or sentimental. Therefore we wanted to begin each film in a way which suggested that the main character had been captured on camera as if by accident. We had in mind a giant stadium, where among the hundred thousand faces we would focus on one particular person (…) with The Decalogue I probably concentrated more on what was happening on the inside than the outside. Earlier I dealt with the surrounding world, how circumstances and events affect people."

The ambitious series was co-created by Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who had previously worked as a lawyer. The Dekalog takes the old principles and confronts them with the modern world. Kieslowski is asking, are these commandments still valid today, do they need an upgrade?

From documentary I'm So So (1998), Kieslowski is quoted: "Each film relates somehow to one of the Ten Commandments. When we wrote the series in 1983-84, we wanted to brush up those ten well-written sentences"

Kieslowski: "Piesiewicz and I didn’t think politics could change the world, not for the better. Furthermore we intuitively sensed that The Decalogue probably would have an audience abroad. That’s why we decided to keep politics out of it."

The series was conceived when Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who had seen a 15th-century artwork illustrating the commandments in scenes from that time period, suggested the idea of a modern equivalent. Kieslowski was interested in the philosophical challenge and also wanted to use the series as a portrait of the hardships of Polish society, while deliberately avoiding the political issues he had depicted in earlier films. He originally meant to hire ten different directors, but decided to direct the films himself.

Kieslowski: "The best idea I had with The Decalogue was that each of the ten films should be made with ten different cameramen. I thought that the ten stories should be told a little bit differently. (…) Only one cameraman made two films (…) the oldest was about sixty-years-old, the youngest 28, who had recently finished film school."

Typically for Kieslowski, the tone of most of the films is melancholic, except for the final one, which, like Three Colors: White (1994) is a black comedy, and features two of the same actors, Jerzy Stuhr and Zbigniew Zamachowski. The director has admitted that the producers wanted him to make an eleventh and final episode where all the characters meet, as they live in the same building, but by that time the director said he had had enough.

When he created The Decalogue, Kieslowski had never made a popular or successful film. The groundbreaking tv-series was a launchpad to a wider audience.

Who is the mysterious man at the lake? In important moments the blond man reveals himself, we are encouraged to see the world through his eyes. The silent witness to the story. Perhaps he is crying on behalf of the audience and the victims of the episodes. He turns up in the vicinity of the characters, is he there to protect them against temptation and danger? Or is he a way for Kieslowski to speak of conscience? The mysterious stranger's intense staring at the people he meets is perhaps to make them think twice about what they are about to go through with.

Kieslowski: "There is this guy, who strolls around in all the films. I don’t know who he is, just some guy, who comes and looks on. Watches us, our lives. He is not completely happy about what he sees. He comes, looks, and goes again. He doesn’t turn up in chapter seven, because the recording didn’t work, and I cut him out. Neither is he in number ten, because in that chapter fun is made of trading of kidneys, and I thought, it probably wasn’t suitable to show a guy like him in that context. (…) He has no influence over what occurs, but he is a kind of signal or warning to those, he looks at, if they happen to notice him. (…) some called him the angel."

In Dekalog 1, the blond man sits by the lake, in Dekalog 2 a medical orderly at the cancer clinic, in number 3 a streetcar conductor who narrowly avoids a collision with a car, in the 4th episode a canoer who reaches the shore, just as the woman opens a letter she shouldn't. In Dekalog 5, a mysterious figure who reveals himself before and after an important event. In Dekalog 6, a man in a white rain coat, who walks between two houses, the first time when Tomak ecstatically returns after meeting the woman he has been observing, and also later when Tomak ha gained more insight. During Dekalog 8, he silently sits in as a student at the lecture, and finally in episode 9 he watches a man at a pivotal moment.

Several characters drink milk during the ten episodes. I've read the jingling of milk bottles and the consumption of its content could be a life-giving symbol. Perhaps the milk represents a symbol of motherhood, albeit transformed into art.

Next, I will look at the ten episodes one by one in detail, with a summary, interpretation, and verdit for each part.

What do you guys think? Was my introduction useful? Have you watched The Decalogue? Share your opinions in the comments below.

Kieslowski on Kieslowski / Danusia Stok

The Decalogue (1988) Roger Ebert

I'm So-So (1998)

Quotations are translated, so may differ slightly from the original English-speaking Kieslowski on Kieslowski

In appreciation - The Flaming Lips (part 4 of 4)

Album: At War With The Mystics (2006)

The eleventh album by the Flaming Lips, and my third favorite from their career. The LP is more guitar-driven and features more politically themed lyrics than The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
The track "It Overtakes Me" was featured as the soundtrack to a UK television commercial for Beck's beer, and "The W.A.N.D." has been used in European advertisements.

The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat) - The Flaming Lips

Mr. Ambulance Driver - The Flaming Lips

The sound of failure/it's it always this dark - The Flaming Lips

Vein Of Stars - The Flaming Lips

It Overtakes Me / The Stars Are So Big... I Am So Small... Do I Stand a Chance? - The Flaming Lips

Album: Spider-Man 3: Music From And Inspired By (2007)

The Supreme Being Teaches Spider-man How To Be In Love - The Flaming Lips

Album: Embryonic (2009)

While Embryonic (2009) was critically acclaimed, it is (similar to the band's early work) simply too noisy for me to enjoy in its entirety.

Gemini Syringes - The Flaming Lips

I Can Be A Frog - The Flaming Lips

Listeners, any thoughts on the albums above? This brings to a close my Flaming Lips appreciation, I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted! In the upcoming weeks, I'll be sharing Johnny Cash music

Should a director explain their film?

I hate to admit it, I actually love director explanations of ambiguous films.
The question is, does it ruin the mystery and ongoing discussion, if for example we got all the answers to why the Mona Lisa is smiling?

The filmmaker seems to create an aura about his work if he refuses to explain certain things. For instance David Lynch gives the cryptic response that nobody has ever given an interpretation that is HIS interpretation of Eraserhead (1977)

In a world obsessed by instant gratification of information, does a film like Prometheus (2012) frustrate, rather than please, in its ambiguity?

The best questions in life are sometimes unsolvable and have infinite possible answers. The pleasure is not in finding a solution, but in playing the game. A finished puzzle is not fun, is it?

Does it devalue a film to know every little detail about the production, set design, and intentions of the writer and director in documentaries, articles, interviews, books, audio commentaries, and so forth. Is it just a marketing tool aimed at making money, or something the consumer wants?

Is this what separates art and entertainment?

Or does it enhance the material with this added value, that is available if you want it.

For me, it makes us lazy and less imaginative, when we are given all the answers, and don't have to think for ourselves. Its not lazy to eat all this information, but it is mindless to simply take it all and that's that. Difficult to disagree with the maker of the film...

You may be wondering, does the director always HAVE the answers? There are cases when even they have made the story so indefinable, that there are endless interpretations. Last Year at Marienbad (1961), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980), or Eraserhead (1977) arguably are classics today, because nobody has definitive solutions.

The director has made a baby, he/she raises it the best they can, and finally must set it free into the world.

What do you think? Do you want the mystery preserved forever and the artist to take these secrets to their grave? Would it ruin your favorite films for the filmmakers to explain it all? Or better for the explanations to be out there?


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