Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Mystery of Picasso

The Mystery of Picasso
The Mystery of Picasso
Henri-Georges Clouzot's documentary The Mystery of Picasso (Le mystère Picasso) will be shown on 17th February at Smalls. The screening, on the rooftop of the Bangkok bar, is free of charge. The documentary was previously shown at TCDC, and Clouzot also directed the classic suspense thriller Les diaboliques.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

World Class Cinema

World Class Cinema
The Seventh Seal
The Thai Film Archive's World Class Cinema season continues this year with Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) on 17th March. As in 2017 and 2018, screenings will take place at Bangkok's Scala cinema.

Monday, 4 February 2019

BKKSR Cinémathèque

The 400 Blows
This week, Bangkok Screening Room is launching BKKSR Cinémathèque, a monthly programme of classic French films. The inaugural film is François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups), showing on 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th, and 17th February.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

"The secret life of Melania..."

The Telegraph Magazine
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph has paid "substantial damages" to Melania Trump in settlement of a defamation lawsuit filed by the First Lady last week. The newspaper printed a correction on 26th January (on page two), apologising for "a number of false statements which we accept should not have been published."

The lawsuit relates to the cover story from The Telegraph Magazine, published on 19th January. The article, by Nina Burleigh, appeared on pages fourteen to twenty, and was based on her book Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump's Women, which was released in the US last year. (The book's publishers avoided a lawsuit, as American libel law requires proof of 'actual malice', a high bar intended to protect freedom of speech.)

The article was reprinted by the Irish Sunday Independent on 20th January, on page twenty. It has since been deleted from the Telegraph and Independent's websites, and is "suppressed for editorial and/or legal reasons" on the PressReader digital archive.

Ironically, following the Telegraph's retraction, Burleigh has also filed a defamation case against the newspaper, claiming that its apology damaged her journalistic reputation. Yesterday, in a letter to the Telegraph Media Group (TMG), her lawyer argued that "fear of Mrs Trump's lawyer Mr Harder, "the Gawker slayer", caused TMG to capitulate abjectly". This is a reference to Charles Harder, who represented Hulk Hogan in a privacy lawsuit that bankrupted the Gawker website. Harder also won $3 million in damages from the Daily Mail in a previous Melania Trump defamation case.

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Friday, 1 February 2019

Bencharong

Bencharong
Bencharong: Chinese Porcelain for Siam, by Thai ceramics expert Dawn F. Rooney, is a guide to Bencharong, enamelled Chinese porcelain made for export to Thailand. As the author writes in her preface, it's the first book to provide a general survey of Bencharong porcelain: "Bencharong as an art form has received little attention and few details about its origins, production, and symbolism have been published. This book addresses that gap."

The first chapter is a largely unnecessary account of Thailand's early development and Sino-Thai relations. Chapter two describes the origins of Bencharong, and chapter three explains the technical aspects of its production. The book's main interest lies in chapters four, five, and six: illustrated examples of a wide range of Bencharong decorative motifs and objects, with extended captions.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil
Touch of Evil
Touch of Evil, the classic Orson Welles film noir, will be shown at Smalls tomorrow. The screening, on the rooftop of the Bangkok bar, is free of charge.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

More or Less

More or Less
More or Less
More or Less
More or Less
Miguel Januário's exhibition More or Less opened at Bangkok's WTF Gallery on 14th December last year, and runs until 19th February. The exhibition includes an interactive installation commenting on Thailand's political situation since the 2014 coup: a simulated polling station, complete with ballot papers, a pen, and a ballot box.

On closer inspection, the ballot papers are a parody of recent Thai political factions, and a Thai flag backdrop is overlaid with army camouflage to indicate the military's pervasive influence over the country. Also, the ballot box has no bottom, so ballot papers fall straight onto the floor, symbolising the futility of elections that are often invalidated (as in 2006 and 2014) or postponed. According to the junta, a return to democracy is always on the horizon, and elections are perpetually due 'next year'. In the meantime, gallery visitors can vote via Januário's ballot papers.

A month after the coup, on 28th June 2014, Prayuth Chan-ocha promised an election by October 2015. On 9th February 2015, he committed to an election by February 2016. On 9th August 2016, he announced that an election would take place by November 2017. On 10th October 2017, he gave assurances that an election would happen by November 2018. On 27th February 2018, he pledged an election by February 2019, though another delay seems inevitable.

صح النوم

LTC
A presenter on an Egyptian satellite television station has been jailed for a year, after being found guilty of inciting immorality. Mohamed al-Ghiety's talk show, صح النوم, featured a gay man discussing his sex life in an episode transmitted on 5th August last year. (The man's face was blurred to disguise his identity.) The broadcaster, LTC TV, was suspended for a fortnight after the programme was aired.

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Sunday, 20 January 2019

Monstrous Phenomenon

Monstrous Phenomenon
Monstrous Phenomenon No. 7
Monstrous Phenomenon No. 10
Ruangsak Anuwatwimon's exhibition Monstrous Phenomenon opened yesterday in Bangkok. Ruangsak's art examines the anthropocene and its consequences, and last year he visited Japan to observe the ecological effects of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor meltdown.

A four-leaf clover is considered lucky, though five-leaf ones certainly aren't: they are genetic mutations caused by nuclear radiation. The exhibition features these and other plant and animal specimens from contaminated sites in Fukushima prefecture, including a bee from Minamisoma and a bovine lumbar vertebra from Namie.

Monstrous Phenomenon runs until 19th March at 1Projects. Ruangsak's sculpture 'Transformations' was included in ห้องเรียนวาฬไทย at HOF Art Space, and his 'Ash Heart Project' installation was part of the Dialogues exhibition at BACC.

Friday, 18 January 2019

'McJesus'

McJesus
'McJesus', a sculpture depicting the crucifixion of Ronald McDonald, has been removed from an exhibition at a modern art gallery in Israel. The sculpture, by Jani Leinonen, was first exhibited in 2015, and had been on show at the Haifa Museum of Art since 4th August 2018.

Last week, the gallery was firebombed, and police fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators who accused the artist of blasphemy. The exhibition, Sacred Goods, is due to close on 17th February.

Jake and Dinos Chapman caused controversy with a similar sculpture in 2012. Their 'Unholy McTrinity', which also featured a crucified Ronald McDonald, was shown at the Hermitage in Russia.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

After the Coup

After the Coup
After the Coup: The National Council for Peace and Order Era and the Future of Thailand, edited by Michael J. Montesano, Terence Chong, and Mark Heng, is a collection of essays on Thailand's political situation since the 2014 coup. Contributors include influential commentators such as Duncan McCargo, Thongchai Winichakul, and Puangthong Pawakapan. (Montesano previously co-edited Bangkok, May 2010 and contributed to Divided over Thaksin.)

The political affiliations of Thais from the middle class, the south, the north, and the northeast are examined in four chapters. Middle-class and southern interviewees discuss their reasons for joining the PAD and PDRC, notably their devotion to Rama IX and their anger at Thaksin Shinawatra's "alleged disloyalty to King Bhumibol. Most interviewees cited this issue as a decisive factor in turning them against Thaksin." The book also confirms a widespread and patronising sense of middle-class superiority: "All interviewees stressed a lack of education among Thaksin's supporters as evidence that elections in Thailand lack legitimacy; the uneducated simply succumb to vote buying."

In contrast, two chapters on the north and northeast focus on the red-shirt movement and the UDD, asking two pertinent questions: "Why was there so little resistance to the coup? Why were there so few Red Shirt protests in the twelve months following the coup?" The junta's intimidation tactics provide the answer: red-shirts are closely monitored and coerced into renouncing all political activity, including one interviewee who "had to promise not to wear a red shirt, or even a checked shirt containing red in the pattern."

Other chapters have a broader focus. Prajak Kongkirati expands his earlier essay on the 2014 election (in Military, Monarchy and Repression) to analyse forty years of election-related violence. Surachart Bamrungsuk provides a potted history of Thai coups, demonstrating that, for the military, practice makes perfect: "The absence of external security challenges has left the army free to involve itself in political affairs and to become more skilled in political manipulation." Thongchai Winichakul (updating his essay in "Good Coup" Gone Bad) examines the prospects for royalist hegemony following the succession.

There are two especially interesting chapters on mass media and politics. Aim Sinpeng and Wimonsiri Hemtanon highlight the 'filter bubble' effect caused by Thailand's partisan media, though their essay includes an unfortunate instance of self-censorship. They discuss a 1995 Thai Rath (ไทยรัฐ) corruption exposé "involving a high-profile member of the prime minister's Democrat Party" without naming the politician involved. (Duncan McCargo previously identified Suthep Thaugsuban as "the figure at the centre of the scandal" in his book Politics and the Press in Thailand.)

Puangthong Pawakapan surveys international media coverage of the monarchy since the 1960s, noting how critical reporting has increased since the 2006 coup: "The foreign press was instrumental in constructing a benign image of King Bhumibol in the international arena, and was thus complicit in entrenching the power of the monarchy. However, the political coverage of Thailand changed after 2006. The foreign press began to see the monarchy... as a crucial factor in the conflict that now engulfed Thailand."

Friday, 11 January 2019

100 Ideas that Changed Design

100 Ideas that Changed Design, by Charlotte and Peter Fiell, is the latest in the 100 Ideas that Changed... series, published by Laurence King. Other titles include Art, Advertising, Photography, Film, Architecture, and Graphic Design.

Like the other books in the series, 100 Ideas that Changed Design features 100 chapters, each with a single-page essay and a few well-chosen illustrations. There is also a wide-ranging bibliography.

The selected design ideas include broad concepts (such as style and taste), elements of the production process (such as mass production and quality control), practical considerations (such as ergonomics and safety), design philosophies (such as functionalism and design art), and well-known aphorisms (such as form follows function and less is more). Aesthetic trends and other stylistic 'isms' are excluded.

Charlotte and Peter Fiell are experts on product and furniture design. Their other books include The Story of Design, Plastic Dreams, Design of the 20th Century, A-Z of Design and Designers, Modern Furniture Classics, and Industrial Design A-Z.

Isan Creative Festival 2019

Isan Creative Festival 2019
Isan Creative Festival 2019
Isan Creative Festival 2019
The inaugural Isan Creative Festival (อีสาน ครีเอทีฟ เฟสติวัล) opened yesterday at TCDC in Khon Kaen. The three-day event began with directors Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Surasak Pongson discussing their films made in the Isaan region.

Apichatpong grew up in Khon Kaen, and his most recent feature, Cemetery of Splendour, was filmed in the city. (It's Thai title, รักที่ขอนแก่น, translates as 'Love in Khon Kaen'.) 'Song of the City', his segment of the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand, was also filmed in Khon Kaen.

Still in his twenties, Surasak is already one of the most important figures in the Isaan film industry, thanks to the commercial success of his Thaibaan comedies. His latest film, Thaibaan: The Series 2.2 (ไทบ้านเดอะซีรีส์ 2.2), hit the headlines after shots of a crying monk were censored. It was shown at a free open-air screening last night, along with Ten Years Thailand, on Isan Creative Festival's opening night.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Khonkaen Manifesto

Khonkaen Manifesto
A Massacre
Red Shot
Junta Connection
Junta Connection
Khonkaen Manifesto (ขอนแก่น แมนิเฟสโต้), an exhibition of radical art, opened on 6th October 1976. That date is, of course, infamous in Thailand, as a massacre took place at Thammasat University on 6th October 1976.

One of the installations in the exhibition, Nutdanai Jitbunjong's 'A Massacre', referred directly to that event: it consisted of a folding chair hanging from a noose, in reference to Neal Ulevich's photograph of a corpse being battered with a folding chair. Visitors to the exhibition were greeted by two Girl Scouts, an allusion to the Village Scouts militia group that took part in the massacre. (Ten Years Thailand also features children in Scout uniforms, another reference to the Village Scout vigilantes.)

Other works in the exhibition also made reference to instances of state violence. Zakariya Amataya's installation 'Report from a Partitioned Village' ('รายงานจากหมู่บ้านที่ถูกปิดล้อม') included a list of victims of the 2004 Tak Bai massacre. For his Red Shot series, Tawan Wattuya painted portraits of eighteen people killed on 10th April 2010, with red watercolour symbolising the blood of the victims.

Naturally, such politically sensitive subjects drew the attention of the military, and junta officials made regular visits to the exhibition in the days before and after it opened. As a result of this intimidation, a portrait of lèse-majesté convict Jatupat Boonpattararaksa was removed. (The painting, by Sermsilp Pairin, was part of a triptych, the others being portraits of politician Pridi Banomyong and writer Chit Phumisak.)

Some of the exhibition's remaining works were self-censored. For example, 'Junta Connection' ('วิ่งผลัดเผด็จการ'), a mural by the Guerrilla Boys, originally depicted Sarit Thanarat passing his (literal) baton of dictatorship to Prayuth Chan-ocha, though the work was later modified to obscure their faces.

Khonkaen Manifesto ran from 6th to 26th October 2018 at the GF Building in Khon Kaen. Previous exhibitions in Thailand have also been censored for political reasons: photographs were removed from Rupture (หมายเหตุ ๕/๒๕๕๓) in 2010 and Whitewash (ไร้มลทิน) in 2017.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

2562++

Bangkok Art Biennale 2018
2562++
2562++
Patipat Chaiwitesh's taxidermy installation 2562++ is a dystopian commentary on the future consequences of plastic waste. He has posed various marine animals with disposable plastic products, to highlight the problem of water pollution. (2562 in the Buddhist calendar is equivalent to 2019.)

The installation is on show at the former offices of the East Asiatic Company, a colonial building now in a state of disrepair. It opened on 19th October last year, as part of the inaugural Bangkok Art Biennale (บางกอก อาร์ต เบียนนาเล่), and runs until 3rd February.

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2019: The Future

2019: The Future
Akira
Blade Runner
2019: The Future is the theme for this month's Jam Ciné Club, at Bangkok's Jam Café, with screenings of dystopian science-fiction films set in a futuristic 2019. The season's highlights are Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira (アキラ) on 16th January and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner on 30th January.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Thai Film Archive

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Syndromes and a Century
Blissfully Yours
Paradoxocracy
Ten Years Thailand
The Thai Film Archive at Salaya will be screening several films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul this month, to celebrate his recent FIAF Award. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ) will be screened on 5th January, Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) on 20th January, and Blissfully Yours (สุดเสน่หา) on 27th January. (Blissfully Yours will be shown in 35mm.)

Next month's highlights at the Archive include Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) on 23rd February, and the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand on 24th February. All screenings are free.

GoodFellas

GoodFellas
GoodFellas
Martin Scorsese's gangster classic GoodFellas will be screened on the rooftop at Smalls, the Bangkok bar, on 6th January. The screening is free. GoodFellas will also be shown on 19th January at Bangkok Screening Room.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The 12 Most Influential
Movies of All Time

The 12 Most Influential Movies of All Time
The 12 Most Influential Movies of All Time, by Barbara Krasner, is a guide to a dozen milestone films, arranged chronologically, with two pages devoted to each title. As the book is aimed at children, the twelve films are also child-friendly. (Don't expect to find Psycho, The Godfather, or Taxi Driver here.)

Even accounting for the young target audience, three Disney titles (Snow White, Toy Story, and Frozen) - a quarter of the entire list - seems excessive. Also, there are no foreign-language entries. An appendix lists five additional films: Titanic (the James Cameron version), the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, and two more Disney titles (Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid). The bibliography has just two entries: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and (surprise, surprise) a Disney book.

Again, this is a children's book, so we shouldn't expect a scholarly tome, though there are plenty of factual errors. The Great Train Robbery has fourteen scenes, not "14 separate shots." Snow White was not "the first full-length animated movie." The Wizard of Oz's prologue is sepia, not "black-and-white film." Citizen Kane is not a "movie with no special effects". Three prop sharks, not one, were used in the making of Jaws. The book's glossary also contains some mistakes: confusingly, it defines a 'shot' as "frames in a movie" and 'footage' as "a specific section of a movie's film."

The twelve influential movies are as follows:
  • The Great Train Robbery
  • King Kong
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Singin' in the Rain
  • Jaws
  • Star Wars
  • Jurassic Park
  • Frozen

Friday, 28 December 2018

Military, Monarchy and Repression

Military, Monarchy and Repression
Military, Monarchy and Repression: Assessing Thailand's Authoritarian Turn is the first book to examine the causes and consequences of Thailand's 2014 coup. The essays were first published in the Journal of Contemporary Asia (volume 46, number 3; August 2016). In their introduction, editors Veerayooth Kanchoochat and Kevin Hewison summarise the country's volatile political climate since the previous coup in 2006: "Thailand's politics has been marked by multiple military interventions, political mudslinging, spates of violence, a "tradition" of street protests, and repeated civilian uprisings, usually followed by efforts to lay the foundations of electoral democracy."

Chris Baker (author of an excellent Thaksin Shinawatra biography) analyses the causes of the coup, from short-term PDRC demonstrations ("almost six months of constant protest which created the context for the coup") to long-term social trends and traditional power structures. He also argues that the current junta is more repressive than many previous coups ("this was clearly a military government of a kind not seen in over 40 years"), though he is optimistic about the country's political future: "The present generation of the Bangkok middle class, who grew up against the backdrop of the Cold War and the ninth reign, will be replaced by another which grew up in Bangkok as a globalised city."

Other contributors are more pessimistic. Paul Chambers and Napisa Waitoolkiat (editors of Khaki Capital) believe that the military-dominated status quo will continue: "Perhaps only another 1992 military massacre of civilians will sufficiently taint the image of the armed forces to the extent that civilians cohere against them, monarchical support for the military diminishes, and soldiers return to the barracks. More likely, for the foreseeable future, military officers will continue to play a prominent role in Thailand, guaranteeing the resilience of monarchised military". Similarly, Prajak Kongkirati concludes that the 2014 election (later invalidated) and the ensuing coup "plunged Thailand into a state of uncertainty and (potentially violent) instability, possibly for years to come."

Eugénie Mérieau highlights the Constitutional Court's "effective usurpation of sovereign power". (The Court has disqualified four prime ministers from office: Thaksin Shinawatra, Samak Sundaravej, Somchai Wongsawat, and Yingluck Shinawatra.) Mérieau's argument is persuasive, though she refers to the politicised judiciary as a "Deep State", a term more often used by conspiracy theorists. Likewise, Chris Baker refers to an "Illuminati" of influential anti-democratic figures: again, the thesis is reasonable, though the terminology implies paranoia. Paul Chambers and Napisa Waitoolkiat's term "parallel state" is a less problematic description for the pervasive influence of unelected institutions on Thailand's nascent democracy.

Censored!

Censored!
Theatre censorship in the UK was abolished fifty years ago, and London's Victoria & Albert Museum is marking the anniversary with Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50, a small exhibition devoted to UK censorship. The exhibition covers theatre, film, music, and media censorship, with exhibits including the 3rd June 1976 issue of Gay News (containing James Kirkup's poem The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name) and the 'Schoolkids' issue of Oz (which was the subject of a long-running obscenity trial in 1971). Censored! opened on 10th July, and runs until 27th January next year.

The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress
The Hidden Fortress
Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (隠し砦の三悪人) will be screened on the rooftop of Smalls, the Bangkok bar, on 30th December. The screening is free. The Hidden Fortress was Kurosawa's first widescreen film, and its combination of action and comic relief was one of the key inspirations for Star Wars.