I’ve watched these before, in their Decalogue versions, but since the extended movie versions appear on certain lists of great films, I always wanted to watch ’em and compare. It has been nearly a decade, so it’s hard, but I’d have to say I prefer the Decalogue series as an interconnected project than either of these movies individually.


A Short Film About Love (1988)

Deep-voiced teenage creep Tomek watches neighbor Magda through the window with a stolen telescope, then tries to interfere in her life. She is dismissive, then taunts him, and finally becomes concerned after he tries to kill himself. I guess they’re a couple of doomed losers who might just end up together, but Kieslowski is up to something more twisty, closing on Magda in Tomek’s room, watching herself across the street. It’s got the mutual torment of White mixed with the surveillance of Red, set to some nice Priesner music.


A Short Film About Killing (1988)

Another movie about a deep-voiced creep! A hanging cat in the opening credits brings to mind Cosmos, but this movie’s a slog, the most unpleasant Kieslowski I’ve seen. I covered the story pretty well last time – main difference here is that it’s longer, and the inky blackness and distorted colors of the picture comes out more clearly on the blu-ray. I love the sudden time jump from Jacek sitting in his stolen cab dreaming of escaping to the mountains, to the moment of his conviction for murder.

Herzog, whose voice is too rarely heard, listens to the stories of people affected by a stupid double murder in Texas, mostly the victims’ families but also a few unenlightening minutes with the killers themselves. There’s little attempt to question whether these two (one of whom is on death row; the other avoided execution because his dad cried in front of the jury) actually committed the crimes. And there’s little attempt to make polarizing statement regarding the death penalty, until the end when the movie tries to land hard on the anti- side. But I’ve been on the anti side for years, and the movie almost has me convinced that the death penalty is a great thing, because these kids are horrible and have learned nothing, so they might as well be dead. One of the highlights is a long interview with a former death row prison guard, who walks us through the whole procedure before saying he had to quit after too many executions messed with his head. No mercy from Texas. Music by Soul Coughing’s Mark De Gli Antoni.

Based on the same novel and play as Lang’s superb Scarlet Street. Middle-aged man “rescues” sexy girl on the street, sets her up in an apartment as his mistress, starts stealing from his workplace in order to pay her, as she funnels all her money to her boyfriend/pimp, who gambles it away then starts selling the Middle-Aged Man’s paintings for extra cash. The Man is despised by his wife, who still worships her deceased first husband – who later turns out to be alive, showing up in search of money. Man sees his chance, reveals the dead husband, nullifying his own marriage, also kills the girl (for which her boyfriend is blamed, and executed), ends up a bum on the street in front of the art gallery that is reselling his paintings for record amounts.

In the Lang film, architecture in the frame is as important as the performers, and Edward G. Robinson is a sap, destroyed by cruel, cruel fate in a cold, cold world. In this version, everything takes a back seat to the performances, and despite his misfortune, the man leaves the movie laughing, going for a drink with his wife’s first husband, now also homeless and destitute. Renoir has always infused his films with a life-affirming energy, so it’s weird that he took on such negative stories as this one, The Lower Depths and The Little Match Girl, only to defy their negative tones with his benevolent humanity.

Simon and his scowling wife, watched over by her (ex?)-husband:

Characters speak more frankly about sex than anyone would in a movie for the next forty years. Camera movement is somewhat rough, which makes sense for a 1931 sound film. It tries, though – when the girl and her boyfriend dance at a party, the camera dances with them. You can see the Moulin Rouge windmill (see also: French Cancan) out the window of the girl’s apartment. But the Moulin Rouge sighting is nothing compared to the connection to Renoir’s final feature, Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir, which features a second husband treated coldly by his wife, always confronted with the gaze of his predecessor from a picture frame. That film also opens and closes, as does this one, with puppet-show curtains, Renoir telling us that life is theater.

Flamant and Marèse, looking briefly like they’re in a musical:

Michel Simon stars – is this only the second movie I’ve seen of his after L’Atalante? After that one, I never assumed he could play meek and sober, but he does a great job, and looks like Trotsky. Upcoming starlet Janie Marèse died in a car accident on the way to the film’s premiere. Georges Flamant survived the same crash – his final film was The 400 Blows. Roger Gaillard, the resurrected first husband, returned in Night at the Crossroads as a butcher.

Ruined, but not down:

Opens with the title “Are you for or against the abolition of the death penalty?”

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Movie gets straight to the point. After reading Tony Rayns say about In the Realm of the Senses that “there is no thing as the Oshima style,” I thought I’d check out one of his earlier films and see for myself. Sure enough, this has nothing in common with it or with Empire of Passion – it’s bonkers in its own particular way.

Oshima in 1964: “An artist does not build his work on one single theme, any more than a man lives his life according to only one idea. Foolish critics, however, want to think that works have just one theme running through them. Then when they find something that contradicts that one theme, they immediately say that they don’t understand the work. Our work has nothing to do with these foolish critics. We want to put into it everything we are thinking and experiencing now; if we didn’t, creative work would have no meaning for us.”

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R., a rapist and murderer, is hung but seems unhurt. Since his body won’t die, they rule him demented – but now he can’t be killed because a demented man can’t realize his guilt and understand punishment. The surly chaplain says they can’t even pray for him because last rites have already been administered. R. seems to have amnesia, so the men in the room (prison officials, doctor and so on) act out his crimes to jog his memory. They tell him his history, convince him he is Korean, awaken his mind and memory in order to kill him again.

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They get really into their re-enactments – the education minister (above) imagines that he has actually killed a girl on the roof of a building and the others think him hysterical – then one by one they begin to see the dead girl – then she’s not dead at all, rises up and starts to talk with R, says she’s his sister. The men are upset because R never had a sister, but that falls by the wayside, and eventually she and R are lying on the floor apparently naked under a sheet while the men all argue and cry and hallucinate around them. It’s that kind of movie. With its loooong shots and loose, imprecise framing, single location and shouty characters, it could’ve easily been done as a play.

Akiko Koyama, an Oshima regular, as the mysterious Korean woman:
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Oshima 1964: “Unless you see people living in their own country, their true identity escapes you. The tragedy thus grows clear; the Japanese and Koreans have superficial and uncertain views of each other, and cannot see things in their true light.”

1968: “Death By Hanging had as its starting point the events set in motion by the criminal Ri Chin’u, perpetrator of the Komatsugawa High School incident. In my opinion, Ri Chin’u was the most intelligent and sensitive youth produced by postwar Japan, as demonstrated by the collection of Ri’s letter edited by Boku Junan, “Punishment, Death and Love.” Ri’s prose ought to be included in high school textbooks. Ri, however, committed a crime and was sentenced to death. I had been thinking of devoting a work to Ri ever since he committed his crime in 1958. … We created R, a character who did not die after execution.”

1974: “In ancient times, revolutions began with the destruction of prisons. No, history called the uprisings that were strong enough to destroy the prisons “revolutions.”

R (left) with the priest played by Toshiro Ishido, the writer of Oshima’s Night and Fog in Japan:
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“Death only has meaning if we know it is coming.”

“I don’t want to be killed by an abstraction.”

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Recommended listening: That Man Will Not Hang by McLusky

I watch all of Clint Eastwood’s recent movies and I always feel they are High Quality Films, but that’s not always my thing. They are oscar-friendly, but not really affecting (exception: Million Dollar Baby) and don’t have anything fascinating to contribute in content (exception: Flags of Our Fathers) or form. But I definitely like ’em enough to keep watching (possible exception: Gran Torino).

We’ve got a true-story historical drama here, with awesome period street scenes of 1928 L.A., nice cinematography, great music (by Eastwood himself!) and very good acting. In her first good movie role since Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, A. Jolie plays Christine Collins, a mom whose kid disappears. She reports him missing among mass public distrust in the L.A.P.D., a mistrust led by crusading radio preacher John Malkovich, using his staccato vocal delivery to good effect. Police find kid, but it’s the wrong kid, then when Jolie reports it they intimidate and finally imprison her in a sanitarium to keep people from finding out the truth. Malkie helps get her out, and meanwhile a kid escapes from a rural psycho-killer and reports the murder of twenty kids. Jolie and Malkie lead court fight against the cops, simultaneously kid-killer is prosecuted, she wins, cops go down, killer is found guilty, two years later she watches him hang still unsure whether her own kid was killed or not. In postscript scene, mother of another kidnapped kid finds her son returning home after seven years away, but Jolie still never gets her closure. Saaaad movie.

Manipulative cops include Colm Feore of Titus and TV’s Jeffrey Donovan. Oscar-nom Amy Ryan, who I often see but never recognize, is a prostitute imprisoned with Christine in the sanitarium. Writer J. Michael Straczynski kept me entertained in the 80’s with episodes of He-Man and The Real Ghostbusters, and moved up from there to sci-fi channel to showtime to oscar-nominated films. Good going there, guy.