Friday, 27 November 2020

Khana Ratsadon

Police have launched an investigation into the mock banknotes that were distributed to protesters at an anti-government rally on 25th November. 3,000 of the coupons were issued at the protest, outside the headquarters of Siam Commercial Bank in Bangkok. Each coupon had a face value of ten baht, and could be used to purchase food from street vendors.

The coupons were produced by Khana Ratsadon, one of the groups leading the recent protest movement. (Its name is a tribute to the political party that launched the 1932 revolution, transforming Thailand from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional democracy.) The fake banknotes may result in counterfeiting charges, though—bearing an image of a bright yellow duck—they could hardly be mistaken for legal tender. (The duck is wearing a crown and a crop-top, which may also lead to charges of lèse-majesté.)

The rally itself was peaceful, though a man threw a ping-pong bomb while the crowd was dispersing. Shots were fired shortly afterwards by another man, wounding one of the protest guards. (Earlier this month, shots were fired at protesters outside parliament, injuring six people. At that rally, protesters used inflatable ducks to shield themselves from water cannon.)

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Avalon

Thunska Pansittivorakul’s new autobiographical documentary Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์) begins with a full-frontal sex scene between Thunska and his then-boyfriend Harit Srikhao. (Co-director Harit’s exhibition Whitewash was censored by the military in 2017.) Harit is twenty years younger than Thunska, and the dynamic between them recalls the similar opening sequence in Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el cielo) by Carlos Reygadas.

Around half of Avalon’s one-hour running time consists of sex tapes recorded at different stages of Thunska and Harit’s relationship, including a ménage à trois with Itdhi Phanmanee, who co-directed sPACEtIME (กาล-อวกาศ) with Thunska and Harit. Few contemporary films are as revealing (both physically and emotionally) in their exploration of an artist’s sexual history, and Avalon has more in common with New York underground films of fifty years ago, such as Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses and Kathy Acker’s Blue Tape.

Although Thunska has included hardcore sequences in several of his previous films—Reincarnate (จุติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), and Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา)—Avalon is his most explicit work. It’s also a logical extension of his increasingly participatory filmmaking style: in Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม) he attempted to pull down a man’s shorts, in the short film Unseen Bangkok (มหัศจรรย์กรุงเทพ) he touched a man’s penis while interviewing him, and in Reincarnate he masturbated one of his actors.

Avalon also includes scenes filmed at a housing project abandoned after Thailand’s 2011 floods. The floods were mismanaged by Yingluck Shinawatra’s incoming administration, though Avalon is less political than Thunska’s other recent films, such as Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ) and Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล; also co-directed by Harit). (For Thunska, however, sex on screen is itself a political act.) The deserted location, with an empty swimming pool, could be a metaphor for the Avalon of the title: an idyllic and private space, like the island of Arthurian legend.

There is also a flipside, however: the film charts the disintegration of Thunska and Harit’s relationship, and the empty pool evokes Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les diaboliques, with its own doomed love triangle. (The title sequences of Avalon and Les diaboliques both feature lingering shots of murky, stagnant water.) The accusations and recriminations resulting from the break-up (blocking each other on social media, etc.) are the least engaging aspects of the film.

Avalon received its world premiere on 28th October at the DOK Leipzig film festival in Germany. A Thai release would be impossible, though after his film This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน) was banned, Thunska has refused to submit any of his films for classification. As he told me in an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, “Since then, I decided not to show any of my films in Thailand.”

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

“Thailand is the land of compromise...”

Yesterday saw the return of political violence in Bangkok for the first time in a decade. Anti-government protesters gathered near Sappaya-Sapasathan, the new parliament building on the bank of the Chao Phraya river, which had been surrounded with concrete barricades and razor wire. All afternoon, riot police used water cannon laced with tear gas to prevent the protesters from entering the parliament complex.

In the evening, the protesters breached the barricades, though they were met by a royalist counter-protest. Riot police did not intervene as the royalists, wearing yellow shirts, clashed with the anti-government protesters. Gunshots were fired, and projectiles were thrown by both sides.

This was the third deployment of water cannon by riot police in the past month—after similar anti-government protests at Siam Square on 16th October and near the Grand Palace on 8th November—though the use of live ammunition by royalist counter-protesters marks a significant escalation in the conflict. Another rally will take place this afternoon at Ratchaprasong, the site of a military crackdown on anti-government protesters a decade ago.

On 2nd November, King Maha Vajiralongkorn made his first public comments on the political tensions when Jonathan Miller, a correspondent for the UK’s Channel 4 News, interviewed him during a royal walkabout. (Miller’s scoop was regarded as somewhat audacious by the deferential Thai media.) The King called Thailand “the land of compromise”, though the possibility of negotiations between the govenment and the protesters seems increasingly remote.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Insects in the Backyard

Insects in the Backyard
Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s film Insects in the Backyard (อินเซค อินเดอะ แบ็คยาร์ด) is showing at Lido Connect in Bangkok on 19th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, 25th, 27th, 28th, 29th, and 30th November. The 21st November screening will include หลังพรมภาพยนตร์ (‘behind the red carpet’), a talk by the director on fundraising for independent filmmakers.

Director Tanwarin, Thailand’s first transgender MP, was dismissed from parliament last month, accused of owning undeclared media shares. She won her seat at the 2019 election as a member of Future Forward, though the party was dissolved earlier this year. (It is now known as Move Forward.)

Insects in the Backyard premiered at the World Film Festival of Bangkok in 2010, though requests for a general theatrical release were denied, making it the first film formally banned under the Film and Video Act of 2008. When the censors vetoed a screening at the Thai Film Archive in 2010, Tanwarin cremated a DVD of the film, in a symbolic funeral. (The ashes are kept in an urn at the Thai Film Museum.) Tanwarin appealed to the National Film Board, which upheld the ban, so she sued the censors in the Administrative Court.

As Tanwarin told me in an interview for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, the censors condemned the entire film: “When we asked the committee who considered the film which scenes constituted immorality, they simply said that they thought every scene is immoral”. When she appealed to the Film Board, their reaction was equally dismissive: “we were told by one of the committee members that we should have made the film in a ‘good’ way. This was said as if we did not know how to produce a good movie, and no clear explanation was given.”

On Christmas Day 2015, the Administrative Court ruled that the film could be released if a single shot was removed. (The three-second shot shows a clip from a gay porn video.) Although the film was censored, the verdict represented a victory of sorts, as the Court rejected the censors’ view that Insects in the Backyard was immoral. As Tanwarin told me: “The Court’s verdict was that there are no immoral scenes in the film as it’s a film focussing on problems in Thai society.”

After the Administrative Court’s ruling, Insects in the Backyard was shown at Bangkok’s House Rama cinema in 2017. In 2018, it was screened at Bangkok Screening Room, Sunandha Rajabhat University, and ChangChui in Bangkok. It was shown at the Thai Film Archive in 2018 and 2020.

Friday, 13 November 2020

Panorama

The Princess and Panorama
Diana: The Turth Behind the Interview
Diana: The Interview that Shocked the World
The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess
Martin Bashir’s extraordinary Panorama interview with Princess Diana was broadcast on BBC1 on 20th November 1995. Diana’s criticism of Camilla Parker-Bowles provided the key soundbite (“there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”), though her comments about Prince Charles’s accession were even more remarkable. Asked whether their son, William, should succeed the Queen instead of Charles, she replied: “My wish is that my husband finds peace of mind. And from that follows other things, yes.”

Bashir has never explained how he gained Diana’s cooperation. A BBC2 Arena documentary about the programme (The Princess and Panorama, broadcast on 8th November 2005) interviewed everyone involved, except Bashir. (At the time, it was fascinating; in hindsight, it seems like a whitewash.) Recently, the other terrestrial channels—ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5—have all produced new documentaries on the Panorama interview, all of which accuse Bashir of breaching journalistic ethics.

Channel 4’s Diana: The Truth Behind the Interview (broadcast on 21st October) alleged that Bashir commissioned a graphic designer to create fake bank statements, which he used to convince Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, that the security services were spying on her. But this was first reported by The Mail on Sunday as long ago as 1996, and noone with first-hand knowledge of the events took part in the Channel 4 programme.

Channel 5’s Diana: The Interview that Shocked the World (broadcast on 11th October) included a first-hand account from a former BBC executive, Richard Ayre, though it minimised the significance of the fake bank statements. It also featured an anecdote from Richard Eyre, who broke royal protocol by revealing that the Queen described the Panorama interview as a “frightful thing that my daughter-in-law did”.

Ayre also appeared in ITV’s two-part The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess (broadcast on 9th and 10th November), along with Panorama cameraman Tony Poole and Mail on Sunday journalist Nick Fielding. Part one was a familiar recap of Charles and Diana’s marriage (including ‘Camillagate’). In part two, ITV scooped its rivals with the first broadcast interview with the graphic designer who created the fake bank statements, Matt Wiessler.

Monday, 9 November 2020

Two Little Soldiers

Two Little Soldiers
Two Little Soldiers
Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang has produced a new short film for the Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 (บางกอก อาร์ต เบียนนาเล่). The film, Two Little Soldiers (สาวสะเมิน), begins with an homage to Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, though in this case the body in the woods is only resting.

The film’s seemingly idyllic scenario, in which two young soldiers and a local woman relax by a river, is contrasted by its soundtrack: a government statement (heard via a transistor radio) announcing a crackdown on protesters at Phan Fah in Bangkok. (Except for the radio announcement, the film is silent, with intertitles rather than spoken dialogue.) The film’s release coincides with a new wave of anti-government rallies: yesterday, protesters marched from Democracy Monument to the Grand Palace, to deliver an open letter to the King, though riot police used water cannon to prevent them from entering the Palace grounds.

The crackdown at Phan Fah took place on 10th April 2010, with the military deploying automatic weapons against red-shirt protesters. Twenty-five people were killed. Two Little Soldiers shows how military propaganda misrepresented the incident, with the radio announcement accusing the protesters of “the intent to incite violence” and denying the use of live ammunition: “False rumors have been spread that the military have used live fire on protesters and that the prime minister has ordered the killing of civilians. These are not true.”

This form of propaganda, broadcast via military-owned radio and television stations, has been utilised by successive Thai miltary governments for the past fifty years. Just this afternoon, army chief Narongpan Jitkaewthae held a press conference at which he accused yesterday’s protesters of inciting violence. Like Two Little Soldiers, The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) also shows how Thailand’s military propaganda demonised red-shirt protesters. Like Sayew (สยิว) and The Island Funeral (มหาสมุทรและสุสาน), Two Little Soldiers represents military crackdowns via radio broadcasts rather than reenactments.

Two Little Soldiers represents the first direct reference to contemporary politics in one of Pen-ek’s films. His documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) ended with Thaksin Shinawatra’s first term as Prime Minister, thus omitting the political crisis that followed his re-election. When I interviewed Pen-ek for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he expressed some solidarity with the red-shirt movement: “If the ‘redshirt’ people can separate themselves from Thaksin, then I would become completely a ‘redshirt’.”

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Thai Film Archive

2499
2499
2499
The Thai Film Archive at Salaya will screen two classic blockbusters, Jaws and Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง), later this year. The screenings are free of charge.

Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece Jaws, one of the key New Hollywood films, broke box-office records in the US. Nonzee Nimibutr’s Dang Bireley’s is arguably its Thai equivalent, breaking the domestic box-office record and launching the Thai New Wave.

Dang Bireley’s will be screened on 28th November. It was previously shown at the Archive earlier this year, at the Scala cinema in 2018, and at Ramada Plaza in 2010.

Jaws will be shown on 5th and 13th December, as part of the World Class Cinema (ทึ่ง! หนังโลก) season. It was due to be screened at Scala earlier this year, though that screening was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Bangkok Art Biennale 2020

Bangkok Art Biennala 2020
Law of the Journey
Eros and Psyche
Donald Trump
The inaugural Bangkok Art Biennale’s theme was Beyond Bliss (สุขสะพรั่ง พลังอาร์ต), and this year the Biennale (บางกอก อาร์ต เบียนนาเล่) returns with a new theme: Escape Routes (ศิลป์สร้าง ทางสุข). The exhibition—occupying three floors of the BACC, and nine other venues around the city—opened on 29th October and runs until 31st January 2021.

The BACC’s Biennale exhibition is dominated by dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Law of the Journey, an inflatable refugee boat that’s fifty feet long. The show also features a selection of works by provocative American photographer Andres Serrano, including Eros and Psyche from his Immersions series (a statue immersed in urine) and a pre-presidential portrait of Donald Trump from his America series.

Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang has produced a new short film for the Biennale, Two Little Soldiers (สาวสะเมิน). The film is accompanied by twelve black-and-white drawings by the director, and alongside each print is a QR code linked to a different online video clip, in which the actors (and Pen-ek himself) read from the Two Little Soldiers script. As in the film itself, there is a stark contrast between the calm narration and the disturbing events being described.

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo
Charlie Hebdo
This year, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. It marked the occasion with a book—Charlie Hebdo: 50 ans de liberté d’expression (‘fifty years of freedom of expression’)—and a special issue published on 30th September. Both publications include reprints of the magazine’s first Mohammed cover, from 2006.

Although Charlie Hebdo has become notorious for its Mohammed cartoons (published in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015), the magazine is an equal-opportunities offender, satirising all religions and state institutions. Its current issue led to a lawsuit from the President of Turkey. In 2016, it was criticised for a cartoon depicting the victims of an Italian earthquake. It was sued for blasphemy in 2014.

Friday, 30 October 2020

October Rumbles

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest short film, October Rumbles (เสียงฟ้าเดือนตุลา), was released on the Polygon Gallery’s website yesterday. The film captures a rainstorm near Apichatpong’s home in Chiang Mai, and features several of the director’s recurring motifs: light, tropical foliage, and the ambient sounds of nature.

The film’s title has a double meaning. It’s now monsoon season in Thailand, and the rumbles of thunder on the soundtrack are a daily occurrence. But there have also been rumblings of a different kind this month: protests calling for a democratic government and reform of the monarchy. Riot police used water canon to disperse a peaceful protest in central Bangkok on 16th October, and more rallies have since been held around the capital. (The latest, at Silom Road yesterday, featured a red catwalk and a satirical fashion show.)

In his director’s statement (edited from an interview on the Polygon podcast), Apichatpong directly addresses the political situation: “I was initially more aware of my own suffering, in terms of my inability to express my freedom in my own country and the role of the military or the monarchy or whatever in creating these feelings. But then you realize there are others suffering much more in the Covid time and you see these really huge gaps in equality and the power of this struggle both in this time and the struggle that has been going on for decades.”

October Rumbles will be available online until 12th November. Apichatpong’s other online short films include Prosperity for 2008, Mobile Men, Phantoms of Nabua, For Alexis, 2013, Cactus River (โขงแล้งน้ำ), and For Monkeys Only (ทำให้ลิงดูเท่านั้น).

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed criminal defamation charges against the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the magazine is also under investigation by Turkish authorities for insulting the President, which is a crime in Turkey though not in France. This week’s issue of Charlie Hebdo, published yesterday, features a lecherous Erdoğan caricature on its cover, shown lifting a Muslim woman’s dress.

Legal action against the magazine is highly unlikely, though the controversy will further increase diplomatic tensions between Turkey and France. Last week, Erdoğan criticised French President Emmanuel Macron, after Macron defended a French school teacher who showed his pupils the Mohammed cartoons recently reprinted by Charlie Hebdo. (The teacher was beheaded in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, near Paris, in a shocking act of terrorism.)

Erdoğan has previously filed charges against the Turkish magazines Cumhuriyet (in 2004 and 2014), Penguen (in 2014), and Nokta (in 2015). He also sued the artist Michael Dickinson over the collages Good Boy and Best in Show. In 2016, Erdoğan sued a German comedian who recited a poem mocking him. (In solidarity with the comedian, his poem was read out in the German parliament, and The Spectator launched an anti-Erdoğan poetry competition that was won by Boris Johnson.)

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

717: The Haunted House

717: The Haunted House
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Bangkok’s House Samyan cinema is celebrating Halloween with 717: The Haunted House, a seven-day season of seventeen ghost films. The season includes Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), which will be shown on 29th and 31st October, and 3rd November.

717: The Haunted House runs from 29th October to 4th November. Uncle Boonmee was also shown earlier this year at Bangkok Screening Room (marking the film’s tenth anniversary), and last year at the Thai Film Archive (as part of a mini Apichatpong retrospective).

Monday, 26 October 2020

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy
100 Times Reproduction of Kirati 100 Times Reproduction of Kirati
Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s documentary 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้) will be shown next month at Bangkok Screening Room. It premiered at the Thai Film Archive last year, and it was screened at Chulayarnnon’s Give Us a Little More Time (ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน) exhibition earlier this year. (Coincidentally, Give Us a Little More Time will be shown at the Archive on 10th November, as part of this year’s Short Film Marathon.)

100 Times Reproduction of Democracy examines the borderline between artistic authorship and ownership, and relates this to Thai political history. By distributing DVD copies of his short film A Cock Kills a Child by Pecking on the Mouth of an Earthen Jar (ไก่จิกเด็กตายบนปากโอ่ง), Chulayarnnon questions whether the film belongs to its director, the audience, or the organisation that funded it. Democracy in Thailand is similarly contested, with successive governments, the military, and Thai people all staking their claim. Chulayarnnon’s film discusses this in relation to the commemorative plaque that was removed from Bangkok’s Royal Plaza in 2017.

The film is particularly topical, as United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration protesters installed a replacement plaque at Sanam Luang on 20th September. The new plaque—which stated that Thailand belongs to its people and not to the King—was removed by the authorities almost immediately, though its design has since been reproduced on keyrings and other merchandise. (A reproduction of the new plaque is also part of the current 841.594 exhibition at Cartel Artspace.)

Anti-government protests are continuing, with thousands gathering at Ratchaprasong intersection yesterday and a march to the German embassy in Bangkok planned for today. In a televised speech on 21st October, Prayut Chan-o-cha announced that he was lifting the state of emergency that had been imposed six days earlier. 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy will be shown at Bangkok Screening Room on 6th, 13th, 14th, 20th, and 27th November. The 14th November screening includes 100 Times Reproduction of Kirati (หนึ่งร้อยสำเนาของกีรติ), a talk by Chulayarnnon.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

1001 Movies
You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
The 2020 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was published earlier this month. Edited by Steven Jay Schneider, the first edition appeared in 2003, minor revisions were made in 2004, and it has been updated annually ever since (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019).

This year’s edition, revised by Ian Hayden Smith, features thirteen new titles. (It also includes a new introduction, the first since 2013.) All of the new entries, with one exception, were released in 2019: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, Parasite (기생충), For Sama (من أجل سما‎), Little Women, The Farewell (别告诉她), Monos, Booksmart, The Lighthouse, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu), Joker, Avengers: Endgame, and Toy Story IV. The exception is Lamerica, from 1994.

Although thirteen films were added, only eleven were deleted, because Avengers: Endgame was combined with Avengers: Infinity War as a single entry, and Toy Story IV was added to the single entry for all of the Toy Story films. The eleven deletions are: A Star Is Born (the Bradley Cooper remake); Vice; The Greatest Showman; Crazy Rich Asians; Mother!; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Wadjda (وجدة‎); American Beauty; Gangs of New York; and The Blue Kite (藍風箏).

PDF

Nang Nak

Nang Nak
Nang Nak
Bangkok’s Lido Connect cinema will celebrate Halloween with a revival of Nonzee Nimibutr’s classic horror film Nang Nak (นางนาก), showing on 29th-31st October; 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 18th, 19th, 23rd, 25th, 27th November; and 2nd December. The 31st October screening will be followed by ปลุกตำนานกว่าจะเป็นนางนาก (‘awakening the legend of Nang Nak’), a discussion with the director. Both a critical and commercial success, the film is one of the most famous adaptations of the Mae Nak ghost story, and one of the milestones of the Thai New Wave.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Rage

Rage
Bob Woodward’s Rage was released last month, making headlines with Donald Trump’s admission that he deliberately minimised the threat of coronavirus (“I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic”). Already, that seems like ancient history, given the variety of jaw-dropping Trump revelations over the past two months: The Atlantic’s story that he called America’s war dead “suckers and losers”, the report in The New York Times that he paid only $750 in income tax and has debts of $400 million; and, of course, his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Trump’s “playing it down” comment came in one of the seventeen interviews he gave to Woodward, an unprecedented level of cooperation. After an initial Oval Office interview with aides present, most of the subsequent conversations took place via a private telephone line, and Trump seemingly forgot that he was speaking on-the-record. He called George W. Bush “a stupid moron,” and dismissed his concessions to Kim Jong-un: “I met. Big fucking deal.”

Trump criticised Woodward’s previous book, Fear, as “a con on the public” in a 2018 tweet. Senator Lindsey Graham apparently convinced him to cooperate with Woodward for Rage, and Graham was one of many current and former Trump associates who spoke to Woodward. The book’s other major sources appear to be Rex Tillerson (former Secretary of State), James Mattis (former Secretary of Defense), Dan Coats (former Director of National Intelligence), and Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law).

In Fear, Woodward revealed that Trump had mocked his military top brass at a 2017 Pentagon meeting. Another Trump book, A Very Stable Genius, later confirmed that Trump had called his generals “a bunch of dopes and babies.” Now, in Rage, Woodward goes one further, reporting that Trump told one of his senior staff: “my fucking generals are a bunch of pussies.”

Fear reproduced a draft letter withdrawing from a trade agreement with South Korea. For Rage, Woodward obtained not just one document but twenty-five: the “almost romantic” letters exchanged between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Kim’s letters are absurdly sycophantic, in a calculated appeal to Trump’s love of flattery and sense of grandiosity: he tells Trump that “every minute that we shared... remains a precious memory.”

Woodward ends the book with his own opinion of the Trump presidency: “Trump is the wrong man for the job.” Given Trump’s 20,000 lies (as documented by The Washington Post) and his many deplorable statements (“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be”; “very fine people, on both sides”; “I would like you to do us a favour, though”), this is a vast understatement.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Same Sky Books

Same Sky
Nattapoll Chaiching
Nattapoll Chaiching
Thongchai Winichakul
Thongchai Winichakul
Anti-government rallies have been held in Bangkok on a daily basis since 14th October, when around 10,000 protesters marched from Democracy Monument to Government House. Around 20,000 people gathered at Ratchaprasong intersection on 15th October, and several thousand at Siam Square on 16th October. On 17th October, protests took place at Udom Suk, Lat Phrao, and Wong Wian Yai. Yesterday, there were rallies at Victory Monument and Asoke.

The protesters, led by two student groups (Free Youth, and the more radical United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration) are calling for a democratic political process: a new constitution and election, free from military interference. Protest slogans include “ai hia Tu” (‘ai hia is a strong insult, and Tu is Prayut Chan-o-cha’s nickname), though there is also increasingly open criticism of the monarchy. The protests began a few months ago in Bangkok, though there have been smaller rallies in many provinces since then.

The protest leaders were arrested on 15th October, though the rallies have continued regardless. Riot police used water cannon to disperse a rally at Siam Square on 16th October, though this heavy-handed approach brought more protesters onto the streets the following day. The government shut down the entire BTS SkyTrain and MRT subway networks on the weekend of 17th-18th October, in a disproportionate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent people from joining the rallies.

There has also been an increase in political censorship since the protests began. Today, police raided the offices of Same Sky Books. The publisher’s editor-in-chief, Thanapol Eawsakul, was taken in for questioning, and copies of four books were seized. The latest issue of the Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน) journal (volume 18, number 2) was also confiscated. The four books in question are: ขุนศึก ศักดินา และพญาอินทรี การเมืองไทยภายใต้ระเบียบโลกของสหรัฐอเมริกา 2491-2500 (‘feudal warlords and the eagle: Thai politics and the United States 1948-1957’) and ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ ความเคลื่อนไหวของขบวนการปฏิปักษ์ปฏิวัติสยาม (พ.ศ. 2475-2500) (‘I dream an incredible dream: the anti-Siamese revolutionary movement 1932-1957’) by Nattapoll Chaiching; and ประชาธิปไตยที่มีกษัตริย์อยู่เหนือการเมือง (‘democracy with the King as head of state’) and โฉมหน้าราชาชาตินิยม (‘royalist-nationalism’) by Thongchai Winichakul.

Notoriously, an issue of the Same Sky journal was banned in 2006. Police also banned the sale of several Same Sky t-shirt designs in 2014. Thanapol was one of many anti-military intellectuals subjected to ‘attitude adjustment’ following the 2014 coup. He was also questioned by the military in connection with the distribution of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra calendars in 2016.

Friday, 16 October 2020

841.594

841.594
Poster No. 12
Poster No. 9
Wittawat Tongkaew’s exhibition 841.594 opened on 7th October at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, and runs until 30th October. The show’s title is taken from the metric measurements of an A1 poster (841x594mm) and, just as posters have historically been used as propaganda tools, Wittawat’s paintings highlight the propaganda value of everyday objects.

The gallery walls have been painted blue, and this colour also dominates several of the paintings. Poster No. 12 (โปสเตอร์แผ่นที่ ๑๒), for example, shows a television with a blue screen and a clock indicating 8 o’clock. (On the Thai flag, blue represents the monarchy, and a daily bulletin of royal news is broadcast on TV at 8pm.)

841.594 was shown earlier this year at the Many Cuts Art Space in Chachoengsao, and one painting from that exhibition—Poster No. 9 (โปสเตอร์แผ่นที่ ๙)—is not on show at Cartel. The missing work, now considered too sensitive, depicts the Thai flag dominated by a large blue panel, a smaller white space, and a tiny sliver of red. (On the flag, white symbolises the nation and red represents the people.) Omitting it is a surprising misjudgement of the mood of the times by an otherwise progressive gallery.

Uncensored 2

Uncensored 2
Spanky Studio
Deja vu
By the Time It Gets Dark
Horror in Pink
Kraipit Phanvut
Headache Stencil’s Uncensored, held last year in Bangkok, was a one-day exhibition of anti-government art and music. The sequel, Uncensored 2, opened on 14th October at the Number 1 Bistro in Chiang Mai.

14th October is a symbolic date for two reasons. On 14th October 1973, a student protest at Democracy Monument in Bangkok led to the resignation of the military government, and a period of democratic rule. On 14th October this year, another student protest, at the same historic location, called not only for a return to democracy but also for reform of the monarchy.

The protesters marched from Democracy Monument to Government House, and the government declared a state of emergency at 4am yesterday morning. Defying the declaration (which prohibits gatherings of more than four people), at least 20,000 protesters regrouped yesterday evening at the Ratchaprasong intersection in downtown Bangkok (the site of a violent military crackdown in 2010). Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, Anon Nampa, Parit Chirawak, and other protest leaders were arrested early yesterday morning and denied bail.

This evening, when the police preemptively sealed off Ratchaprasong, the protesters assembled in Siam Square. Downtown BTS and MRT stations (including BTS Siam) were closed to prevent people joining the rally, and riot police used water canon to disperse the protesters.

Uncensored 2 includes a collage by Spanky Studio featuring the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper masthead. (A Dao Siam headline, falsely accusing Thammasat University students of lèse-majesté, provoked paramilitary groups into storming the campus in 1976, with deadly consequences.) The collage also includes a photograph taken by Kraipit Phanvut during the Thammasat massacre, showing a police colonel (Salang Bunnag) aiming his pistol while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. In the collage, a clown’s head has been superimposed over the officer’s face. Headache Stencil also appropriated the photo in Déjà vu (เดจาวู), replacing the pistol with a futuristic ray gan (reproduced in the November issue of A Day magazine.)

The film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) also recreated the photograph of the police colonel, and Manit Sriwanichpoom used it in his Horror in Pink collage series. (A more famous photograph from the Thammasat massacre, taken by Neal Ulevich, has also been appropriated by artists and filmmakers.) Uncensored 2 closes on 21st October.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

The Look of the Book

The Look of the Book
The Great Gatsby
The Look of the Book: Jackets, Covers and Art at the Edges of Literature is the first book to provide a history of book cover design. The authors stress that “this book is not a comprehensive account of cover design across the globe,” though they have produced an excellent account of American and British book design, with a few German, Russian, and French examples for good measure.

The book is by David J. Alworth and Peter Mendelsund, a literature professor and graphic designer, respectively. This collaboration, “combining the insights of literary theory and design,” resulted in a scholarly text complemented by plenty of well-chosen illustrations. One of these, from 1907, shows the origin of the term ‘blurb’: a caricature called Belinda Blurb who shouts praise for new books.

Martin Salisbury’s The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970 profiles individual book cover designers, whereas The Look of the Book gives a narrative history of the subject. There is surprisingly little overlap between the two, with The Look of the Book focusing on literary fiction covers such as The Great Gatsby (“one of the most striking covers ever created”) and a case study of Ulysses.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker

Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker
More than twenty years after Stanley Kubrick’s death, academic interest in his films is still increasing. The latest book on the director, Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker by David Mikics, could best be described as a beginner’s guide to Kubrick’s work. At a brisk 200 pages, this is certainly not an in-depth study, though it does include a potted production history of each Kubrick film.

Mikics, a professor of literature, makes insightful comparisons between the films and their source novels. He also identifies subtle physical nuances in actors’ performances. The book’s sources include letters from the Kubrick Archive (or, as the dust jacket puts it oxymoronically, “new archival material”).

His analysis is relatively interesting, though Mikics (again, a literary scholar rather than a film critic) makes some technical errors. A studio executive’s comment about “1.66 lenses” goes uncorrected; they should be 1.66 mattes. He also conflates two different quotes from Dr Strangelove: “I don’t avoid women, Mandrake, I just deny them my precious bodily fluids.”

Mikics makes a series of tenuous links between Kubrick’s life and his film plots. He claims, for example, that Lolita echoed the director’s relationship with his daughter (“The Lolita story oddly foreshadows the relation between Kubrick and Vivian”), and that Barry Lyndon represented Kubrick’s feelings towards his father (“Tension and disappointment animate father-son relations in Barry Lyndon as they did in the teenage Kubrick’s life”).

In the book’s final paragraphs, Mikics writes that “Kubrick’s appeal has outlasted his death, even extending to pop music of the 2010s.” It’s true, of course, that Kubrick remains influential, though simply citing two recent songs is hardly a sufficient discussion of his legacy. Then, Mikics considers Kubrick’s cinematic influence, though again he gives only a limited selection of recent examples: The Tree of Life, Arrival, and Zama.

Czech Film Weekend

Czech Film Weekend
Closely Observed Trains
The Czech New Wave classic Closely Observed Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky) will be shown on Saturday at the Goethe-Institut in Bangkok, as a tribute to director Jiří Menzel who died last month. It was previously screened at Jam Café in 2017, and Menzel himself introduced a World Film Festival of Bangkok screening in 2007. The Goethe-Institut’s Czech Film Weekend runs from 17th to 18th October, and tickets are free.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Glimpses of Freedom

Glimpses of Freedom
Glimpses of Freedom: Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia, edited by May Adadol Ingawanij and Benjamin McKay, was published in 2012. Co-editor May examines the precarious position of Thailand’s burgeoning independent film sector as it navigates its arms-length relationship with state institutions. The book also includes an expanded version of Benedict Anderson’s essay on Tropical Malady (สัตว์ประหลาด), previously published in an Apichatpong Weerasethakul anthology. The highlight is The Age of Thai Independence, by Chalida Uabumrungjit, a wide-ranging survey of Thai short films and indie directors.