Friday, 9 November 2018

Diva

Diva
Diva, by Jean-Jacques Beineix, will be screened on the rooftop of Smalls, a Bangkok bar, on 11th November. The screening is free. Diva marked the beginning of a movement known as cinéma du look: stylised French films influenced by advertising and music videos. Beineix is most famous as the director of Betty Blue (37°2 du matin).

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

"สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2019"

Police officers and soldiers in Ubon Ratchathani have seized copies of a 2019 wall calendar. The calendar features photographs of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, the message "HAPPY NEW YEAR" in English and Thai ("สวัสดีปีใหม่ 2019"), and new year's greetings from the two former prime ministers.

5,553 of the calendars were confiscated yesterday, in a raid by fifty soldiers and police officers. The seizure came a day after a woman in Udon Thani, who posted photographs of the calendar online, was visited by police officers and soldiers.

Similar calendars were banned in 2016, along with plastic Songkran bowls, which also featured seasonal messages from Thaksin and Yingluck. All political activity has been prohibited by the military junta for the past four years. Thaksin and Yingluck were both removed from office by military coups (in 2006 and 2014, respectively).

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies

The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies
The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies, published last month, was first published as Horror in 2006. That first edition featured reviews of 300 classic horror films. A second edition, Horror!: 333 Films to Scare You to Death, was released in 2010. A third, Horror: The Definitive Companion to the Most Terrifying Movies Ever Made, appeared in 2013.

The book was originally conceived and edited by James Marriott (who also contributed most of the reviews), with ten essays by Kim Newman. Marriott died in 2012, so the additional reviews in the third edition were all written by Stephen Thrower. For this year's edition, the new reviews have all been written by Owen Williams. Whereas the first edition was published in hardback, with colour photographs, the images in the subsequent paperback editions are all black-and-white.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Cemetery of Splendour

Cemetery of Splendour
Apichatpong Weerasethakul will show his most recent feature film, Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น), at the Thai Film Archive on 19th November. The film was shown internationally in 2015, though it did not receive a Thai release.

Apichatpong's film Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) was cut by the Thai censorship board, and he therefore decided not to submit Cemetery of Splendour to the censors, meaning it could not be shown in Thai cinemas. Once bitten, twice shy (though he did arrange a low-key screening for an invited audience at a mobile cinema in his home town of Chiang Mai on 23rd February).

It is, of course, a sad irony that one of the world's most acclaimed directors feels unable to show his work in his own country. When I interviewed Apichatpong in 2016, he explained that he had been inexplicably singled out by the censors: "I think that whatever I do, I will be targeted. Either a ghost movie, or whatever. It's a paranoid time. They're willing to do a witch-hunt, so I become paranoid of them in my own way, and I don't want to risk it. As long as I manage to finish this film as I want, and show it, but not here."

His hesitancy is due primarily to one sequence in Cemetery of Splendour, in which an audience stands in silence. Thai cinemagoers are required to stand for the royal anthem before film screenings, though the anthem cannot be included in films themselves, as Apichatpong told me: "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 [ซอยคาวบอย], this was cut out. Censored. So I said, 'It's impossible anyway.' So, just silence." Concerned that the silent scene could be misinterpreted, Apichatpong removed it from all DVD and blu-ray releases of the film, in case they were ever circulated in Thailand.

Like the director's other work, the film is not directly political, though it does include subtle visual references to Thailand's volatile political situation. A portrait of dictator Sarit Thanarat is visible in the background of one scene, implying the military's continued influence on Thai politics. (Similarly, a statue of Sarit looms over the characters in Apichatpong's short film Song of the City, part of the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand.) Also, one of the characters keeps a journal, in which he writes that lèse-majesté convict Ampon Tangnoppakul should be released ("ขอให้อากงได้ออกมา"). (Apichatpong's short film Ashes includes footage of a demonstration by Ampon's supporters.)

Cemetery of Splendour will be screened free of charge, to celebrate Apichatpong receiving the FIAF Award from the International Federation of Film Archives. Previously, the Thai Film Archive screened his short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถึงลุงบุญมี) to mark his Palme d'Or win at the Cannes Film Festival. Last year, the Alliance Français organised an Apichatpong Weekend in honour of the director being named a Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Histoire(s) du thai cinéma

Histoires du thai cinema
Histoire(s) du thai cinéma, a marathon programme of Thai short films with political themes, took place over a weekend at Bangkok's Dam'n Cineclub earlier this year. The event, split into two twelve-hour sessions (18th and 19th August), was curated by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa.

The selected films covered Thai politics since the democratic revolution eighty years ago. The Six Principles (สัญญาของผู้มาก่อนกาล), directed by Abhichon Rattanabhayon, examines contemporary public perceptions of the 1932 revolution. Octoblur (ลมตุลาคม), directed by Patana Chirawong, intercuts footage of the 14th October 1973 massacre with the funeral of Thanom Kittikachorn, the military dictator who ordered the attack. Suchart Sawasdsri's "Red" at Last (มนัส เศียรสิงห์) and Manussak Dokmai's Don't Forget Me (อย่าลืมฉัน) both include footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre: "Red" at Last is narrated by a survivor of the tragedy, while Don't Forget Me features incongruous narration taken from a vintage documentary on the Mlabri tribe.

Thailand's recent political polarisation was represented by films examining the PAD, UDD, and PDRC protests. In Prap Boonpan's The Bangkok Bourgeois Party (ความลักลั่นของงานรื่นเริง), a group of yellow-shirted Bangkokians murder a man merely because he disagrees with their ideology. (This dystopian satire later became a reality, when PAD guards killed Narongsak Krobtaisong.) The UDD movement is featured in Red Movie (แกะแดง), directed by the Underground Office collective, which ends somewhat idealistically with John Lennon's utopian song Imagine. PDRC demonstrations appear in Boonyarit Wiangnon's Lice in the Wonderland (เพลี้ย) and two films by Chulayarnnon Siriphol: Here Comes the Democrat Party (ประชาธิปัตย์มาแล้ว) and Myth of Modernity.

The films with the most powerful impact were Nil Paksnavin's Rajprasong (ราชประสงค์), Nontawat Numbenchapol's Gaze and Hear (สายตา รับฟัง), and Re-presentation (ผีมะขาม ไพร่ฟ้า ประชาธิปไตย ในคืนที่ลมพัดหวน) by Chai Chaiyachit and Chisanucha Kongwailap. Rajprasong ends with a black screen and the jolting sound of eighty-seven gunshots, representing the victims of the 2010 massacre in downtown Bangkok. Gaze and Hear is a parody of royalist propaganda, with a hypnotic voiceover and flashing lights inducing a trance-like state of obedience. Re-presentation ends with an artist unsuccessfully attempting to draw Democracy Monument, and tearing up his sketch to reveal a drawing of a Rama V statue on the page beneath, a reference to the established hierarchies underlying Thailand's elusive democracy.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

BNK44

BNK44
BNK44, the anti-coup punk concert that was cancelled last month, has been rescheduled to 3rd November. It will now be held at Thammasat University's monument to the 6th October 1976 massacre. The concert has been organised by the team behind จะ4ปีแล้วนะ.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Different Views, Death Sentence

Different Views, Death Sentence
Suthachai Yimprasert's Different Views, Death Sentence [sic.] (ต่างความคิด ผิดถึงตาย ๖ ตุลาคม ๒๕๑๙) was released on DVD in 2011. The documentary explores the long-term issues that led up to the 6th October 1976 massacre at Thammasat University, providing context and analysis missing from Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย).

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

"Leading businessman...
gags The Telegraph"

The Daily Telegraph
Sir Philip Green has been granted an injunction against The Daily Telegraph, preventing the publication of allegations against him. In a front-page article today, Claire Newell reveals that he made payments to five people who accused him of "sexual harassment and racial abuse". Green is not named in the story, and he is described only in general terms as a leading businessman.

Under the conditions of the interim Court of Appeal injunction, Green's identity cannot be published in England or Wales. Similar high-profile injunctions in recent years have involved Ryan Giggs (who was named by The Sunday Herald in Scotland) and Elton John (whose injunction remains in force, despite the National Enquirer naming him in the US).

Friday, 19 October 2018

พฤษภา-พฤษภา

May-May
Black Diary
Charnvit Kasetsiri's พฤษภา-พฤษภา: สังคม-รัฐไทย กับความรุนแรงทางการเมือง was published in 2013. The book examines the military massacres of May 1992 and May 2010, including rare reproductions of newspaper coverage from 1992. Charnvit's other books on Thailand's modern history include October 14, 1973 Student Uprising (บันทึกประวัติศาสตร์ 14 ตุลา) and October 1973 to October 1976: A History of State Violence in Thailand (ตุลา-ตุลา: สังคม-รัฐไทย กับความรุนแรงทางการเมือง).

พฤษภา-พฤษภา also features a VCD of a documentary (พฤษภาทมิฬ) originally released on VHS in 1992. The documentary is most notable for its subversive soundtrack: footage of soldiers beating protesters is accompanied by an ironic Ad Carabao song (ผู้ทน) praising the government, providing an intentional counterpoint to the massacre footage.

Gigantrix Extinction

Gigantrix Extinction
Gigantrix Extinction
Gigantrix Extinction, the debut album by Thai thrash metal band Killing Fields, was released in 2012 on CD and cassette. The cassette version is limited to 100 numbered copies (mine being number 18). The two formats have different album covers, both of which are drawings by Dissolute inspired by Neal Ulevich's photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre. (The US punk band Dead Kennedys used the photo as the cover for their single Holiday in Cambodia.)

Gigantrix Extension includes the song 6th October, which is about the state-orchestrated killing of students during the 1976 massacre. Earlier this year, Killing Fields performed at จะ4ปีแล้วนะ, a concert marking the four-year anniversary of the 2014 coup.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Doc Club Theater

Mundane History
By the Time It Gets Dark
Anocha Suwichakornpong's films Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก) and By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) will be shown at Bangkok's Warehouse 30 this month and next month, at screenings organised by Doc Club Theater. They will play as a double bill on 22nd October and 3rd November, followed by individual screenings on consecutive evenings: By the Time It Gets Dark on 25th October, and Mundane History on 26th October. By the Time It Gets Dark will also be shown on 11th November. Almost exactly a year ago, a proposed screening of By the Time It Gets Dark at the same venue was inexplicably cancelled by Thai police.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Ghost:2561

Ghost:2561
Blue
Ghost:2561, a series of video screenings at galleries throughout Bangkok, began yesterday and runs until 28th October. (2561 in the Buddhist calendar equates to 2018 in the Gregorian calendar.) The event includes Blue (ตะวันดับ), a new video by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, in which his muse, Jenjira Pongpas, falls asleep in front of a series of theatrical backdrops. As Jenjira sleeps, a flame appears, and gradually the entire scene becomes engulfed in a blazing fire.

The liminality between sleeping, dreaming, and wakefulness is a recurrent theme in Apichatpong's work. He filmed his boyfriend asleep on three consecutive nights for Teem, and Dilbar shows a construction worker sleeping. Sleep is also central to Apichatpong's most recent feature film, Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น), and his segment of the new portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand (Song of the City). The fire in Blue has echoes of his Primitive installation project, such as the burning football in Phantoms of Nabua.

Blue, showing at Bangkok's Gallery VER, is projected onto a large glass screen, hanging in the centre of the darkened gallery. This produces reflections of the images on the walls and floor, highlighting the film's theatricality and demonstrating Apichatpong's continued fascination with (and mastery of) the effects of light.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

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 2018. The new edition, updated by Ian Haydn Smith, features eleven new films, and eleven titles 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, 2016, and 2017) featured only minor changes.

The new films in the 2018 edition are: The Handmaiden; Lady Macbeth; Lady Bird; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Call Me by Your Name; Mother!; Blade Runner 2049; Get Out; and Black Panther. While these choices are all justified though predictable, the documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time is a more surprising addition. The deleted films are: No Man's Land; The Consequences of Love; Tsotsi; Lincoln; The Revenant; Hell or High Water; The Jungle Book (the Jon Favreau version); Jackie; Manchester by the Sea; I, Daniel Blake; and Arrival.

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Sunday, 7 October 2018

"The Washington Times
retracts it in its entirety..."

The Washington Times
The Washington Times has reached an out-of-court settlement with Aaron Rich, after he sued the newspaper for defamation. Rich's brother, Seth, became the subject of a conspiracy theory after his unsolved murder in 2016. It was alleged, without any evidence, that Seth Rich had leaked Democratic National Committee emails to WikiLeaks.

In a Washington Times op-ed published on 2nd March (page B3), James Lyons stated the conspiracy theory as a fact, implicating both Seth and Aaron Rich in the DNC email leak: "Interestingly, it is well known in the intelligence circles that Seth Rich and his brother, Aaron Rich, downloaded the DNC emails and was paid by Wikileaks for that information." [Aside from its defamatory nature, the sentence has at least three grammatical errors.]

The newspaper has since deleted the article (headlined "More cover-up questions") from its website. It has also issued a retraction, disavowing the op-ed's allegations about the Rich brothers: "The Washington Times now does not have any basis to believe any part of that statement to be true, and The Washington Times retracts it in its entirety."

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Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Internet Universality Beyond Words

Internet Universality Beyond Words
Watch!
Watch!
The Simpsons
Neal Ulevich
Internet Universality Beyond Words features a handful of videos and installations commenting on internet freedom in Thailand. The mini exhibition opened on 28th September at TCDC's new Bangkok premises, the converted Grand Postal Building, and runs until 14th October. (TCDC moved from its smaller Emporium location last year.)

The centrepiece is Watch!, a dramatic paper sculpture by Wee Viraporn. From a distance, it's a pixelated representation of Prayuth Chan-ocha's eyes, implying that the Prime Minister is monitoring Thai citizens' online activities. On closer inspection, each pixel is a cube featuring pictures of Thai military and junta controversies, such as the GT200 corruption scandal and the cover of Time's 2nd July issue (a Prayuth interview that the magazine's distributors withheld from Thailand).

The most interesting work is much less conspicuous: a video playing on an iPhone. This short film, by Tewprai Bualoi, is a montage of online memes taken from cartoons and news clips (including extracts from Charnvit Kasetsiri's documentary 14 ตุลา), and even its title is a meme: Friendship Ended with Mudasir Now Salman Is My Best Friend (มิตรภาพสิ้นสุดกับ Mudasir ตอนนี้ Salman คือเพื่อนที่ดีที่สุดของฉัน).

Tewprai's film uses codes and metaphors that refer to the 6th October 1976 massacre. A photo of director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, the Red Bull logo, and the Scout emblem refer respectively to Nawaphon, the Red Gaurs, and the Village Scouts (the three militia groups that instigated the violence). It also includes a clip from The Simpsons (broadcast on 1st December 1996) of Bart hitting Homer with a chair, in reference to Neal Ulevich's photograph of a man preparing to attack a corpse in the same way. There are also split-second shots of the gate in Nakhon Pathom from which two pro-democracy activists were hanged.

video

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Thai Politics III

Thai Politics III
Thai Politics III
Miti Ruangkritya's Thai Politics III is part of his Thai Politics series inspired by Thai political polarisation. The exhibition catalogue, in an edition of 500 numbered copies (of which mine is number 176), features reproductions of defaced posters from the 2011 election, in which Yingluck Shinawatra defeated Abhisit Vejjajiva. The cover has been die-cut to simulate a slashed poster of Abhisit. Manit Sriwanichpoom's series The Election of Hatred (การเลือกตั้งแห่งความเกลียดชัง) also featured photographs of defaced 2011 election posters.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Concept, Context, Contestation

Concept, Context, Contestation
Blue October
Loss of Hearing
History Class
The Election of Hatred
The Concept, Context, Contestation: Art and the Collective in Southeast Asia (มโนทัศน์ บริบท และการต่อต้าน: ศิลปะและส่วนรวมในเอเชียตะวันออกเฉียงใต้) exhibition was held at BACC in 2014. The scholarly exhibition catalogue, edited by Iola Lenzi, features essays on art in Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The plates section includes rare reproductions of Vasan Sitthiket's Blue October (ตุลาลัย), recreating photographs of the 1976 Thammasat massacre; Paphonsak Lao-or's Loss of Hearing (สูญเสียการได้ยิน), commenting on lèse-majesté by self-censoring books on page 112; Sutee Kunavichayanont's History Class (ห้องเรียนประวัติศาสตร์), with sensitive historical events carved onto school desks; and Manit Sriwanichpoom's The Election of Hatred (การเลือกตั้งแห่งความเกลียดชัง), defaced 2011 election posters similar to Miti Ruangkritya's Thai Politics III.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide:
The Modern Era

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide: The Modern Era
Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide was first published in the US in 1969, and its final edition appeared forty-five years later. That edition was reprinted last year, with a new subtitle (The Modern Era). Misleadingly, the cover claims "300+ NEW ENTRIES", though as Maltin makes clear in his introduction, there are "no new reviews in this volume."

The book includes capsule reviews of films released since 1965, along with selected older classics. Most pre-1965 reviews were moved to a different book, the Classic Movie Guide, though this resulted in some duplication and inconsistency. Many pre-1965 films are reviewed in both The Modern Era and the Classic Movie Guide, and The Modern Era's cross-referencing to the Classic Movie Guide seems arbitrary. Also, foreign-language films are listed only by their English titles, with no alternative title index.

The annual film guide is now a thing of the past, as the last remaining example, the Radio Times Guide to Films 2019, had its publication cancelled this week. (The Guide to Films 2018, published last year, is now the final edition.) Maltin's closest UK equivalent, Leslie Halliwell's phone-directory-sized Film Guide, ended ingnominiously in 2008 as The Movies that Matter. The superb Time Out Film Guide ceased publication in 2012. The Virgin Film Guide and Empire Film Guide, both offering longer reviews of fewer films, ended in 2005 and 2007, respectively.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Democracy after Death

Democracy after Death
Democracy after Death
Neti Wichiansaen's documentary Democracy after Death: The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย เรื่องเศร้าของลุงนวมทอง) is an account of Thailand's recent political history, bookended by the coups of 2006 and 2014. These events are narrated in a voiceover addressed to Nuamthong Praiwan, a pro-democracy protester who committed suicide in 2006. Nuamthong was also the subject of Prap Boonpan's short film Letter from the Silence (จดหมายจากความเงียบ).

The film covers Thailand's polarisation between the PAD and UDD protesters, culminating in the military crackdown of 2010, "the most brutal political massacre in Thai history." As in Thunska Pansittivorakul's The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), former prime minister Abhisit is blamed for the massacre: "Directly responsible, Abhisit Vejjajiva holds Thailand's new record of the number of people shot by the military."

Democracy after Death is significant for its inclusion of sensitive political events excluded from Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย). It's also a refreshing counterpoint to Ing Kanjanavanit's Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์), as it highlights the underhand tactics of the PDRC movement (extorting money and sabotaging the 2014 election). Whereas Bangkok Joyride is pro-PDRC, Democracy after Death is biased in favour of Thaksin Shinawatra, noting sympathetically that he "was forced to leave and has had to remain outside Thailand" though ignoring his corruption conviction.

The film's director is also living in exile, due to a previous lèse-majesté prosecution, and Democracy after Death has been self-censored to avoid further charges. A photograph of the junta and Rama IX on the night of the 2006 coup has been pixelated, and a soldier's pledge of loyalty to the king has been bleeped out. Like the short film Narayana's Arrow Spaceship: Between the Orbits of Mars and Jupiter (ยานศรนารายณ์ ระหว่างวงโคจรดาวอังคารและดาวพฤหัสฯ), the credits are also self-censored.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

BNK44

BNK44
A punk concert was cancelled last night after its venue, the Overstay hostel in Bangkok, was raided by the police. The event was titled BNK44, a reference to the sweeping powers granted to the junta under article 44 of the constitution, and a pun on the Thai pop group BNK48. The planned concert was organised by the team behind จะ4ปีแล้วนะ, which was raided by police earlier this year.

"Attacked by Freddy Krueger..."

The Sun
Elton John accepted damages from The Sun yesterday, after suing the newspaper for libel. In a front-page story published on 11th February, The Sun on Sunday alleged that one of John's dogs had savagely attacked a toddler, and that he was not concerned about the victim's injuries. A double-page spread described the victim as "looking like she was attacked by Freddy Krueger" and claimed that she was "yet to receive a phone call from Sir Elton," though his solicitor argued that "the injuries were not serious" and that John had "made several inquiries about the girl's welfare".

The Sun has a history of libellous articles about John, including a previous story that also involved his dogs. On 28th September 1987, the newspaper falsely claimed that he had arranged for his dogs' vocal chords to be removed, in a front-page story headlined "MYSTERY OF ELTON'S SILENT DOGS". On the first day of that libel trial, 12th December 1988, The Sun agreed to a record £1 million damages payment and apologised with the front-page headline "SORRY ELTON". (It was also an injunction against The Sun on Sunday by John and his husband that led to the "PJS" privacy case.)

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Whitewash

Whitewash
Harit Srikhao's first photobook, Whitewash, was published last year. The book (with a die-cut cover) includes images from his exhibition of the same name, which was censored by the military. As the book is spiral-bound, double-page spreads are bisected by the plastic binding. Images from Whitewash are currently on show in Germany, as part of the group exhibition Absurdity in Paradise. Harit also co-directed sPACEtIME and Homogeneous, Empty Time.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Modernist Design Complete

Modernist Design Complete
Dominic Bradbury's Modernist Design Complete (which will be published next month) is the fourth in a series of comprehensive design surveys from Thames & Hudson. Like its predecessors - Mid-Century Modern Complete (also edited by Bradbury), Art Deco Complete, and Postmodern Design Complete - it includes profiles of major designers alongside essays on furniture, lighting, graphics, ceramics, and industrial design.

There is some overlap with Art Deco Complete, as Bradbury recognises in his introduction: both books discuss the Streamline Moderne style, "which crossed the boundaries of both Art Deco and modernist design". Christopher Wilk's Modernism explores the cultural impact of Modernism, and the second volume of Victor Margolin's World History of Design is the definitive global history of Modernist design, though Modernist Design Complete is a (primarily) visual survey of the movement, with hundreds of colour photographs.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Fear

Fear
Bob Woodward's Fear: Trump in the White House is the latest book on the Trump presidency, after Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury. Whereas Wolff's book was a gossipy account of palace intrigue, Woodward focuses on policymaking (and unmaking), though both writers portray a chaotic White House led by a president unfit for office. Both books were also instant bestsellers; Fear has already sold over a million copies, only a few days after publication.

Fear begins with Trump's former chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, taking a draft letter from the Oval Office, to stop Trump withdrawing from a bilateral trade agreement with South Korea: "I stole it off his desk... He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country." In case this seems far-fetched, Woodward reproduces the actual document, and adds that Cohn, and former staff secretary Rob Porter, also removed similar letters that would have pulled the US out of NAFTA and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

These incidents confirm the gist of the anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times on 6th September, which revealed an internal Trump resistance campaign: "many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations." (Although, despite the efforts of Cohn, Porter, and the "senior official" who wrote the op-ed, Trump's nationalist instincts ultimately prevailed, and he withdrew from NAFTA and the climate accord.)

Such attempts to subvert a president's agenda are not completely unprecedented. Ron Suskind's book Confidence Men claims that President Obama's Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ignored Obama's directive to restructure Citibank after the 2008 financial crisis, and that Obama's authority was "systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers." Suskind's book has been criticised for its errors and exaggerations, though whatever the truth about the Obama administration, the West Wing's challenging of Trump's decision-making is much more blatant.

Unlike Suskind (and Wolff, whose book also contained mistakes), Woodward's journalistic reputation is second to none. He investigated Watergate with Carl Bernstein, and has covered Washington politics for almost fifty years; his previous books include two studies of the Obama administration (Obama's Wars and The Price of Politics).

Woodward also relies on contemporaneous documents, such as the South Korea letter, adding even more credibility to his account. Another document obtained by Woodward, the minutes of a security meeting, is an official summary of the West Wing's concerns about Trump (and it reads like a preview of the op-ed): "many of the president's senior advisers... are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views."

Fear quotes senior staffers expressing these feelings more directly: former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (as previously reported) calls Trump "a fucking moron," and according to Chief of Staff John Kelly, "He's an idiot... He's gone off the rails. We're in crazytown." The book ends with Trump's former lawyer John Dowd calling him "a fucking liar" though the quote's impact is slightly diluted because it also appears a few pages previously. ("He could not say what he knew was true: "You're a fucking liar." That was the problem.")

Woodward conducted interviews on 'deep background', though his key sources are fairly identifiable. White House meetings and conversations are transcribed at length, in quotation marks, though the dialogue is presumably reconstructed rather than verbatim. (This is problematic, though it's become standard practice in memoirs.) Dowd, for example, provides extensive quotes, most notably from his meetings with Robert Mueller. These are the first insights yet into the leak-proof Mueller investigation, and Dowd quotes Mueller twice asking about any "corrupt intent" on Trump's part.

Trump declined to be interviewed for the book. Woodward released a recording of a phone call with Trump last month, in which Trump initially denied, then admitted, being asked to participate. Wolff did interview Trump, though he overstated his access. Trump also spoke to Ronald Kessler, for his hagiographic The Trump White House, in what Kessler claimed was "the only interview for a book Trump said he has given or will give as president".

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Someone from Nowhere

Someone from Nowhere
[Spoiler alert: this review reveals the film's ending.] Prabda Yoon's directorial debut, Motel Mist (โรงแรมต่างดาว) was a study of sexual politics and power dynamics, though it also had a political subtext, signalled by a shot of Bangkok's Democracy Monument in the wing mirror as a car drives away. In Prabda's more compelling second film Someone from Nowhere (มา ณ ที่นี้), the entire plot, location, and characters are all political metaphors.

The film takes place in a condo called Liberty Land, which becomes a microcosm for the country (as 'Thai' means 'liberated'). The condo's apparent owner, a young woman, goes about her morning routine: swimming, greeting various neighbours, and taking a shower. But then she discovers an injured man outside her front door, and phones the condominium staff and the police for help. Meanwhile, the man claims to be the condo's rightful owner, demanding: "The only thing I want is to have this place back." She insists that he's lying, and replies: "I won't let you people get away with this atrocity."

To all intents and purposes, the condo is hers, though her deeds of ownership are blank pages, and the assistance she called for never arrives. The analogy to the 2014 coup is clear: like Yingluck Shinawatra, the woman is intimidated by a powerful intruder (the man, representing the military reclaiming its traditional rights); she has no legal defence (her deeds were erased, just as the constitution was abrogated); and she receives no external support (Thailand's judicial system and police force didn't intervene to prevent the coup). The film's political subtext becomes increasingly direct, culminating with the national anthem playing as the man and woman stab each other.

Like Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก), the film's repetitive structure highlights the cyclical nature of the military's interventions. The man places the woman's unconscious body outside, and assumes occupancy of the condo, going through the same morning routine as she did. He then discovers her outside the door, whereupon she claims to be the rightful owner and he insists that she's mistaken. By implication, the two protagonists have relived the same debate, with alternating roles, many times over (symbolising Thailand's transitions between military and civilian rule). Their apparent amnesia echoes the national tendency to gloss over repeated acts of political violence (as the title of Napat Treepalawisetkun's short film We Will Forget It Again also implies).

Someone from Nowhere's title ostensibly refers to the injured man, as the woman occupies the condo when the film begins and the audience's sympathies initially lie with her. But there are also suggestions that the woman is the interloper: the neighbours didn't acknowledge her during her morning routine, for example, while they readily converse with the man. One neighbour tells him that there's been no good news for eighty years, suggesting that the condo's residents harken back to the pre-democratic era before the 1932 revolution, and therefore that they accept him (the symbol of authoritarianism) rather than her (a disruption of the status quo).

Motel Mist

Motel Mist
Motel Mist (โรงแรมต่างดาว), the directorial debut of writer Prabda Yoon, was dropped by its distributor, TrueVisions, the day before its scheduled release date. Apparently, the studio hadn't anticipated such a risqué drama, and Prabda organised an independent release a month later. The studio's name was removed from the credits, though the film still includes plenty of product placement for the company, as an entire subplot is told via TNN, the TrueVisions news channel.

The title refers to Motel Mistress, the 'love motel' where the majority of the film is set, and there are knowing references to Psycho, with the motel clerk's peephole hidden behind a painting. The standout scene, though, is the journey to the motel (driving symbolically away from Bangkok's Democracy Monument): a middle-aged man picks up a teenage prostitute, and their awkward fumble is choreographed to Bizet's Carmen.

After more kinkiness at the motel, the revenge plot kicks in, as the young woman humiliates the man who exploited her. But this is the film's least effective sequence, as it's tacky (with slow-motion shots of wobbly dildos) and lacks any suspense.

Thai Politics VII

Thai Politics VII
Thai Politics VII
Artist Miti Ruangkritya published Thai Politics VII last year in an edition of 500 numbered copies (of which mine is number 174), as part of his Thai Politics series of works inspired by Thailand's recent political polarisation. The booklet consists entirely of photographs (sourced from social media) of televisions showing NCPO announcements after the 2014 coup, indicating the omnipresence of military propaganda. (Danaya Chulphuthiphong's short film Night Watch made a similar point, showing a television with the NCPO logo on almost every channel.)

Storytellers of the Town

Storytellers of the Town
Storytellers of the Town, edited by John Clark, was published to accompany a 2014 exhibition by Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook in Australia. The catalogue includes stills from videos in which Araya addresses female corpses (Conversation I, I'm Living, and The Class), though it also features images of her more recent work, The Treachery of the Moon. For this twelve-minute video, Araya projected footage of the 2010 UDD protests onto her surroundings as she sat watching a lakorn (soap opera) on television. Araya's work was also included in Art and Words (ศิลปะกับถ้อยความ), though Storytellers of the Town has a more comprehensive bibliography.

Khaki Capital

Khaki Capital
Khaki Capital: The Political Economy of the Military in Southeast Asia, published last year, examines the military's tendency to exert its influence beyond the barracks, into national economics and politics. The book includes chapters on Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Editors Paul Chambers and Napisa Waitoolkiat chart the history of the Thai military's state interventions, and the reasons behind its impunity: "The symbiosis of monarchy and military has created a sense of entitlement among the armed forces, especially to its right to influence decision-making regarding national security and national development." They also provide a detailed analysis of the 2014 coup.

Although the book is available in Thailand, some of its contents (such as its assessment of "the most remarkable instance of military corruption under the NCPO junta") cannot be cited online. Its editors also contributed to Military, Monarchy and Repression, an anthology of essays on Thailand's judicial, military, and political tensions.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Chronicle of a Summer

Chronicle of a Summer
Bangkok's Doc Club Theater will be showing the classic Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d'un été) this month at Warehouse 30. This self-reflexive documentary is an experiment in filming truth, which director Jean Rouch readily acknowledges is a contradiction in terms. It is also the first example of cinéma vérité, a style that developed in parallel with the non-participatory 'direct cinema' movement pioneered in the US with documentaries such as Primary and Dont Look Back. Chronicle of a Summer will be shown on 14th, 20th, 22nd, 24th, and 30th September.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

J-Anime Movie

J-Anime Movie
Spirited Away
Bangkok's TK Park will host a weekend of Japanese animation at the end of this month. The event, J-Anime Movie (อนิเมะ...อันนี้มันส์) will take place on 29th and 30th September, and will open with Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し).