A Short Film About Killing by Krzysztof Kieslowski is probably in my Top Ten films of all time. Actually now I’m thinking about it; Top Five. A Short Film About Killing was what you might call my first true World Cinema experience. That film taught me how to read and watch and listen attentively, all at the same time. A cool trick that my school never tried to educate effectively. An eighty-one minute film versus ten years of school. No contest. I don’t know how many times I have seen the film. But more than my years at school. It’s a Polish film and I once used to have this Polish family who lived below one of my flats. I was a bit of a property tycoon during my middle years. Anyway, one of my tenants moaned no end about them, about this Polish family downstairs. They had three kids. All noisy little runts who screamed in Polish. ‘Satanski’s Children’, he always called them. The mother used to scream a great deal in Polish too. Screamed so loud it pierced your inner ear and made it ring; gave you tinnitus. So I rented out my DVD to my tenant – I think his name was Bert but it could have been Barry. I rented him my DVD copy of A Short Film About Killing by Krzysztof Kieslowski and told him to play the film loud. Not in anyway to intimidate, but to communicate a message along the neighbourly lines of: “I’m bothering to widen my mind and my vocabulary by appreciating your own particular language up here, so shut the fuck up right now down there and allow me quality time to read, watch and listen attentively to A Short Film About Killing in absolute fucking peace or they’ll most definitely be war!” A humane message from a second floor flat in Stepney Green being conveyed across the European frontier. But sadly, nothing moved forward. Even more disappointedly, Bert/Barry said he didn’t enjoy the film at all. It made him feel sick, a horrible film that gave him a headache too, he said. Bert/Barry also added how, after watching the film and getting a headache, he was certain that the relentless screaming of the damned from downstairs had increased not decreased. Like they were imagining nightly that they were about to be dragged into a gas chamber. More on gas chambers in a minute. I actually wanted the Polish geezer to come up and complain to Bert/Barry. That he’d walk through the door, and all riot would break out once I received the good news that I could get physically involved myself. I mean, it was my property and my tenant after all and this Polish guy, by all accounts, needed sorting. He was a dickhead, skinny, disposable. A weak man who couldn’t keep his family in line. She was half decent for a rake apparently. I said one time to Bert/Barry that it sounded to me like the family would tuck themselves neatly, collectively, into one coffin. Mummy, daddy, little boy and two sisters; put a lid on their big mouths. I said to Bert/Barry that we should bury our Polish problem on some windswept moor. He said that it was a sick thing for me to have said and definitely not the romantic vision I had stipulated. Perhaps I should feel rotten about such morbid ideas. But I’ve always tried to remain true to myself. I mean, when I was a small boy growing up, my life all unmapped territory, I used to be fascinated by The Final Solution. It was something so big a theme to flap around a small boy’s mind like a trapped bat. While I could understand our tiny insignificant place within the context of the Universe, I just could not fathom how it was possible to exterminate so many people, to do so, so ruthlessly mechanical. Gas chambers. I drew a picture of one when I was about nine years old.
To an onlooker my gas chamber was just a square with five stick people bent over and a lot of squiggles above them. Those five stick people I was having gassed in my drawing was a definite form of release. It was the first time I recognised that I had the talent to create and how it could help me feel comfortable about dealing with idiots. My background was pretty tough. But that’s my business. I might be able to project a tough exterior, but I’m a sensitive guy too. My gas chamber did the job. I gassed Mrs Chang, the miserable slanty-eyed midget teacher who beat me in front of the whole class for pretending to light up a cigarette and then refusing to hand over both the unlit fag and Clipper lighter; neither the cigarette or the Clipper lighter belonged to me, they were the property of Carl Richards, so not mine to give away. Anyway, it was madness. Everyone knew back then that I was crippled, held hostage by asthma, and me pretending to smoke a fag was supposed to be a liberating moment for me. But like all teachers, she completely missed the innocent importance of the gesture. While Mrs Chang beat me, I could smell her piss. It was all very unsettling for a small boy. Standing there on that hot day, choking on the stench of her piss while the back of my legs forever reddened courtesy of the hard wooden back of a chalk eraser. So I drew a gas chamber when I got home and had her gassed. For good measure and to be economical with my own free time, I also stuck the old man in there too. He liked to beat me like I was his equal weight and build when I was small and crippled by asthma while still finding my way through those vulnerable, difficult early growing years. Having gassed the old man I also added his cunt of a sick brother, my Uncle Mel. Uncle Mel always tried to stick his hands between my legs at every given opportunity; when family heads were turned elsewhere. I gassed him the slowest. As I was enjoying myself, I chucked in little Terry Coxon and his twin brother Johnny, who both made the mistake in grassing me up to Roger the Bender (our local tobacconist) for nicking a Sherbet Dip right from under his nose. I didn’t need to recreate a gas chamber a couple of years later for Brett Wilson though; even though he was a right evil fucking rotter. Brett Wilson told me a lie that I once believed. More fool me to fall for such fairytale bullshit. You see, he had prefect blonde hair, these bright blue eyes and pink lips like a doll, and he told me one day all candidly, that he was an intergalactic planetary alien sent from a superior planet called, Soror – a planet that orbited a lager Sun in a far more dynamic and evolved neighbouring Solar System. He was certainly both stunning looking and weird with it too, to carry off such a misguided claim. Brett Wilson said that if I gave him a penny every day he would eventually be able to afford on my behalf, the supernatural remedy to cure me of my asthma; I really was once a very ill child: I ended up missing a whole year off of school and when I returned I was still somewhat frail. He must have had nearly eight bob off of me. As I just said, I had been gravely ill. But when I began to get a hold of myself and then had him sussed, and asked politely for my money back, do you know what he said to me? This Brett Wilson. Pratt Wilson more like. He said, “Your tough shit, Dickie, for backing the wrong horse.” Well that was certainly a revelation. I woke up the second those words licked my face with the scent of his foul dog breath and I smacked the cunt, hit him so hard and faster than the speed of light, that not only had I knocked him out, but this beautiful young blue-eyed boy became a fantastic speechless introvert from that moment onwards, ending up overdosing on heroin before he’d gotten out of his stinking teens. And far more important than his timely and welcome exit from the planet Earth, I made sure to this day that I never backed the wrong horse ever again.
An extract from The Killing by Joe England