The Decalogue

Here are short summaries for each of the ten installments of “Dekalog,” also known as “The Ten Commandments” and “The Decalogue.” I wrote these summaries just now from memory, without looking them up online. I watched them multiple times, most recently about fifteen years ago. “The Decalogue” was directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski in 1988 as a television series. It consists of ten one-hour films, each short film exploring — rarely in obvious ways — a character’s struggle with a moral dilemma related to the episode’s Commandment.

The episodes briefly feature a mysterious young man, sometimes a tram driver, a road surveyor, and so on, who observes each of the key characters at their moral crossroads. He never interacts with anyone, merely watches man freely choose his action. This mysterious character is not explained by Kieślowski. In most interpretations he is said to be an angel.

1. Thou shalt not have other gods before me. The first and most tragic episode of “The Decalogue” is about a man, who is an engineer or something similar, calculating the expected thickness of ice on a nearby pond to be sure that it’s safe for his nine-year-old son to skate on. Though all of his data and methodology are correct, the ice breaks anyway.

The opening scene of Dekalog 1 is one of the reasons why Kieślowski, who died at a fairly young age in 1996, is not merely the storyteller of then-newly reunified post-communist Europe. He is the prophet of the present European cataclysm. This opening scene shows this “angel” character as a drifter or a vagabond. He looks into the camera, directly into the viewer in the most chilling kind of foreshadowing. His gaze penetrates to the soul, commensurately with the the tragedy that this episode covers, as well scaling up to the attempted murder of Europe itself that we are presently living through.

“Thou shalt not have other gods before me” is the first and thus the most important Commandment. It is the key to beating back the demons that swarm about our lands.

2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. An oncologist holds a human life in his hands, in the most unwelcome dilemma. Not his patient’s life, but the life of an unborn child. His cancer patient has a mixed prognosis. The doctor has to tell his patient’s wife what her husband’s odd are, in his medical opinion. She had just confessed to the doctor that she is carrying a child from an affair that her husband does not know about. She tells the doctor that if he expects her husband to recover, she will abort the child but if he tells her that he will die, she will keep the baby.

Kieślowski’s films are inseparable from Zbigniew Preisner’s music scores. It really is a fusing of image and sound, you almost don’t know where one ends and the other begins. They collaborated on 1988’s “Decalogue” and remained lifelong friends and artistic partners, notably in Kieślowski’s later French-language works, “The Double Life of Veronique” and “The Three Color Trilogy.”

This is one of the evocative scenes in “Dekalog 2.” The dying patient, perhaps miraculously, begins to heal. He observes a honeybee that was drowning in a glass of fruit juice dramatically pull herself from certain death. It’s clearly a metaphor for overcoming a terminal disease. What else, on a larger scale, could that small insect’s powerful will-to-life struggle symbolize…

3. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. A family man who goes through the motions of being the dutiful father and husband in a cold marriage is confronted by his old flame. She accosts him on Christmas Eve, which is Poland’s most sacred holiday, manipulating him into spending an entire night in pointless wandering around nighttime Warsaw with her. She has a haunting kind of beauty and is something of a femme fatale, but also lonely and despairing. He must choose between honoring the Holy night and his old passion for this woman, a feeling that is now sublimated into a sense of responsibility for her.

4. Honor thy father and thy mother. A high school girl and her widowed father had always suspected that something is not fully normal between them. She finds herself sexually attracted to him and he, as a man, sometimes can’t help but notice her precocious beauty. What they have always suspected, on a downright instinctive level, is that he is not her biological father. There is a sealed letter his late wife, her mother, had left for the young woman that will resolve the uncertainty.

5. Thou shalt not kill. This is the best-known of the “Dekalog” installments, also made into a full-length film. A young man with sociopathic impulses murders an innocent taxi driver. He is sentenced to death for his crime and executed by hanging. I am not venturing into details and subplots in any of these films, for the sake of keeping this brief. Each episode requires the length of a full blog post to start appreciating. There is a great deal of complexity behind each moral dilemma, as well as in the characters’ personal situations.

The taxi driver is not a sympathetic figure, maybe a little more so than the nasty old woman killed by young Raskolnikov in “Crime and Punishment.” On the other hand, the viewer is drawn to sympathize with the killer in “Dekalog 5.” I’ve had conversations with liberal academics in Boston, who pointed out how this film makes a solid case against capital punishment. I disagreed with them twenty years ago and I still disagree. When I watch the execution scene, I feel sincerely sorry for the kid but I am also satisfied that the punishment redeems his humanity, the victim’s, and ours.

Here is Preisner’s film score for “Thou shalt not kill.”

Here is the execution scene.

6. Thou shalt not commit adultery. A lonely, awkward teenager spies on his neighbor. She is an attractive thirty-something single woman who has many flings and boyfriends. She discovers his spying on her and catches on to his pattern of creepy and nuisance stalker-behavior. She invites him over so that he can consummate his infatuation with her.

7. Thou shalt not steal. A teenage girl and her domineering mother go to extremes in their fight over a six-year-old girl. The child is an illegitimate daughter of the high school girl and the young lady’s handsome teacher, but raised to think that the older woman is her mother. The real mother, understandably for a teenager, originally agreed to that arrangement but then changed her mind.

8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Another way of saying that, is “don’t lie.” Two women meet in Warsaw for the first time since the German occupation of Poland in WWII. One is an older Polish woman, a university professor, if I recall correctly. The other is a somewhat younger visitor from the United States, an affluent Jewish woman who survived the war as a little girl and shortly after emigrated to America. She returns to confront the other woman over her refusal to shelter her during the war. As it turns out, there is more to the story, and the original grievance is misplaced.

9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. I don’t remember the plot of this one too well. I recall that it involves a well-to-do couple’s adultery. There is a sublime subplot involving the husband, who is a charming cardiologist, and his platonic relationship with a young opera singer. She is his patient, being treated for a career-ending heart condition. No doubt, a precursor-thought to Weronika/Veronique in Kieślowski later film.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods. This is a farce/comedy similar to the later “White” of the “Three Color Trilogy,” including the same principal actors. It involves the theft of a priceless stamp collection but I don’t recall it in detail.

The entire series is available on popular to-your-home streaming services, with English subtitles. Also on DVD if interested.

Offerte vobis pacem

That’s the title and a line in the refrain of the 1986 performance shown just below, “Let us offer each other a sign of peace.” Original: “Przekażmy sobie znak pokoju.” The video features a group of one country’s pop music artists, apparently inspired by – ahem – Englishman Bob Geldof’s similar assembly two years earlier called Band Aid, and USA For Africa the year after that. The Communist world behind Europe’s iron curtain was an imitator, not innovator, in the field of popular entertainment. It was backward, its bureaucrats allegedly wore ill-fitting tweed jackets and no deodorant, and it was not cool.

It had no fancy black people, no Cindy Lauper with her rainbow hair. It sang not of feeding Ethiopia but of giving one’s estranged friends an offering of peace, a Cold War metaphor. With such meekness on display, it’s no wonder that the Berlin Wall fell and the superiority of free markets was affirmed unto the end of history. The unfree-market Eastern Europe of the 1980s:

A man and a woman singing together into the same mic has its frisson. Just a passing observation.

I only recognize two artists in that video. The blondish woman who gets several solo parts, and is also shown in the video still image above, that’s the legendary Edyta Geppert. I once featured her performance in a blog post that led off with Greg Eliot’s great comment, his endeavor to justifie the ways of God to men as John Milton did three hundred years earlier.

The other artist I recognize is the short man with the dark mustache, wearing a black tuxedo. That’s Andrzej Zaucha. He will have died five years later, in 1991. French film director Yves Goulais shot and killed him, along with Goulais’s ex-wife, over an affair that the two of them were having. Zaucha’s signature song is the meditation “C’est la vie, Paris in a Postcard.”

Moving on — in 1979 the greatest-pop-band-ever rang in the Eighties with Happy New Year:

It’s the end of a decade
In another ten years time
Who can say what we’ll find
What lies waiting down the line
In the end of Eighty-Nine

What if Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid of four decades ago could see the Sweden of 2019 from back then? They would have been horrified, I’m certain. But they are alive in 2019 and each of them probably thinks that everything is fine. It’s not good for the individual human mind to bend this much over its arc of life…

Tonight it’s the end of the decade. Who can say what we’ll find at the end of Twenty-Nine? For now, let’s just offer our each other, and our friends and family, a sign of peace.

The customary style-template says “now link to a contemporary song to tie it all together.” Eh, no. What’s above is perfect. But there is this portal swirling in the air. It’s the year 2020 with its trumpets. See you all on the other side.

Idle Thoughts On “Little Drummer Boy”

The power of that song is the theme of innocence set to protective military cadence.

The American Boomer version. There is of course the David Bowie with Bing Cro… — No. The Bob Seger version is excellent musically, though. Lyrically, this version replaces references to Mary and Jesus with generic language. [Link]

The American Millennial version. Millennials as such don’t get many flattering reviews but people forget that as teenagers, they rushed to enlist in the armed forces after 9/11. In their late twenties and thirties they took to the streets in support of Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and kicked ass. Tragically, it turns out that 9/11 was done by the US government and AFG/IRQ are imperial globohomo wars against the good guys of that region. And then when elected, Trump ceded street activism to Antifa. In both instances, Millennials answered the call and both times they were betrayed by their leaders. Is it any wonder?

But it’s not over. The mountains in this excellent video might be in California, it’s hard to tell. The “Little Drummer Boy” performance below is quintessentially of that generation. It’s in the contemporary style of Country music. Not my favorite expression of the genre but halfway through, the song becomes intense. The signature quality of this style of vocal performance is meekness. It’s up to the viewer’s interpretation whether this meekness is the generation’s defeated spirit or whether what you’re seeing is the humility that comes with the feeling in your bones that things are getting serious. The pitch of malice toward us across the Western world is heightening, in Virginia particularly.

The male artist reminds me of the timeless truth that humble men are tougher than meets the eye. The female artist grew on me, with her adoring attitude toward him. Always bet on humble men and women who are willing to take it to the mat once the course of human events reaches escape velocity.

Continental Europe: German. This version is even more true to the spirit of the song than the famous 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone. German lyrics, such as “Liebes Christuskind,” have a different effect than “Baby Jesu” in the original English. [Link]

Continental Europe: Greek and French. The performance is in French. The legendary Nana Mouskouri is Greek. [Link]

A cross-cultural anachronism. The Afro-Caribbean ladies of vintage Boney M are Nubian hieroglyphs-come-to-life. The past decade killed the fiction of amity across races, therefore seeing that European boy among them has the effect of watching a child play with three well behaved pit bulls. [Link]

At the edge of civilization: Norway. How do you reignite the faltering light of your culture in a song? One way would be what this group of Norwegian university students did: a brilliant ode to their country. I don’t know if such symbolism was intended, but at 2:50 the strings create a warlike, Middle Eastern-like sound which then gets silenced by the chorus. [Link]

The European man at the antipodes. New Zealand children’s performance. The magic moment that begins at 1:50 defines our destiny. The two young White boys against the world. The martial drum and bagpipe, the girl chorus backing them faithfully. [Link]

Merry Christmas.

A merry fighting song

Typing this, I look forward to seeing what happens in Warsaw on November 11, the day that over the past several years saw Poland’s Independence Day march grow into the largest and best organized pan-European nationalist celebration event in all of the West.

Meanwhile, I discovered this song. It is performed every August 1st on the anniversary of the start of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. It’s part of the annual “Forbidden Songs” concert, featuring songs that were illegal under the German occupation as resistance anthems, and later under Communism because the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) resistance was considered fascist by the Communists. Here is a performance of one such song last year:

It is titled “Pałacyk Michla”, or Michler’s Palace, named after the landmark building around which the song’s author was involved in combat. It was written during the 1944 Uprising by Home Army soldier Józef Szczepański, internet handle pseudonim “Ziutek.”

Who won World War II? In a way, Poland did. Though the victory came with a price, not in the least the ten years of Judeo-Stalinist terror after the war. Yet post-war Poland’s borders were restored very closely to what they were at the country’s founding in 966 AD; her population went from as low as only about 65% ethnically Polish in some regions before the war to entirely homogeneous and it almost doubled from 1945 to 1990. Poland was spared the Cultural Marxist indoctrination that the “free world” got soaked in, along with the mass immigration. Faith was strengthened, rather than weakened.

I told someone in 2001, and this person thought I was crazy: “Today everyone goes on about what we can learn from the West. But in twenty years it’ll be, what can the West learn from us?

I translated the lyrics below… some of the ’40s era slang might be inexactly rendered but it should be close enough. The lyrics are very much in the playful street-vernacular of its time. The best part is just watching the video and seeing no Diversity, just a lot of people of all looks and ages having a good time under the magnificent Cross. You can even catch glimpses of aged Uprising veterans in the audience. Nobody coerced any of those people to be there, many with their kids way past their bed time. Entirely apropos are this week’s words of Millennial Woes:

Even now, the progressive elites have to hide their true beliefs from the public. We don’t. We can be very honest with the public because we are not opposed to the public. We do not despise the public. We are not trying to betray, trick, replace, or destroy the public. [link]

The August 1st concert is not some mandatory-attendance Communist pep rally. It’s the genuine will of the people in its robust, joyful, collective, and unadulterated expression.

Michler’s Palace

Michler’s palace, Żytnia Street, Wola district
Umbrella Battalion boys defend them
They set their traps for Tiger tanks
They are Varsovians, handsome lads!

Refrain after every verse, x2
Be alert boys, keep your senses sharp
Flex your young spirit, work in double-time!

And every gent wants to get wounded
’cause the field nurses – they’re pretty gals
And should a bullet hit you
Ask one – she’ll give you a kiss – hey!

Behind us, it’s the logistics
Various supporters, assorted helpers
They cook the soup, they boil black coffee
That’s how they fight for the cause – hey!

Our top brass is awesome too
They’re in the combat zone with us
And the coolest of the officers
Is our own “Miecio” with his bad haircut – hey!

Our boys are fighting, our boys are singing
The Krauts are fuming, their faces livid
They try their tricks
They keep sending us their rockets – hey!

But their rockets and grenades are for naught
They get their hides tanned
And every day the moment’s closer
To victory! back to a civilian life – hey!

The moral of the song: you too can start your 75-year-long folk festival project.

“The Reply”

The poem/song “Odpowiedź” (The Reply), in English translation. Open thread.

It’ll be a night in heavy snow / To będzie noc w głębokim śniegu
Which muffles footsteps / Który ma moc głuszenia kroków
In the shadow that transforms / W głębokim cieniu co przemienia
The body into two pools of darkness / Ciało na dwie kałuże mroku
We lie down holding our breaths / Leżymy powstrzymując oddech
And even the softest whisper of thoughts / I nawet szept najlżejszy myśl

If the wolves don’t track us down / Jeśli nas nie wyśledzą wilki
Or the man in a fur coat who swings / I człowiek w szubie co kołysze
Rapid-fire death from his chest / Na piersi szybkostrzelną śmierć
We must spring into a run / Poderwać trzeba się i biec
To the dry applause of brief salvos / W oklasku suchych krótkich salw
Onto that longed-for shore / Na tamten upragniony brzeg

Refrain
Everywhere the same soil, it teaches wisdom

Wszędzie ta sama ziemia jest, naucza mądrość

Everywhere man cries clear tears, mothers rock their babies
/
Wszędzie człowiek białymi łzami płacze, Matki kołyszą dzieci

The moon rises and builds our white home 
/ Księżyc wschodzi i biały dom buduje nam

It’ll be a night that follows hard reality / To będzie noc po trudnej jawie
A conspiracy of the imagination / Ta konspiracja wyobraźni
It tastes like bread, is light like vodka / Ma chleba smak i lekkość wódki
But the choice to stay / Lecz wybór by pozostać tu
Confirms each dream of palm trees / Potwierdza każdy sen o palmach

The dream interrupts the entry of those three / Przerwie sen nagłe wejście trzech
Made tall by rubber and iron / Wysokich z gumy i żelaza
They’ll check the name check the fear / Sprawdzą nazwisko sprawdzą strach
And order you to go down the stairs / I zejść rozkażą w dół po schodach
They won’t let you take anything along / Nic z sobą zabrać nie pozwolą
But the watchman’s sympathetic face / Prócz współczującej twarzy stróża

[Refrain]

Hellenic, Roman, Medieval / Helleńska, rzymska, średniowieczna
Indian, Elizabethan, Italian / Indyjska, elżbietańska, włoska
French above all, I think / Francuska nade wszystko chyba
A bit of Weimar and Versailles / Trochę weimarska i wersalska
So many homelands we carry  / Tyle dźwigamy naszych ojczyzn
On Earth’s one back / Na jednym grzbiecie jednej ziemi

But the one that’s guarded / Lecz ta jedyna, której strzeże
By that most singular number / Liczba najbardziej pojedyncza
Is right here where they stomp you into the ground /
Jest tutaj gdzie cię wdepczą w grunt

Or with a shovel’s hard ringing / Lub szpadlem, który hardo dzwoni
They dig a large hole / W tęsknocie zrobią spory dół

—–

Original poem “Odpowiedź” (The Reply) by Zbigniew Herbert, 1986. Music and vocals by Przemysław Gintrowski. My translation to English.

Songs about the rain

The purpose of the entertainment (((industry))) is to corrupt everything it touches, starting with the talent that it recruits. In exchange for our balladeers’ souls it gives them the world. The Highwaymen, four talented men who made their careers in the diabolical industry. Kris Kristofferson likened Jesus Christ, approvingly, to Barabbas Che Guevara. Johnny Cash spent much of his long life extricating himself from the wreckage of his youthful hedonism. Willie Nelson pushed marijuana. Waylon Jennings never forgave himself for telling his friends “I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”


“Freedom’s just another word for…” That was then. There is always something left to lose. What follows is now.

Outrunning the rain:

… I walked five miles to meet a friend at a pub. This was at the height of last summer. Things were heavy after Charlottesville and there was an eclipse coming. At first, the heavy clouds to my south looked like they will pass me, but they were getting closer and blacker, taking on the greenish tinge one sees before a tornado. I walked in just as the downpour hit.

My friend arrived by car at the same time, as planned. We sat at a table by the window, with the thunderous pounding of the rain drowning out the conversation. He was in as somber a mood as I was that day. Our waitress stopped for a bit of small talk and shuddered, looking through the window. If anyone had asked me what’s on my mind, I’d have thought about if briefly and said: ___

The walk took place in the summer of 2017. That thought was completed for me in the comments:

so it will be before the walls of Gondor, the Great Battle of our Time

lotr1


Songs about the rain with no mention of the two greatest, November Rain and Purple Rain:

Adele, Set Fire to the Rain. One of the few fine recordings from the past 15 years.

Peter Gabriel, Red Rain. He has a lot to answer for, with his anti-Apartheid activism. Except if artists do not possess a free will, in which case he’s innocent. The artist as a passive conduit:

how does [art] become? I think there are three elements. One: the artist’s sub-rational openness to the transcendent; you can also call that authenticity, or sincerity. Two: artist the man as a medium; his purity or corruption, his originality in filtering the intangible on it way to material expression. Three: his technical skill [in delivering] the artifact faithfully to intent.

The artist is also susceptible to being manipulated by his handlers.

The Alarm, Rain in the Summertime. Northeastern Europe… childhood memory of birds singing after the summer storm passes.

Edie Brickell, A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. Vocally, she’s to the song’s writer Bob Dylan as a mammal is to a scorpion. I haven’t listened to this in decades until just now and it was nice to hear it again.

Late 1980s, “Tommy” and I worked in a restaurant after school. Brickell’s What I Am was playing and the manager, a charismatic woman, said something flippant about that song. Tommy chuckled and said “Yeah, she thinks she’s God’s gift to alternative music.” I made friends with him earlier in high school. He had just moved in from another state and got sat next to me in math class. His intelligence as measured by the SAT was stratospheric. Soon enough he showed me his notebook of original poetry. There was an ode to the moon. Good times hanging out in his mom’s house, philosophizing to Pink Floyd (no drugs).

He dropped off the radar not long after high school. A mutual friend gets in contact with him thirty years later and learns that he had recently gone through a sex-change operation. If you knew Tommy, you’d not be caught off-guard by that. His once deep, resonant voice now sounds like a woman’s. He went to an extreme of self-injury seeking peace.

Willie Nelson, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. Shania Twain performs the vocals here, with the Old Master himself backing her on his own song. The highlight is Willie Nelson’s guitar solo halfway through the song. Talent is rare and you know it when you see it.

St. Sylvester’s in July

How many of you here in the northern hemisphere miss the winter? All in good time. The European spirit runs on the four-seasons cycle. Here is the second-greatest pop act of all time, the Italian duo Albano Carrisi and Romina Power. They are performing at the 2018/2019 New Year’s Eve concert in Zakopane:

They sing these four of their hits:

  • “Ci Sara” (There will be) – a harmony of hope. Previously featured here.

Their performances of that song always end on a cliffhanger. The song ends with, loosely translated, “There will be a sweeter way of saying… I love you.” The two are divorced, so their fans want to see them reunited. They have four children, one of whom, Ylenia, went missing in New Orleans in 1994. Albano had a private investigator on the case for twenty years and believes that his daughter is dead. Romina believes that she’s still alive.

After their divorce, Albano went on to have a son and a daughter with a new girlfriend. He joked about doing his part to help Italy’s demographics.

The cliffhanger: at 3:30 the fans watch Albano pause just before the last three words as Romina looks on. Catering to their audience, he belts out: “Kochamy Was,” or “we love y’all!”

  • “Sharazan” [4:08] – a dream of a journey to magical lands
  • “Sempre Sempre” [9:07] – a romantic confession
  • “Felicita” [12:55] – an ode to joy, their greatest song. Previously featured here, along with great amateur cover performances.

They don’t perform “Libertà,” their serious song, but here it is.

The arc of life. They are young in the scene from a 1967 musical below. As I gather from the film’s plot summary, she is a rich debutante with her rich friends, he is a poor but talented suitor. Even her sexy patrician mother approves as she looks on. A great scene. Romina was preternaturally gorgeous when young; she’s about 16 that year, Albano is in his mid-twenties. As Jaded Jurist once remarked:

OMG they were cute in that piece. They make Sonny & Cher look like retarded muppets.

Here is the original post about this act. Albano is Italian, named in honor of his father who was on the WWII Albanian front during his birth. Romina is American or Mexican, depending on how that’s counted. She’s of mixed western European ancestry.

Someone who remembers the Sixties said that it was in fact a straightlaced decade. The hippie aesthetic didn’t catch on until the Seventies. Yeah, going by what those characters are wearing. The portal to Hell was reopened shortly after the election of George W. Bush.

Open thread.