It takes balls for a one-screen movie house to air 12 hours of Polish television programming, but that’s what happens beginning this Saturday at Texas Theatre.
Dekalog, a collection of 10 one-hour, made-for-TV films focused loosely on thematic elements of the Ten Commandments, will get the big screen treatment thanks to a partnership between the arthouse movie theater and the Nasher Sculpture Center. They'll be doled out in two-episode chunks with an encore run of episodes 5 and 6, and Dallas viewers can buy tickets for each, or they can commit to a series pass which ends in what is bound to be one extremely nerdy Q&A.
Recently remastered by Janus Films and directed by its co-author, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Dekalog is an examination of morality as experienced by characters dwelling in the same Warsaw apartment complex. Their lives move across one another’s as their personal stories bubble up to the surface. “Sadness, love, despair, grief, embarrassment, death and sometimes a combination of all of the above,” Texas Theatre’s Barak Epstein says. “Each episode generally covers the story of two characters involved in some sort of emotional trauma.”
The 600-minute opus was made on a micro-budget in the late '80s and seems to only get more traction with age. Janus’ latest 4K restoration (made from original 35mm elements) will likely introduce the series to a younger HBO Go generation, whose love of binge-watching in this instance is a double-edged sword. In his review of the Dekalog, Roger Ebert said this: “You shouldn’t watch the films all at once, but one at a time. Then if you are lucky and have someone to talk with, you discuss them, and learn about yourself. Or if you are alone, you discuss them with yourself, as so many of Kieslowski’s characters do.”
While Dekalog’s films are deeply engrossing, they’re also packed with some pretty heady stuff. To be well absorbed, a theater’s immersive setting, paired with space in between viewing blocks, lets the existential goop both sink in and air out. But let’s face it: It’s a real bitch to screen. You’d have to be a little nuts.
What do you do, ask people to make five or 10 separate visits to the theater? Or to commit to a screening bender? And what about the income being lost as you screen 12 hours of Polish programming to a small, self-selected fan base?
However it’s presented, airing Dekalog requires trust — both from those offering the thing and in the audience attending — that this commitment will be worth it.
Fortunately for Dallas, both Texas Theatre and the Nasher are long-running supporters of making “difficult film” available locally.
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Early last year the Nasher and Texas Theatre partnered on another film dare, screening Matthew Barney’s newest, River of Fundament. The five-plus-hour opera layers the experimental artist’s work on top of a minimalist, atonal score — which is already asking a lot of an audience. Add that the central theme of transcendence, or “passing through,” is represented on screen as poop — lots and lots of poop — and you can understand why River of Fundament didn’t get a monthlong run at AMC.
That said, “more than 100 people came out last year to watch a five-and-a-half-hour movie about excrement,” Epstein points out.
If the logistics of catching all 10 hours on screen are unmanageable, Epstein recommends episodes 5 and 6, the only films in the series to get encore screenings. “These are the two that have their own titles: A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love,” he explains. “A Short Film about Killing might be one of the most hardcore 60 minutes of devastating cinema you will ever see.”
So if you’re up for the challenge, take part in this late-January viewing experiment with a series pass. (Nasher and Texas Theatre members get a very worthwhile discount on the thing.) Or if you’d rather pick and choose your commandments, you can buy each film individually for $5. Screenings begin Saturday at 4 p.m. and end Sunday, Jan. 29. Visit thetexastheatre.com or nashersculpturecenter.org for individual screening times and to purchase tickets.