Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Four

The Four
The Economist
The New York Times
Financial Times
Scott Galloway's new book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google analyses the impact of the 800-pound gorillas of online technology: "Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are the four most influential companies on the planet." Galloway calls them "the Four Horsemen," and Nick Bilton (author of Hatching Twitter) makes the same point in the current (November) issue of Vanity Fair: "The four horsemen of the coming economic apocalypse - Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook - have already flattened entire industries."

Galloway's book is similar to Charles Arthur's Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the Battle for the Internet, and in case anyone was wondering about Microsoft, Galloway argues that it was "the original horseman." (MS Office, Internet Explorer, and Hotmail have been superseded by Google's Docs, Chrome, and Gmail, and computing is shifting from Windows to Android and iOS.)

Referring to the same tech oligopoly, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt called them the "gang of four" at the D9 conference in 2011: "Obviously, one of them, in my view, is Google, the other three being Apple, Amazon, and Facebook." Schmidt and Jared Cohen discussed the same four brands in The New Digital Age: "We believe that modern technology platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, are even more powerful than most people realize".

The Economist (on 1st December 2012) also highlighted the same quartet: "THE four giants of the internet age - Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon - are extraordinary creatures. Never before has the world seen firms grow so fast or spread their tentacles so widely." (The metaphor was repeated in a cartoon by David Parkins, depicting the companies as giant squid.) The Wall Street Journal (on Boxing Day 2012) also assessed the rivalry between the same four firms: "Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook vs. Amazon".

Farhad Manjoo made the same point in Fast Company (in November 2011): "Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon battle for the future". In The New York Times (on 21st January 2016), he added Microsoft to the group: "There are currently four undisputed rulers of the consumer technology industry: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google... And there's one more, Microsoft, whose influence once looked on the wane, but which is now rebounding." Manjoo calls them "the Frightful Five" and his 6th May New York Times column featured an illustration by Doug Chayka showing a raft formed from the five logos. A photomontage by James Ferguson in the Financial Times yesterday showed the same five as UFOs over New York.


Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years
Bride of Frankenstein
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein
Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years traces the cultural history of Frankenstein's monster since the publication of Mary Shelley's novel in 1818. Christopher Frayling's book, published last month, features dozens of full-page illustrations, including paintings, posters, and production stills. Frayling has previously recorded a commentary for the Universal Frankenstein DVD, and given a lecture on the novel at the Science Museum in London.

Shelley revised her novel in 1831, after it had been successfully adapted for the stage. It has since been filmed more than a hundred times, my favourites being James Whale's Frankenstein (the Expressionist film that established horror as a Hollywood genre), Whale's sequel Bride of Frankenstein (his subversive masterpiece), The Curse of Frankenstein (Hammer's reinvention of the monster), AIP's 'teensploitation' I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, and Andy Warhol's outrageous Flesh for Frankenstein (made in 3D).

The novel's alternative title was The Modern Prometheus, a reference to the Greek creation myth. In his cultural history, Frayling argues that Frankenstein is the modern Genesis: "Today, Frankenstein has taken over from Adam and Eve as the creation myth for the age of genetic engineering." Frayling's previous books include Once Upon a Time in Italy, Something to Do with Death, Spaghetti Westerns, Ken Adam, Ken Adam Designs the Movies, and The 2001 File.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Patani Semasa

Patani Semasa
MAIIAM, the Chiang Mai art museum which opened last year with an Apichatpong Weerasethakul retrospective, is currently showing Patani Semasa, a group exhibition of art that reflects the ethnic and religious identities of Thailand's southernmost region. The exhibition includes four works from Apichatpong's photographic Photophobia project, incorporating images of the aftermath of the 2004 Tak Bai massacre. Patani Semasa opened on 19th July, and will close on Valentine's Day next year.

Bangkok Screening Room

Citizen Dog
The Birds
After showing Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร) earlier this year, Bangkok Screening Room will be showing Wisit's Citizen Dog (หมานคร) next month. The cinema will also be screening Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds later this month.

The Birds will be shown on 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th, and 29th November; and 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th December. Citizen Dog opens on 28th November, and continues on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 16th, 17th, and 21st December.


Publication of the conservative Iranian newspaper Kayhan (کيهان‎‎) was suspended yesterday and today, after its main headline on 6th November ("شلیک موشک انصارالله به ریاض هدف بعدی، دوبی") speculated that Houthis in Yemen could fire a missile at the Saudi Arabian capital, Dubai. Iran has already been accused by Saudi Arabia of supplying missiles to the Houthis.

Several other Iranian newspapers have previously been suspended, or had their licences revoked. Shargh (شرق), the ideological opposite of Kayhan, was shut down in 2012 over a cartoon. Mardom-e Emrooz (مردم امروز) was closed down in 2015 after it printed an Arabic translation of "Je suis Charlie" in solidarity with the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Meat Grinder (DVD)

Meat Grinder
Tiwa Moeithaisong's horror film Meat Grinder was heavily censored for its Thai release. (Also, its Thai title was changed from ก๋วยเตี๋ยว เนื้อ คน to เชือดก่อนชิม.) The UK DVD version, released by 4Digital in 2010, is uncut in terms of violence, though some sequences have been removed for pacing reasons. These scenes are present in the Thai version, which has substantially different editing and alternate footage.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide
Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide was released on DVD in the UK by Nucleus. The release, in 2009, was a limited edition (of which my copy is number 620), and it included five postcards featuring video inlay covers.

The three-hour documentary, directed by Jake West, includes interviews with Martin Barker (author of The Video Nasties, the first book on the subject) and Kim Newman (author of Nightmare Movies), amongst many others. The exhaustive documentary is accompanied by trailers for the 'video nasties' themselves, introduced by interviewees from the documentary.

Syndromes and a Century (DVD)

Syndromes and a Century
Worldly Desires
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) was released on DVD by the BFI in 2008. The film was censored in Thailand, though the DVD is uncut. The disc includes a fifteen-minute interview with the director, an illustrated booklet, and Apichatpong's short film Worldly Desires (ความทรงจำในป่า).

À Rebours (DVD)

A Rebours
À Rebours, a collection of eleven short underground films, was released on DVD by Cinema Abattoir in 2009. The DVD is limited to 500 copies, and its case is wrapped in chicken wire. The collection includes the first commercial release of the explicit The Dead Man II: Return of the Dead Man (by Aryan Kaganof, previously known as Ian Kerkof), which begins with a hardcore fellatio scene followed by a 'Roman shower'.

Visions of Ecstasy (DVD)

Visions of Ecstasy
Nigel Wingrove's short film Visions of Ecstasy was banned by the British Board of Film Classification in 1989, and is the only film to be banned in the UK on the grounds of blasphemy. Wingrove lost all of his subsequent appeals against the ban, both in the UK and the European Union.

However, the UK's blasphemy law was repealed in 2008, making Visions of Ecstasy legally available for the first time (along with James Kirkup's poem The Love that Dares to Speak its Name). It was released on DVD in 2012 by Wingrove's distribution company, Redemption, along with a booklet (Finding Ecstasy on the Road to Redemption) written by the director.

Soi Cowboy (DVD)

Soi Cowboy
Thomas Clay's film Soi Cowboy (ซอยคาวบอย) was released on DVD in the UK by Network in 2010. While the film was cut for its Thai release, the DVD version is uncensored. Thai censors cut a scene featuring the royal anthem, filmed inside a cinema in Bangkok. (All film screenings in Thailand are preceded by the royal anthem, and the audience is required to stand while it's being played.)

The (fairly innocuous) scene in question lasts for less than a minute, and shows audience members rising from their seats when the anthem begins. The film's producer, Tom Waller, told me earlier this year: "The censors felt that use of the royal anthem in the film was deemed commercial use of the monarchy and that was not allowed, so they ordered that scene be cut from the film."

It was for this reason that Apichatpong Weerasethakul showed a cinema audience standing in silence in his film Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ ขอนแก่น), as he told me in an interview last year: "I actually wanted to show the royal anthem, because it's documentary-like. It's what we do. But I know it's impossible, because in the movie Soi Cowboy, this was cut out. Censored. So I said, "It's impossible anyway." So, just silence."

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Empire Film Guide 2

Empire Film Guide 2
The first Empire Film Guide was published in 2006 (a year after the final edition of The Virgin Film Guide, which it closely resembles). Empire Film Guide 2 appeared in 2007. Edited by Ian Freer, it features reviews of 3,000 films, along with movie trivia "to impress the opposite sex" (heteronormativity alert).

Although the book hasn't been updated in the last decade, it remains an incredibly useful guide to classic films. The reviews are quite lengthy (almost full-page in many cases), and they're written by Empire journalists including Kim Newman, who contributed many reviews of older films.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

World of Art
Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism
The second edition of David Anfam's Abstract Expressionism was published in 2015, as part of Thames & Hudson's World of Art series. Most histories of Abstract Expressionism profile each of the movement's major artists individually, though Anfam takes a thematic and broadly chronological approach. The book includes a chapter on the legacy of the movement, and an annotated bibliography.

Anfam also curated a Royal Academy exhibition on Abstract Expressionism last year. The Triumph of American Painting (by Irving Sandler) and Abstract Expressionist Painting in America (William C. Seitz's PhD thesis, published posthumously) are the other key texts on the subject.

Friday, 3 November 2017

مع دودي

مع دودي
Egyptian television presenter Doaa Salah has been sentenced to three years in prison for outraging public decency, after she advocated single motherhood on her variety TV show مع دودي. She was released on bail this morning. In an episode broadcast by Al Nahar on 28th July, she delivered a tongue-in-cheek monologue recommending women to visit sperm banks, become pregnant before marriage, or enter into short-term marriages of convenience.


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The 400 Blows

The 400 Blows
On Sunday, the Alliance Française in Bangkok will be showing François Truffaut's wonderful The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups), the film that launched the French New Wave. The screening will be attended by the film's leading actor, Jean-Pierre Léaud, who was a teenager when he played the protagonist, Antoine Doinel.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Reinventing Hollywood

Reinventing Hollywood
One of David Bordwell's contentions in The Way Hollywood Tells It was that the post-modern storytelling associated with contemporary cinema has its roots in the classical Hollywood era. Bordwell expands on that theme in his latest book, the encyclopedic Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling, released this month. Reinventing Hollywood is a continuation of The Way Hollywood Tells It, bookended by chapters called "The Way Hollywood Told It" and "The Way Hollywood Keeps Telling It".

Bordwell identifies a variety of narrative experiments, including voice-over, flashbacks, alternate perspectives, and dream sequences (also discussed in a chapter of Film Noir: Light and Shadow), culminating in "Artifice in Excelsis", a chapter on self-reflexive cinema. There is one auteurist chapter, on Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles ("The Lessons of the Masters"), though Bordwell finds innovation in an impressive range of films, not only the established canon.

Reinventing Hollywood is concerned with how cinematic stories are told, rather than what they look like, though stylistic analysis can be found in Film Art: An Introduction (by Bordwell and Kristin Thompson) and The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (by Bordwell, Thompson, and Janet Staiger). Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s, edited by Thomas Schatz, covers the changes in the film industry during that decade.


Last night, Bangkok's CityCity Gallery hosted film screenings and live performances to mark the release of an album of music from the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Metaphors: An Evening of Sound and Moving Image with Kick the Machine will take place again this evening, though tickets are sold out.

Screenings included Apichatpong's short films Ghost of Asia (previously shown at Indy Spirit Project and Apichatpong on Video Works) and Vapour (หมอกแม่ริม; with live music by Thanart Rasanon on guitar). There was a technical hitch after the intermission, and the schedule was slightly different from the one advertised, with Ghost of Asia as a substitute for I'm Still Breathing (ฉันยังคงหายใจ). The evening ended with an extract from Apichatpong's installation film Fever Room (ฉันยังคงหายใจ).

The album Metaphors: Selected Soundworks from the Cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul features fourteen tracks, including music from Tropical Malady (สัตว์ประหลาด), Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), Mekong Hotel (แม่โขงโฮเต็ล), and Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น). Each ticket includes a copy of the album on CD.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Film Noir: Light and Shadow

Film Noir: Light and Shadow
Film Noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini have edited a new anthology on the subject, Film Noir: Light and Shadow, which was published earlier this year. There are chapters on various stylistic aspects of Noir, and assessments of some key Noir films, including the indispensable Double Indemnity ("an exemplar of film noir visual style and a pivotal, influential film that spurred the classic noir trend") and Touch of Evil. The highlight is a chapter on the often underrated Stranger on the Third Floor.

Silver and Ursini previously co-wrote American Neo-Noir, Film Noir, and The Noir Style. They co-edited the superb Film Noir: The Encyclopedia with Robert Porfirio and Elizabeth Ward. The new book (which feels like a continuation of their Film Noir Reader series) includes essays by Silver and Porfirio, though Ward has been somewhat relegated this time around: she "generously assisted with the proofreading." Ursini's role also appears comparatively limited, whereas Silver designed the book and wrote the introduction.

Thursday, 26 October 2017


French photographer Tiane Doan na Champassak's book Censored features more than 4,000 photographs taken from 1970s Thai softcore magazines such as Siam's Guy (สยามหนุ่ม). The book was published last month, and is available with six different cover designs.

The nudity in the images is self-censored (hence the book's title), to conform to the Thai obscenity law, though the book celebrates this censorship as a creative act in itself. The magazines employed artists to draw symbols and shapes over the models' erogenous zones, and the book crops the photos to focus on these painted and stencilled graphics.

Thai erotic magazines are still prohibited from publishing frontal nudity, and they are occasionally withdrawn if they go too far. (For example, sales of Cute magazine were suspended in 2007.) Similarly, Thai television routinely censors nudity, guns, alcohol, and cigarettes by blurring parts of the screen, a technique parodied at the start of the comedy film SARS Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis (ขุนกระบี่ผีระบาด).

Friday, 20 October 2017

The Criterion Collection
Barry Lyndon (blu-ray)

Barry Lyndon
Making Barry Lyndon
Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon was released this week on blu-ray and DVD by the Criterion Collection. Criterion titles are almost always superb, and Barry Lyndon is no exception: their new blu-ray is the film's definitive release.

Barry Lyndon has previously been available on Warner laserdisc and VHS, in its original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio and mono soundtrack. It was also released in this format on DVD in 1999, as part of The Stanley Kubrick Collection. However, when it was remastered in 2001, the soundtrack was remixed to 5.1 surround sound, and this artificially enhanced version reappeared on subsequent DVD releases.

When the film was released on Warner blu-ray in 2011, its aspect ratio was cropped to 1.77:1 (the HD-TV format). Leon Vitali, one of Kubrick's assistants, defended the release by claiming that Barry Lyndon's aspect ratio had always been 1.77:1, and it had never been available in 1.66:1 (despite thirty-five years of theatrical, laserdisc, VHS, and DVD releases in 1.66:1). Even when a letter by Kubrick stating that it "was photographed in 1-1.66 aspect ratio" was discovered, Vitali maintained that Kubrick preferred 1.77:1.

Thankfully, the Criterion blu-ray returns the film to its correct 1.66:1 ratio, and its original mono soundtrack has also been restored. This meticulous attention to detail is unsurprising, as Criterion's Lolita, Dr Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey laserdisc transfers were supervised by Kubrick himself. They have also released excellent blu-ray editions of The Killing (and Killer's Kiss) and Dr Strangelove.

Criterion's Barry Lyndon blu-ray also features supplements covering various aspects of the film, notably the new documentary Making Barry Lyndon, which features extracts from Michel Ciment's interview with Kubrick, as broadcast on A Voix Nue. The documentary also includes the incredible (in both senses) story that Kubrick telephoned the Queen from the set of Barry Lyndon to ask her about royal etiquette!

Ciment (author of Kubrick: The Definitive Edition), and Christopher Frayling (author of Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design, Ken Adam Designs the Movies, and The 2001 File) are interviewed in other documentaries on the blu-ray. (Criterion has produced an entire disc's worth of extra features, whereas previous releases had no supplements apart from the trailer.)

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Radio Times Guide to Films 2018

Radio Times Guide to Films 2018
The 2018 edition of the Radio Times Guide To Films was published last month. Radio Times is the most recent of the annual film guides (first published in 2000), though it has outlasted all of its older competitors: Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide ceased publication in 2014, the Time Out Film Guide ended in 2012, Halliwell's Film Guide came to an ignominious end in 2008 as The Movies That Matter, and The Virgin Film Guide finished in 2005. That leaves the Radio Times as the last film guide standing, as the only comparable guide, VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever, is restricted to films released on video.

New entries include Alien: Covenant ("no particularly new ground is broken"), Wonder Woman ("as heartfelt as it is thrilling"), Guardians of the Galaxy II ("funny, imaginative and surprisingly soulful"), John Wick II ("just as enjoyable as the original"), and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets ("a sometimes silly space opera of the most bizarre yet exhilarating kind"). There are a couple of questionable star ratings: Baby Driver gets only two stars for its "disjointed plot", while Doctor Strange is apparently a five-star "visually dazzling fantasy". Dunkirk ("a glorious, breathtaking triumph") and Moonlight ("a film of rare empathy and shimmering beauty") are much more deserving of their five stars.

The Radio Times Guide to Films 2018 has had what editor Sue Robinson describes as "a judicious redesign," with a five-column layout on wider pages, replacing the previous four-column format. This has made space for 622 more film reviews, making an impressive total of 24,661 entries, a significant increase over last year. (In contrast, the number of reviews in VideoHound decreases each year.) Previews of forthcoming films are still included, accounting for at least 150 of this year's 542 new entries.

In a departure from recent editions, the cover now features a contemporary movie still: a publicity shot of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby. (The 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013 editions all had classic films or stars on their covers.) Also, the Barry Norman quote on the cover of previous editions has now been removed, following his death this year. (Similarly, the blurb by the late Roger Ebert has now been removed from 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.) People with only two entries have now been removed from the actor and director indexes, and DVD/blu-ray availability is no longer indicated.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Bangkok Screening Room

Blade Runner
Fun Bar Karaoke
Bangkok Screening Room will be showing Ridley Scott's Blade Runner next month. The film is a masterpiece of Neo-Noir cinematography, and its production design and special effects are among the greatest in Hollywood history. (Paul M. Sammon's book Future Noir is the definitive production history of the film.)

Blade Runner has been released in various versions: the international release had slightly more violence; the workprint had temporary music tracks; the 'director's cut' removed the voiceover and happy ending, and added a unicorn dream sequence; and the 'final cut' made some digital corrections. Thirty-five years after Blade Runner, Denis Villeneuve's sequel Blade Runner 2049 was released; like the original film, the sequel was critically acclaimed but not commercially successful.

Bangkok Screening Room will also be showing two films by Pen-ek Ratanaruang: 6ixtynin9 (เรื่องตลก 69) and his feature debut, Fun Bar Karaoke (ฝันบ้าคาราโอเกะ). Pen-ek's later films include Ploy (พลอย), Nymph (นางไม้), Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), and Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย). When I interviewed him in 2014, he discussed the Thai censorship of Ploy ("the cinemas were crawling with police!") and Paradoxocracy ("half of the footage that we have, you can't show to people. You'll just have to bury it in the ground somewhere").

Blade Runner (the 'final cut' version) will be shown on 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th November. Fun Bar Karaoke is screening on 1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, and 26th November. 6ixtynin9 opened earlier this month, and will be shown on 18th, 19th, 21st, 22nd, 29th, and 31st October; and 1st November.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Art of Sound

The Art of Sound
Camera provided a history of photographic cameras, and The Art of Sound: A Visual History for Audiophiles (published by Thames & Hudson earlier this year) is the equivalent for recorded sound. Author Terry Burrows divides the history of sound recording into four broad eras (acoustic, electrical, magnetic, and digital), from the phonautograph (the first machine capable of recording sound waves) to the MP3 (the most common digital compression format). Each era is illustrated with photographs of recording and playback equipment from the EMI Archive Trust, along with blueprints and record sleeves.

The examples of audio equipment include devices using a stylus to reproduce sound from grooved cylinders or discs (the phonograph, graphophone, and gramophone), magnetic wire and tape recorders (the telegraphone, reel-to-reel recorders, eight-tracks, and cassette players), and digital storage media (CD, DAT, DCC, and MiniDisc). Most fascinating are miniature gadgets such as the Mikiphone and Minifon, and novelty items like the Stollwerck gramophone that plays schokoladedisken (chocolate records).

Each chapter begins with an essay outlining the technical developments in sound recording (such as stereophonic sound, Dolby noise reduction, and peer-to-peer file transfer), and their cultural impact. The book also profiles innovators of audio technology, including Thomas Edison (inventor of the phonograph), Guglielmo Marconi (radio pioneer), and Valdemar Poulsen (inventor of magnetic recording). However, some iconic brands and designs - such as Ekco radios, Nagra reel-to-reel recorders, and Braun hi-fi units - are missing, and there is no bibliography.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

1001 Movies
You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, edited by Steven Jay Schneider, has been revised for 2017. The new edition, updated by Ian Haydn Smith, features a dozen new films. Therefore, twelve films have been deleted. 1001 Movies was first published in 2003, and has been updated annually ever since. It was completely revised in 2013, though other editions (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016) featured only minor changes.

The new films in the 2017 edition are: I, Daniel Blake; Manchester by the Sea; La La Land; Hell or High Water; The Jungle Book; 13th; Under the Shadow; Jackie; Toni Erdmann; Arrival; Moonlight; and Victoria. The deleted titles are: Slumdog Millionaire, Black Swan, A Separation, Life of Pi, Ida, Under the Skin, Leviathan, The Look of Silence , Whiplash, Bridge of Spies, Straight Outta Compton, and The Big Short.


Friday, 13 October 2017


Mangasia: The Definitive Guide to Asian Comics, a survey of comics from across Asia by Paul Gravett, will be published next week by Thames & Hudson. Japanese manga inevitably dominates, though there is also ample coverage of China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, and the Philippines. Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, and other Asian countries are also represented, to a lesser extent. As Gravett writes, "In terms of the development of comics in Asia, manga is dominant, both in terms of its cultural influence and its extraordinary sales figures." (Chinese manhua and Korean manhwa, for example, are direct descendants of Japanese manga.)

The book (which accompanies an exhibition at the Barbican in London, Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics) has a foreword by Park Chan-Wook, director of Oldboy (올드보이), and begins with an illustrated manga timeline. After a brief historical introduction tracing the development of manga, from Hokusai's sketches via kamishibai, a handful of chapters explore the development of Asian comics. One chapter looks at censorship, such as shunga and the banning of Yuji Suwa's hentai (pornographic) comic Honey Room (蜜室). There are more than 800 illustrations, with captions giving the title of each comic in the script of its original language.

Unfortunately, Mangasia has no bibliography. Manga! Manga!, by Frederik L Schodt, was the first English-language book on Japanese comics. Manga Design (revised as 100 Manga Artists), by Amano Masanao and Julius Wiedemann, profiles the most significant mangaka (manga artists). Comics: A Global History, by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner, is an international history of comics from 1968 onwards. The World Encyclopedia of Comics, by Maurice Horn, features biographies of hundreds of comic artists. Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels, by Roger Sabin, is an introduction to the entire field of comic art.

Thursday, 12 October 2017


Spielberg, Susan Lacy's feature-length documentary on the career of director Steven Spielberg, premiered on HBO on 7th October. The film is similar to Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Jan Harlan's profile of Kubrick: both documentaries are more than two hours long, and both benefit from extensive access to their subjects' archives.

Spielberg begins with Jaws, which is not only (arguably) Spielberg's greatest film but also the movie that (for better or worse) set the wide-release template for summer blockbusters that Hollywood has depended on ever since. Lacy then rewinds to Spielberg's short 8mm films, his television work for Universal, and his feature films in broadly chronological order.

The documentary features interviews with Spielberg himself, his fellow directors (Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and George Lucas), and the leading actors from practically all of his films. In fact, there are so many A-list contributors that some of them (such as Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise) barely have time to say anything. Even Spielberg's mother (who died shortly afterwards) and his centenarian father are included.

Spielberg has made some of Hollywood's most entertaining and acclaimed films, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan, and these are explored in some depth in the documentary. Despite the long running time, interesting late-career films such as AI, Minority Report, and Lincoln are relegated to brief clips without much (or any) analysis.

As an authorised retrospective, the documentary is largely positive in its assessment of Spielberg's career, though it accomplishes this by simply ignoring the less successful films, with the exception of 1941. There are a couple of dissenting voices among the talking heads, notably the screenwriter of Empire of the Sun, who criticises Spielberg's sentimental tendencies. There's a discussion about whether Spielberg really had the chutzpah to sneak into a vacant Universal office, but Spielberg himself is not asked to confirm or deny the rumour. (He told the story, unchallenged, in the documentary Spielberg on Spielberg and book Spielberg: A Retrospective, both by Richard Schickel.)


Another book of cartoons by Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque (known as Zunar) has been banned by the Malaysian government. Sapuman: Man of Steal, published in 2015, satirises Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and his corrupt business transactions. (In 2015, The Wall Street Journal revealed that $1 billion had been transferred from the state-owned company 1MDB to Najib's personal bank account.)

Zunar's book launches and exhibitions are raided by police on a fairly regular basis. An exhibition of his work was forced to close last year. Three of his older books were banned in 2015: Pirates of the Carry-BN, Komplot Penjarakan Anwar, and Ros in Kangkong Land.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Death: A Graveside Companion

Death: A Graveside Companion
Death: A Graveside Companion (2017), edited by Joanna Ebenstein, is a collection of images and essays exploring artistic and cultural attitudes to death, from ritual venerations of the deceased to macabre illustrations of skeletons. Many of the 1,000 photographs are from the collection of Richard Harris, whose archive was also the basis of a Wellcome Collection exhibition on the same subject in 2012.

The book's extensive range of material is encapsulated in an illustrated "timeline of death" in the introduction. The bibliography is quite brief, and mostly limited to recent publications. There is inevitable overlap with two books by Paul Koudounaris, The Empire of Death and Memento Mori, also published by Thames & Hudson. The Book of Skulls, by Faye Dowling, includes more recent examples of memento mori imagery.


Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerrotype to Digital, published in 2009, is a comprehensive history of the camera, featuring 350 vintage examples from the George Eastman House collection along with some examples of classic photographs. Seemingly every type of photographic camera is included, covering almost 200 years of technical development.

Todd Gustavson is credited as the book's author, and he wrote the introduction, though the acknowledgements page reveals that other chapters, and the extended captions, were written by others (including an essay by Steve Sasson, the inventor of the digital camera). There is no bibliography.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

By the Time It Gets Dark

By the Time It Gets Dark
A showing of Anocha Suwichakornpong's film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง), which was due to take place yesterday at Warehouse 30 in Bangkok, was cancelled by the police at the last minute. The event, organised by Doc Club Theater, was planned as one of three screenings of the film yesterday.

The screenings at the National Film Archive and Thammasat University went ahead without any police intervention. Also, the film was released on DVD in Thailand on the same day, making the censorship of the Warehouse 30 screening even more inexplicable.

Friday, 6 October 2017


The Two Brothers
By the Time It Gets Dark
On 6th October 1976, at least forty-six people, most of whom were students, were killed in a military massacre at Thammasat University in Bangkok. The massacre remains one of the most shocking moments in Thailand's modern history, though it's also part of a cycle of military violence, with similarly brutal suppressions of pro-democracy protesters in 1973 (also at Thammasat), 1992 (Black May), and 2010.

The Thammasat students had been protesting against the return from exile of Thanom Kittikachorn, who was Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister during an extended period of military rule (another familiar cycle) from 1957 to 1973. On 25th September 1976, two anti-Thanom activists (Choomporn Thummai and Vichai Kasripongsa) were hanged by the police, and on 4th October 1976 a group of Thammasat students staged a reenactment of the event. One of the students who posed as a hanging victim bore a resemblance to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn (who is now King Maha Vajiralongkorn), and on its front page on 5th October 1976, the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper printed his photograph and accused the students of hanging the Prince in effigy. The Bangkok Post newspaper published a similar photo, taken by Tham Luangmanotham, on the same day.

Military-owned radio stations demonised the students as Communists who should be killed, and militia groups (the Village Scouts, Nawaphon, and Red Gaurs) joined the police and army in storming Thammasat. A photograph by Neal Ulevich, of a man ready to hit a corpse hanging from a tree with a folding chair, has come to symbolise the extreme violence and prejudice of the massacre. (The photograph was reprinted in Moments, on page 113.)

Manit Sriwanichpoom exhibited blood-red photographs of the victims at Flashback '76. Thunska Pansittivorakul's documentary The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) included archive footage of the massacre. Thunska's most recent documentary, Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), highlights the violence inflicted by the militia groups, in contrast to the heroic portrayal of the Village Scouts in anti-Communist propaganda films such as Sombat Methanee's หนักแผ่นดิน. Ulevich's photograph was appropriated by Manit (for Horror in Pink) and Kosit Juntaratip (Allergic Realities), and was recreated in Samanrat Kanjanavanit's banned film Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย).

Today, the National Film Archive in Salaya will commemorate the anniversary of the massacre with an event titled ลืมเสียเถิดอย่าคิดถึง. Four films that address the tragedy will be screened: They Will Never Forget, directed by Ooka Ryoochi; พีเจ้น ('pigeon'), by Pasit Promnampol; The Two Brothers (สองพี่น้อง), by Patporn Phoothong and Teerawat Rujenatham; and By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง), by Anocha Suwichakornpong. (A similar event, 41 ปี 6 ตุลา ปกป้องประชาธิปไตยประชาชน, is taking place simultaneously at Thammasat.)

They Will Never Forget is a compilation of 8mm news footage. พีเจ้น is a student film inspired by the aftermath of the massacre. The Two Brothers is a short documentary about the two men whose hangings were reenacted by Thammasat students; Patporn interviewed relatives of massacre victims for his earlier documentary Respectfully Yours (ด้วยความนับถือ). By the Time It Gets Dark uses actors to recreate scenes from the massacre; it was shown with Respectfully Yours earlier this year in Chiang Mai.

(The Two Brothers is part of a project to document the massacre, and features the controversial Dao Siam front page. A photo of the newspaper was censored in Prachuap Amphasawet's book พลิกแผ่นดิ: นประวัติการเมืองไทย 24 มิย 2475 ถึง14 ตค 2516, and Somsak Jeamteerasakul wrote a chapter about it in ประวัติศาสตร์ที่เพิ่งสร้าง, though it has rarely, if ever, been reproduced.)