Sunday, December 03, 2006

THE DECALOGUE


Television on DVD of the week:
THE DECALOGUE

Although I almost literally grew up in front of a TV set, I'm not a big fan of television. It generally doesn't do it for me anymore. I don't know if it's because the quality of programming has declined (I suspect we've always had both good programs and stupid ones), or if it's because I've gotten older and harder to please. There is very little television that I'll watch today. However, having said that, there are occasionally exceptions along the way that defy the rule that nothing of quality can come from TV. Roots, Twin Peaks by David Lynch, and some of the original programs from HBO (Deadwood, Six Feet Under, etc.) are examples.

THE DECALOGUE, originally shown on polish TV, represents the very best of what is possible on television. It was written and directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, who made the “Three Colors” trilogy of movies Blue, White, and Red, from my past recommendations. This is not so much a series as it is ten separate 1-hour movies. The ten stories are independent from each other, with different characters. The common thread is the location. All the movies take place in and around the same high rise apartment building in Warsaw, Poland. There is a second thread; each of the ten stories has a theme that illustrates or features one of the Ten Commandments, although it’s not always clear which one is the focus in any one story.

Krzysztof Kieslowski didn’t make very many films in his short career, but each one is exceptional. No one can depict the vast ocean of human experience like he can. THE DEACALOGUE is no exception. Not only is it one of the best productions on television anywhere, but it also beats out most movies. It takes a while to get through them all (10 hrs. total). But the ten films come on three DVD’s, with 3 or 4 episodes on each, to allow you to spread your viewing out. Watch 1 disc worth at a time over the course of 3 or 4 weeks until you see all of them.

This is a must for any serious film buff or film watcher. Scoring 100% on the tomatometer just reinforces the fact that it is universally acclaimed by both critics and viewers. Let me put it into a better perspective. On the IMDB top 250 Films of all time, the #1 film, The Godfather, amassed a rating of 9.1 (out of 10). THE DECALOGUE, which does not compete for this list (as it comes from television), ranked a 9.3. If you want more details, the link at the top will take you to the IMDB page for this film(s), and the link below will take you to film critic Roger Ebert’s review. “Frank, why do you always link to Roger Ebert’s reviews?” Roger Ebert is perhaps the most respected film critic in the business (He won the Pulitzer Prize). He has befriended and interviewed many many of the film-makers over the years, and usually has a unique perspective that many other people wouldn’t. So there! (besides, he pays me monthly)

This discussion has got me thinking. As a follow up to THE DECALOGUE, I propose a new project of five short films, called “THE PENTALOGUE” (I could only come up with 5. If you think of more, we can upgrade). Each film focuses on one of the cardinal commandments of film-making (well, there ought to be cardinal commandments of film-making!).

THE PENTALOGUE:

  1. My name – Bond, James Bond ….. and thou shall not worship false Bonds before me: Docu-drama chronicling the decline of the James Bond franchise after Sean Connery.
  2. Thou shall not steal – plots from other movies: They say that there are no more than seven unique plot formulas in Hollywood. Bill Bicksberg, an independent film-maker, in Missouri, suddenly thinks of an eighth. He flees for his life when a consortium of large movie studios sends a crack team of assassins to eliminate this threat. They have only 2 weeks to find and “Kill Will”.
  3. Thou shall not remake movies – unless you plan to make them better: A group of Hollywood moguls hatch a plot to take the best European and Asian movies, and remake them in English. They throw stars galore at it, but have no money left for interpreters, or style, or editing, or nuancing. What to do – what to do? We must save America from foreign languages.
  4. Honor thy Weinsteins: Bob and Harvey Weinstein can’t get no respect in Hollywood. After producing nearly 200 films, they get out of the business and become private detectives. Their first assignment – find Mel Gibson’s brain.
  5. Thou shall not - shall not - shall not – make a sequel to Battlefield Earth: Director, Roger Christian, contemplates a sequel, succumbing to fan pressure. “So many unanswered questions”. After all, the original was so profitable, raking in virtually hundreds and hundreds of dollars. “Perhaps”, he argues “it can be shown on a double bill with Gigli II.”

Rent THE DECALOGUE and enjoy (X 10).

Film critic Roger Ebert’s review of THE DECALOGUE.

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