I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work. But in this book of screenplays by Krzysztof Kieslowski and his co-author, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it should not be out of place to observe that they have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what’s really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don’t realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.

Stanley Kubrick
January 1991

Krzysztof Kieślowski Dekalog – Trailer

Ten hours of Polish television. From the ’80’s. About the Ten Commandments and focusing on the residents of one apartment block. Why would I want to watch this? Because it was a project of the director of The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colors trilogy, Krzysztof Kieslowski. And it is simply the most gorgeous, moving television you will ever see.

I first came across it in a book of Roger Ebert’s reviews, back in the nineties. It was unavailable at the time, so I waited for it to come on DVD. I was not disappointed. Rather, it has become the standard that I judge all television against. In fact, I have not watched all of the episodes yet, as they reward time between viewings, allowing you to think about and absorb  what you just witnessed.

The first episode is pretty obvious in which commandment it is talking about; Thou Shalt Not Worship False Idols. But from there it gets increasingly murky. Now, I am not Catholic, nor am I religious. And I am certainly not recommending the work from that point of view. The Ten Commandments is simply used as a framework for looking at the world in all its glory. In other words, this is not a mindless diversion, but rather a Mindful Diversion.

So, what are you watching?


Staff Writer

A fourth generation Californian, befuddled.

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23 thoughts on “Sunday!

    • Yup. I’m also happy that a lot of people I know who don’t normally watch superhero movies watched it and thought “Huh, there may be something to this comics thing after all…” Many by-request articles about “Liked Logan? Here’s where to start reading comics…” popping up on the book review sites I read after it came out.


  1. Last night I watched Alien: Covenant. I liked it, but…

    I thought David’s motivations were a bit tropish. I would have liked to have see a more complicated reason for doing what he did. Since there will clearly be a sequel, it will be interesting to see how if they resolve this in a satisfactory way.


    • My main objection was:

      The first third or so of the movie seemed to be about the crew of the Covenant being gratuitously stupid and mostly dying as a result. Going to a mysterious planet with an apparently Earth-like biosphere and walking around without protective gear or quarantine procedures just seems suicidally dumb in any situation. The crew of the Nostromo made some comparable mistakes in the first movie, but they were under a lot of pressure, there’s acknowledgement that they’re breaking regulations due to an emergency, and they were being sabotaged from within.

      Once the initial spate of death and disaster passed, the movie got much better. But I still don’t know why they couldn’t make the script work for the beginning of the movie.


  2. I’ve been watching the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War which is really interesting and possibly the first I time I have heard interviews with the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong.

    The documentary makes it clear that the whole war was huge, bloody, and pointless mistake but also spends a lot of time talking with the regular soldiers with great sympathy for the situation that they were stuck in.


    • I’ve been watching The Expanse recently, and am kind of wrapping it up (I tend to watch shows really slowly). There’s some really creative effects work and visual storytelling that does better at creating a sense of the characters being in space than most big budget scifi movies.

      Also, there are two real sources of gripping human drama: exploding spaceships and hardboiled detectives. The Expanse combines both.


      • Generally, I think PI’s in SF is a pathetic trope, as Blade Runner pretty much owned the genre/idea. But Expanse did pretty well with it, working it in organically.

        And I too watch on a much slower pace than most folks.


    • The war wasn’t a mistake, how it started was a mistake and of course how it was fought up through 1969 was a huge pile of mistakes. That happens when people are in charge who have no idea what they’re doing, or even what they’re trying to do.

      In simplest terms a war can go three ways, victory, defeat, or stalemate. We ruled out victory at the start and never re-examined that decision. That leaves stalemate or defeat. If the enemy won’t accept a stalemate and we can’t force a stalemate, the only remaining option is defeat.

      There are other things the PBS series doesn’t even mention, such as the historical complexity of the region. Up until the 1770’s the Mekong Delta region and Saigon was usually part of various Khmer empires, and a lot of people there still speak Khmer. In fact, the language map and the political maps don’t match up at all well.

      Austrasiatic language map

      map of the region in 1650

      If you dig into the history of the region, the question becomes why the French ever considered Vietnam to be one country, as opposed to a group of different imperial dynasties or some other structure. “Vietnam” was just what they could conquer by sea. Inland, they conquered three separate kingdoms and called it “Laos”. They could’ve called Laos part of North Vietnam (which they could’ve called something else) and we’d have had a different outcome, just as they could’ve regarded South Vietnam as part of Cambodia. Basically, they put lines on a map and those maps became political realities, even to Hanoi.

      We waded in without asking even basic questions about what the French had set up.

      In “On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War”, the author notes that we didn’t understand that the war was almost exactly the same as the Korean War. The North wanted to invade and conquer the South. (North Vietnam had been wanting to do that for about a thousand years). But the North had seen how the Korean War ended in stalemate with a DMZ and thus wanted to make sure we didn’t understand what was going on. Thus the attempt to distract us with the idea of Viet Cong insurgents. We fell for the ruse because Kennedy, Johnson, Westmoreland, and McNamara were easily fooled.

      The authors preferred solution was to simply make a big cleared DMZ, with fire bases down the Laotian and Cambodian border. Then keep a contingent of Marines off the coast of North Vietnam and say “I you roll South, we take your coast and roll West into Hanoi.” It would have ended like the Korean War, and the South would’v become an Asian Tiger, making the idea of an invasion by their dirt poor northern neighbor ridiculous.

      But I doubt PBS will mention any of that.


  3. The League (sigh), Playing House (sigh), Terra Nova (seriously it should be a sigh but DINOSAURS and weird time-travel sf conspiracies so instead I will sigh that it got canceled after 1 season).

    I watched Philomena either last week or the week before and was far more moved than I expected to be (normally tearjerkers turn me way off). I credit Dame Dench for that.


  4. The Vietnam War, Ripper Street, Versailles, and the Tick. There really is a wealth of television out there and keeping track of it all is hard.


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