‘The commandments work not like science but like art; they are instructions for how to paint a worthy portrait with our lives.’ –Roger Ebert
Sometimes I find it hard to believe that even as recently as two years ago, I not only knew practically nothing about film theory, but I probably hadn’t seen more than a dozen movies in the preceding five years. I’m not just speaking of trips to the cinema either, which are incredibly rare for someone like me who find sitting closely with strangers in the dark an especially troubling proposition, but I didn’t watch movies on DVD or television much either. I had attention problems for sure, but the medium wasn’t one of great appeal for me.
Last year I took a class in film theory and feminism, and the last few months have seen me make small strides in integrating the medium of film and television into my research interests in remediation of the digital. I watch a film almost every day, and while I can’t seem to read a novel anymore, I have no issue watching a fictional film. My own personal research in both film and cultural criticism has led me to read quite a bit of Roger Ebert, which in turn has spurred me to watch films I otherwise would not have, especially in the areas of foreign cinema.
With a desire to use this space to do something a little different and perhaps a bit more personal, I have decided to watch The Decalogue, the acclaimed 1989 ten-part television series from Poland, which was directed and co-conceived by Krzysztof Kieslowski, and weigh in each night with thoughts on that episode in particular and the greater moralistic implications in general, as the mood strikes me. I’ve never done anything like this before, so it is a bit intimidating, but I feel it will help me work through my own thoughts on the series while perhaps serving as a blueprint for how to do reviews that are meaningful to me as well as to an audience.
Each film in Kieslowski’s series is based upon one of the Ten Commandments and are based within a large housing project in Warsaw, where characters from the different films appear in others as there is often some relationship between people living in such a tight community. Rather than focusing on the difficulties in Poland at the time, the director focuses instead on moral issues that have a more universal, and therefore timeless, appeal. Much of what I have read about the series suggests that the stories are populated not by characters from a typical Hollywood drama who have a problem they most overcome, but instead with characters who are like real adults: happy with some things, sad about others, but with complex motivations and at times contrary inclinations.
What is so exciting about watching the film and providing commentary here is that I have no real notion of how it will go. What texts will I seek out to enhance my understanding of The Decalogue, and how will I present them to the audience? How much will I be personally affected by what is shown on the screen? What sorts of discussions may be generated by such an experiment? Such questions are what makes such an endeavor so thrilling, and I hope some of you find yourselves engaged in what transpires.