Movie Review: Ten Monologues From The Lives Of The Serial Killers
Ten Monologues from the Lives of the Serial Killers is an older film (1994) by South African filmmaker Aryan Kaganof back when he was known as Ian Kerkhof. (He changed his name after meeting his biological father.) The point of noting all this up front is that knowing it adds an extra dimension to watching what is essentially an hourlong meditation on identity.
The film is pretty much what the title says, even if not all of the monologues come exactly from serial killers. Each monologue is like its own short little movie, but connected through both the tone of each monologue’s delivery and through a cohesive visual style. Apparently, all serial killers talk in a slow drawl, almost as if they talk while perpetually half-asleep. Their statements are both concrete and obliquely hazy at the same time, with a loopy kind of logic that makes sense once you can figure out what they’re talking about. They’re also almost uniformly obsessed with the past.
Visually, Ten Monologues looks much older than its fifteen years due to a grainy, high-contrast look, almost as if we’re watching home movies. One monologue actually is old home movie footage cut up and processed to look more deteriorated than its washed out tint implies. The set-ups also vary from monologue to monologue. Sometimes we see the speaker and sometimes we don’t. Some set-ups are simple, such as one person in one shot, to other more complex visual “stories,” such as the one that has a little “plot” about a man watching children in a playground then stalking a woman walking by. Nobody in the film is seen being killed, although one woman seems close to meeting her final reward.
While the monologues are all drawn from various sources, some from real life and some literary, one gets the idea that this is a very personal film and that Kerkhof / Kaganof has pulled out passages that most reflect his state of mind — at least the part of his mind that skews towards darker thoughts. None of the monologues talk about death directly and are instead musings on identity and how the past has shaped the present. The ultimate expression of the film’s intimate nature is the segment where a completely naked Kaganof masturbates while a porno movie is projected onto his abdomen and an actual recording of Ted Bundy discussing his sexual hangups plays on the soundtrack.
Other serial killers whose words are used in the film are Edmund Emil Kemper (“The Co-Ed Killer”) and Kenneth Bianchi (one-half of the Hillside Stranglers). Meanwhile, the literary sources of the monologues come from J.G. Ballard (The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash), Roberta Lannes (Goodbye, Park Love) and Henry Rollins.
The monologues vary enough from each other so that the film is successful as a whole. None seem too long nor too short, although some are memorable just from the visuals or some by the audio. The least memorable monologue is the Henry Rollins one where the visuals tell a little story, i.e. the park stalker mentioned above. The overall film is more successful when the visuals are more abstract, but still closely connected to the monologue subject matter they’re connected with. For better or worse, Kaganof pleasuring himself is memorable. It’s shot in a high light and dark contrast and the shots are neve still for more than a few nanoseconds. Also, the innocent home movie footage paired with author Lannes’ fictional dark childhood reminiscence is a terrifically sad and successful pairing, as is strangely the Geto Boys rap song played against a plain red screen.
The absolute best monologue out of the bunch is the one using the words of Charles Manson — technically not a serial killer — delivered by performer Lorand Sarna. A musician by trade, Sarna delivers Manson’s monologue directly to the camera with a slow, sing-song-y and utterly convincing delivery. He’s comes across as very thoughtful and heartfelt, as if he’s just coming up with his philosophies on life on the spot. If one didn’t do a little Internet research on who Sarna really is, one might go so far as to believe that Kaganof had gone out and found a real-life serial killer to interview. It’s a powerful and compelling performance.
Although Ten Monologues from the Lives of the Serial Killers focuses exclusively on unpleasant issues, it’s still an eloquent meditation on the nature of identity. Not only does our past inform our present, but we also define ourselves through the words of others that we identify with as being our own. That these concepts come from a filmmaker who has at the least symbolically changed his own identity through the changing of his name makes the film all the more intriguing.
More on this film: Movie Site
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This beautiful film won the 1st (first) Prize at the “Semana de Cine Experimental” (Experimental Cinema Week)of Madrid in 1995 (this means 14 years ago).