Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Bangkok Screening Room

Bangkok Screening Room
The Third Man
Bangkok Screening Room, the boutique independent cinema, will be closing at the end of next month. Like other entertainment venues in Bangkok and elsewhere, BKKSR has borne the brunt of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. All cinemas in Bangkok were closed in April and May last year, during the country’s first coronavirus lockdown, and since reopening they have been operating at limited capacity to maintain social distancing.

BKKSR opened in 2016, and quickly established itself as the city’s leading arthouse cinema. It offered a unique Hollywood and world cinema repertory programme, plus screenings of contemporary Thai indie films, and revivals of Thai classics. The BKKSR team also curated seasons dedicated to marginalised filmmakers, including an LGBT+ Film Festival, a Global Migration Film Festival, and a Fem Film Festival.

BKKSR’s inaugural screening was The Third Man, starring Orson Welles, and fittingly this classic film noir will also be the last film screened there, on 31st March. (It will also be shown on 19th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, and 28th March.) BKKSR is the second Bangkok cinema to close as a result of the pandemic, after the Scala shut its doors last year. (Also, Cinema Oasis has been closed indefinitely since last March.)

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Cinema Lecture

Vertigo
Persona
In March and April, the Thai Film Archive will show a range of classic films introduced by academics and film critics. The Cinema Lecture season includes Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo on 3rd April and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona on 24th April. The screenings are free of charge.

Vertigo, voted the greatest film ever made in the 2012 Sight and Sound poll, has previously been shown at Bangkok Screening room in 2016 and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018. Persona was screened twice in 2014, at Thammasat University and Jam Café.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Politics and Ideology
of Thai Film Censorship

Friday Forum
I will be giving an online lecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Southeast Asian Studies on 19th March, as part of their Friday Forum series. The lecture, Politics and Ideology of Thai Film Censorship, will be streamed on Zoom (ID: 979 8213 2663), and a video will be available on the Center’s website after the live stream.

The Center describes the session as follows: “Matthew Hunt wrote a book on Thai film censorship that includes interviews with ten directors whose films have been cut or banned. In this lecture, he will present an overview of the history of film censorship in Thailand, examine the consequences of the rating system, and show how filmmakers are finding ways to comment on Thailand’s volatile contemporary politics.”

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Mike Ward S’eXpose

A long-running defamation case came before the Supreme Court of Canada yesterday, when lawyers representing comedian Mike Ward argued that his stand-up routine about Jérémy Gabriel was not discriminatory. Gabriel suffers from Treacher Collins syndrome, and Ward joked about attempting to drown him because he had not yet died from this genetic disorder.

The gag was part of Ward’s live show between 2010 and 2013, and is included on his live DVD Mike Ward S’eXpose (‘Mike Ward exposed’). In 2016, the Human Rights Tribunal of Quebec awarded Gabriel $35,000 in damages, and this decision was upheld by the Quebec Court of Appeal last year. A final verdict from the Supreme Court is expected in the next few months.

Monday, 15 February 2021

Thai Cinema Uncensored

The Big Chilli
The first print review of my book Thai Cinema Uncensored has been published, in The Big Chilli magazine. The full-page article is on page 25 of the January issue.

Friday, 5 February 2021

“Smartmatic seeks to recover
in excess of $2.7 billion...”

Smartmatic, the voting technology company whose systems were used in Los Angeles County to process votes in last year’s US presidential election, is suing Fox News and three of its hosts for $2.7 billion. The company’s lawsuit, filed in New York yesterday, states: “Smartmatic seeks to recover in excess of $2.7 billion for the economic and non-economic damage caused by Defendants’ disinformation campaign as well as punitive damages.”

The lawsuit, which is almost 300 pages long, argues that Fox News presenters Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, and Jeanine Pirro spread outlandish conspiracy theories in the weeks after the election, seeking to cast doubt on Joe Biden’s victory by falsely alleging fraudulent voting in Democratic states. This fake news campaign began in earnest on 12th November 2020, when former President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was interviewed on on Lou Dobbs Tonight and falsely claimed that “this was a stolen election.”

Of course, these allegations were also repeated on a daily basis by Trump himself, who refused to concede the election. The ultimate impact of such dangerous misinformation, and the culmination of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in American institutions, came on 6th January with the unprecedented storming of the US Capitol.

Fox News defended another of its most popular hosts—Tucker Carlson—against defamation charges last year, arguing that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”, though Fox Business has decided to cancel Lou Dobbs Tonight, its highest-rated show. Giuliani is also named as a defendant in the Smartmatic case, and in a separate defamation lawsuit by another voting technology company, Dominion.

“Malicious communications...”

Stop New Normal
Piers Corbyn, brother of former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, was arrested yesterday and charged with “malicious communications and public nuisance” after he distributed leaflets containing dangerous misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. The leaflets included a drawing of the Auschwitz concentration camp gate, with its infamous “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” (‘work sets you free’) sign replaced by the Evening Standard newspaper headline “VACCINES ARE SAFE PATH TO FREEDOM”. The drawing, by Alexander Heaton—who was also arrested yesterday—falsely implies that vaccine safety is as deceptive as the Auschwitz slogan.

The leaflets were produced by the Stop New Normal group, which organises ‘anti-vax’ campaigns and discourages the wearing of facemasks, despite the coronavirus pandemic. The politicisation of facemasks, and the spread of harmful and false vaccine conspiracy theories, are more widespread in the United States (following former President Trump’s refusal to endorse mask-wearing), though malicious groups such as Stop New Normal show the extent to which this toxic fake news is also spreading in the UK.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

“Vicious, vindictive, despicable...”

The Meaning of Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey’s sister, Allison Carey, is suing the pop star for “heartless, vicious, vindictive, despicable and totally unnecessary public humiliation” after the release of the best-selling autobiography The Meaning of Mariah Carey last year. In the book, the singer wrote: “my sister drugged me with Valium, offered me a pinky nail full of cocaine, inflicted me with third-degree burns, and tried to sell me out to a pimp.” Her sister’s lawsuit, filed at the New York Supreme Court on 1st February, will almost certainly be dismissed, as it does not actually dispute any of the claims in the book.

“If things go wrong,
the government cannot sue...”

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is now facing another lèse-majesté charge, relating to a television interview he gave to Al Jazeera English broadcast on 29th January. Thanathorn highlighted a hypothetical consequence of the deal between AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience to produce coronavirus vaccines in Thailand. He noted that—as Siam Bioscience is a Crown Property Bureau company, and thus ultimately under the King’s prerogative—“if things go wrong, the government cannot sue the owner of the company.”

Thanathorn made similar comments in a Facebook Live video on 18th January, and is facing lèse-majesté and Computer Crime charges as a result. He was also charged under the Computer Crime Act in relation to another Facebook Live video, streamed on 29th June 2018. After his Future Forward Party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court last year, it was rebranded as Move Forward, a progressive movement calling for military reform, which may explain the continuing intimidation of Thanathorn by the authorities.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

A Good True Thai

Sunisa Manning’s debut novel, A Good True Thai, is set during one of Thailand’s brief spells of democratic rule, a period bookended by the massacres of 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976. The book’s title is a reframing of the traditional notion of ‘Thainess’, the insistence that ‘good’ Thais (khon dee) value nation, religion, and monarchy above all else, while progressives are regarded as unpatriotic.

The novel’s three central characters (friends Det and Chang, and their mutual love interest, Lek) are university students caught up in the intense political atmosphere of the period. For example, Lek reacts to the infamous Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper’s headline accusing Thammasat students of lèse-majesté: “It must be a mistake! Lek brandishes the page at her brother... No wonder the city roils. They think the students have staged a hanging of the Crown Prince.”

A Good True Thai was published in October 2020, when a new generation of students were demonstrating against the military and the monarchy: as it was in the 1970s, ‘Thainess’ is currently being challenged and redefined. Although it was written before the recent protests, the book is therefore extremely timely.

A Good True Thai has superficial similarities with other novels set during periods of political instability. Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), for example, takes place against a backdrop of the 1991, 2006, and 2014 coups. At the other end of the ideological spectrum, Win Lyovarin’s Democracy, Shaken and Stirred (ประชาธิปไตยบนเส้นขนาน) traces sixty years of Thailand’s modern political history.

The book has more in common with films such as Anocha Suwichakornpong’s By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and Pasit Promnampol’s พีเจ้น (‘pigeon’). Both Manning’s book and Anocha’s film are self-referential, featuring protagonists who are also writing a book and making a film, respectively. Pasit’s short film, like Manning’s novel, dramatises a student’s decision to join the Communist insurgency.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

ร่างของปรารถนา

Uthis Haemamool
Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), published in 2017, follows the sexual and political awakenings of an art graduate from Silpakorn University (where Uthis himself studied painting). The novel’s frank sexual content is combined with commentary on Thailand’s three most recent coups (1991, 2006, and 2014).

Some passages are printed in a new typeface—ปรารถนา (‘desire’)—commissioned especially for the novel, with letter forms that resemble sexual positions. In a nod to the book’s risqué content, its pages are sealed with a perforated strip that must be torn off before reading.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

A Promised Land

Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, was published in November last year, barely a week after Joe Biden won the US presidential election. This is the first of two volumes, and covers most of Obama’s first term as President, ending with the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. As Obama explains, the book was intended to cover both terms of office in under 500 words, though this first volume alone is more than 700 pages long: “It’s fair to say that the writing process didn’t go exactly as I’d planned. Despite my best intentions, the book kept growing in length and scope—the reason why I eventually decided to break it into two volumes.”

Obama’s literary talents were evident long before his presidency, having already written two best-selling and highly acclaimed memoirs. So, as expected, A Promised Land is a remarkable book. One chapter, for example, ends with Obama musing on the fates of the letters he wrote: “Eventually the letter would fall into a drawer somewhere, forgotten under the acculumation of the new joys and pains that make up a life.” What other presidential memoir could describe correspondence in such poetic terms? (Certainly not George W. Bush’s Decision Points.)

It comes as no surprise that Obama distrusts Vladimir Putin, describing him as “the leader of what resembled a criminal syndicate as much as it did a traditional government”. As for Donald Trump and his disgraceful ‘birtherism’ lie, Obama is refreshingly direct: “the conspiracy theory he was promoting was racist.” A Promised Land is a reminder of the total contrast between Obama and his successor, a man not even fit to shine Obama’s shoes, let alone to fill them.

Monday, 25 January 2021

1410

1410
1410
1410
Like several other Thai filmmakers, Yuthlert Sippapak has become more politically engaged as a result of the long-running political crisis that has polarised Thai society for more than a decade. (This political consciousness is known in Thai as ta sawang.) When I interviewed Yuthlert for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he said: “I never gave a shit about politics. But right now, it’s too much.”

Yuthlert’s ta sawang moment came when the military withdrew its support for his film Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ). Far from the propaganda vehicle the military was expecting, the film instead exposed military corruption in southern Thailand. As Yuthlert told me: “Money is power. And the person who created the war is the military. I said that, and I don’t want to take that out. That’s the truth. And they don’t want the truth. I want the truth.”

Since then, Yuthlert has turned to political activism, campaigning against Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. On 27 August 2019, he criticised the Constitutional Court on Twitter—“สงสัยว่าศาลรัฐธรรมนูญ เสือกอะไรกับประชาชน ก็ได้เหรอ?” (‘what gives the Constitutional Court the right to intrude on its citizens?’)—and he was summonsed to apologise for contempt of court.

Last year, he faced a Computer Crime charge after criticising minister Puttipong Punnakanta via another Twitter account on 20 April 2020: “รัฐมนตรีเฟคนิวส์ อยู่เบื้องหลังสาเหตุของการตายของม้าในประเทศไทย” (‘the minister of fake news is behind the horse deaths in Thailand’). That tweet was from his NMG (No More General) campaign against Prayut.

Yuthlert’s latest provocation is 1410, a proposed new political science-fiction film starring Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, whose hit single 12345 I Love You was appropriated by anti-government protesters. Yuthlert held a press conference with Chaiamorn on 18th January at the Jam Factory in Bangkok, announcing a plan to crowdfund the budget for 1410 through online donations.

He is also currently working on two political satires: Seven Boy Scouts (a horror film in which the evil characters share their nicknames with Thai politicians) and The Last Dictator (อวสาน ร.ป.ภ; a comedy in which a filmmaker dying from COVID-19 vows to assassinate a coup leader). Whereas Seven Boy Scouts is almost complete, The Last Dictator seems to be on the back burner. Yuthlert is also working on another (shorter) edit of Fatherland, for a future Netflix release, though real-life political protests are taking up most of his time.

1410’s title is a reference to the 14th October 1973 student protest that led to the (brief) restoration of democracy, though Yuthlert hasn’t revealed any specifics about its characters or plot. The tagline for the film’s teaser poster is “ภาพยนตร์บันทึกอดีตอันเลวร้าย ถ่ายทอดความเสื่อมทรามของปัจจุบัน เพื่อต่อต้านเผด็จการโสมมในอนาคต” (‘a film about a terrible past and a worsening present, to prevent corrupt dictators in the future’).

A 1410 exhibition is on show at the Jam Factory from 18th to 27th January. A large mural (with stylised typography by PrachathipaType) features the slogan “ศักดินาจงพินาศ ประชาราษฎร์จงเจริญ” (‘may feudalism be defeated; may the people prosper’), and a dartboard uses Headache Stencil’s portrait of Prayut as a bullseye. This is Yuthlert’s third appearance at the Jam Factory: he was a guest speaker at the Uncensored event there in 2019; and The Land We Call Home, an exhibition of Sira Twichsang’s photos from Fatherland, was held there in 2014.

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Irréversible (DVD)

Irreversible
Irreversible
Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible is notorious for its real-time rape sequence, its brutal (CGI) fire extinguisher murder scene, and its reverse-chronology narrative structure (though the latter was heavily influenced by Memento). Irréversible (like most of Noé’s films) is sexually explicit and intentionally confrontational; to see it on its theatrical release in 2002, I had to drive to a cinema thirty miles away (as local cinemas wouldn’t screen it) and read a notice warning viewers that it contained disturbing images.

Last year, Noé recut the film, putting it into conventional chronological order. This new version was released on DVD and blu-ray in France and Germany by Studio Canal in 2020, and will be available on blu-ray in the UK from Indicator later this year.

The recut version is actually shorter than the original, losing almost ten minutes of footage, notably from the S&M club sequence: explicit shots of sexual activity both outside and inside the club have been removed. Another change occurs after the end credits: the caption “LE TEMPS DETRUIT TOUT” (‘time destroys everything’) has been replaced by a new, more optimistic maxim: “LE TEMPS RÉVÈLE TOUT” (‘time reveals everything’).

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Hakom

Hakom
Remembrances of Red Trauma
Charuphat Petcharavej’s short story Hakom (ห่าก้อม) was first published in an anthology of Isaan literature, มวลดอกไม้ในยุคมืด (‘flowers in a dark age’). It was translated into English last year, and reprinted in Remembrances of Red Trauma: The Tenth Anniversary of the Political Violence of 2010 (1 ทศวรรษ พฤษภาฯ เลือดปี ’53), a collection of articles reflecting on the 2010 massacre and “Thai society’s deep-rooted culture of impunity.” (Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s Ten Year project also commemorated the tenth anniversary of the massacre.)

Hakom is a supernatural tale of a phi pob spirit possessing an Isaan villager, though the story is also a political metaphor. The fictional village of Dong Bong is a microcosm of Thailand, and its former headman, Wan, is a proxy for Thaksin Shinawatra. Charuphat writes that Wan became persona non grata: “A group of villagers had driven him out of the village, forcing him to make a new home for himself on a hill, far away from the village.” This mirrors Thaksin’s self-exile following the 2006 coup against his government.

Wan’s sister, Buaphan, thus represents Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, and the story describes her futile efforts to protect the village from its attackers: “Against these poisonous animals and fierce beasts out on the streets in a show of full force, the villagers [had] little at their disposal to fight back. So many of them went to see Nang Buaphan for help. But she had nothing to match the power of the attackers. She could only tell the villagers to endure this crisis until one day, the monsters would run out of energy and leave.”

This vivid description of a village under siege echoes the military massacre of red-shirt protesters in 2010, and the 2014 coup against Yingluck’s administration. Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s short film The Pob’s House (บ้านผีปอบ) also employs a phi pob as a metaphor for political violence. In Ukrit’s film, an elderly woman is beaten by her fellow villagers, who believe her to be possessed by a phi pob. Like Hakom, The Pob’s House was also a response to the 2010 massacre.

How to Swear

How to Swear
How to Swear: An Illustrated Guide, by Stephen Wildish, features etymologies and derivations of seven swear words in infographic form. (The chosen words are not the same as George Carlin’s famous septet, with more emphasis on British slang.) Chapter seven is devoted to the c-word, which Wildish calls “the most offensive word in the English language and one of the last words that still has the power to shock.”

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

“Do you hear the people sing?”

Reform
In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship’s single My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) encapsulated the frustrations of anti-coup protesters. In 2020, when the protests expanded to include calls for reform of the monarchy, the band released Reform (ปฏิรูป), a song whose lyrics address Prayut Chan-o-cha and King Rama X directly. (Lines such as “pawns have a king captured” in the song’s official English translation are even more blunt than the Thai original.)

The video for Reform was filmed at Siam Square in Bangkok on 16th October 2020, and includes footage of riot police using water cannon to disperse the protesters. The Commoner’s video คนที่คุณก็รู้ว่าใคร (‘you know who’) also features water cannon clips. The music video for Elevenfinger’s เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’) was also filmed during the protests, and is even more confrontational than Reform. Elevenfinger hurls insults at Prayut and others, and lyrics such as “ละควรรีบๆตาย” (‘hurry up and die’) are as subtle as a brick through a window.

The lyrics of another recent song are addressed directly to Rama X: Paeng Surachet’s กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ (‘very brave, very good, thank you’). Its title is an ironic appropriation of a comment made by the King to one of his supporters during a walkabout on 23rd October 2020, and its lyric video features animated yellow ducks in reference to the inflatable ducks used by protesters to protect themselves from water cannon.

Paeng’s song takes the form of a breakup message to an unfaithful lover, with lines such as “ประนีประนอมได้ไหม ไม่ compromise นะถ้าทำตัวเเบบนี้” (‘Can we compromise? No, I won’t compromise if you behave this way’). ‘Compromise’ is a reference to a comment by the King on another walkabout: on 2nd November 2020, he told a reporter that “Thailand is the land of compromise.”

Protesters have also reappropriated existing songs. Do You Hear the People Sing? (from the stage musical Les Misérables) was sung at several of last year’s protests in place of the national anthem. Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan performed his hit single 12345 I Love You at a protest near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on 14th November 2020, leading the crowd in chants of “ai hia Tu” instead of “I love you” during the chorus. (Ai hia is a strong insult, and Tu is Prayut’s nickname.)

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

The Making of a Masterpiece

The Making of a Masterpiece
The Making of a Masterpiece
The Making of a Masterpiece
Taschen published The Stanley Kubrick Archives as a collector’s edition in 2005, and last year they launched a new series—The Making of a Masterpiece—based on material from that still-definitive work. Each book in the series is essentially a reprint of an individual chapter from The Stanley Kubrick Archives, reformatted to a square 12” format (the same size as an LP sleeve), and bundled with a DVD and poster.

There are three titles in the series so far: A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The LP-sized format allows for some impressive full-page illustrations, and the authorised poster reproductions are a welcome bonus. The inclusion of the DVDs is more surprising, though, as most readers will either already own them, or prefer to stream the films online. Also, the DVDs are vanilla discs with no bonus features.

While the essays and images are almost entirely the same as the original chapters in The Stanley Kubrick Archives, completists should note that the new books do feature a small amount of new material. In the 2001 book, this includes two letters from Kubrick to Arthur C. Clarke, and a few additional photographs of Kubrick on the set. (On the other hand, Kubrick’s 1968 Playboy interview is missing.)

The A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon books include slightly more new material, each adding a handful of on-set photos and a few script pages. Barry Lyndon also has an additional letter from Kubrick, to a studio executive in Japan. In the letter, Kubrick attempts to assuage the Japanese censor’s concerns that pubic hair is visible in the film’s bathtub scene. (Any depiction of pubic hair is forbidden in Japan.) Kubrick reassures the executive that the actress in question was wearing a bikini to preserve her modesty.

Friday, 1 January 2021

ปฏิทินพระราชทาน

Khana Ratsadon
Yesterday, a member of the pro-democracy group Khana Ratsadon was arrested at home and charged with lèse-majesté. Police also confiscated 174 desk calendars, which had been sold online by the group since Boxing Day.

The calendars feature cartoon drawings of yellow ducks, which became a pro-reform symbol after protesters used inflatable rubber ducks to defend themselves against water cannon on 17th November last year (as seen in Sorayos Prapapan’s short documentary Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship). Khana Ratsadon’s fake banknotes featuring a similar yellow duck symbol are also under investigation.

The lèse-majesté charge stems from the calendar’s title and two of its illustrations. According to the police, the title—ปฏิทินพระราชทาน (‘royal calendar’)—implies that the calendar is an official publication rather than a parody. One drawing features the words “กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” (‘very brave, very good, thank you’), spoken by King Rama X during a walkabout on 23rd October last year. The other controversial picture shows a yellow duck with a bead of sweat on its beak: a reference to King Rama IX, who was photographed with a bead of sweat on his nose, symbolising his hard work.

This is the fourth calendar to be investigated by the Thai authorities in recent years. Wall calendars featuring greetings from Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawawtra were seized in 2018 and 2016. In 2010, a wall calendar by the beer company Leo, featuring models in body paint, was accused of promoting alcohol in contravention of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.

Monday, 28 December 2020

The Role of the Scroll

The Role of the Scroll
The Role of the Scroll, by Thomas Forrest Kelly, is the first book to provide a history of scrolls as a medium for documenting and displaying text and images. As its subtitle (An Illustrated Introduction to Scrolls in the Middle Ages) suggests, the book is concerned mainly with medieval scrolls, though ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman scrolls are covered in the introduction.

Like most studies of medieval documents (such as surveys of illuminated manuscripts), the book’s focus is on European production, though the introduction has brief coverage of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern scrolls. However, the ‘Qingming Scroll’ (清明上河圖), perhaps China’s most famous painted scroll, is not discussed, and there are no illustrations of Middle Eastern or Japanese scrolls. (For a more detailed history of Japanese scrolls, see Dietrich Seckel’s book Emakimono.)

Scrolls are typically regarded as an ancient medium, superceded by the bound book, though Kelly argues that digital scrolling (browsing social media newsfeeds, for example) represents the return of the scroll: “We are now in the new age of the scroll. All you have to do is look at your computer screen, tablet, or e-reader, and just scroll down.” In addition to legal, devotional, and ceremonial scrolls, he also discusses the use of scrolls in literature and performance, though at under 200 pages this is not a comprehensive account.

An expanded history, with more coverage of Asian and Middle Eastern scrolls, will hopefully follow this introductory book. It could conceivably feature fold-out reproductions of famous scrolls, and should include a bibliography. (Kelly’s bibliography is currently available only online.) It could also discuss modern artistic uses of scrolls, such as moving panoramas, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road manuscript, and Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll performance.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz
The Technicolor musical The Wizard of Oz wasn’t originally considered a Christmas film, though for generations of British children it’s become an annual Christmas TV tradition. Its first UK television broadcast was on Christmas Day in 1975, and it’s been shown during the Christmas holiday almost every year since. It’s fitting, then, that Bangkok Screening Room will be showing The Wizard of Oz just after New Year, on 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 16th, and 17th January 2021.

The film has been shown at Bangkok Screening Room before, last year (as part of the Judy Garland Focus season) and in 2018. It also played during this year’s World Class Cinema (ทึ่ง! หนังโลก) season at the Scala, and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018. There was a sing-along screening at the Bangkok Community Theatre in 2013, and later that year it was shown as part of Jam Café’s Dark Side of the Rainbow double-bill accompanied by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album.

Friday, 18 December 2020

The Cost

The Cost: Trump, China, and American Revival, by Maria Bartiromo and James Freeman, was published a week before the US election. After reading a dozen books on the Trump presidency (the others being Rage, Fear, Fire and Fury, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, A Very Stable Genius, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, Too Much and Never Enough, The Room Where It Happened, and Team of Five), I sincerely hope that this is the last Trump book I’ll ever read.

Bartiromo, like most of her fellow Fox News anchors, asks the softest of softball questions whenever she interviews Trump on television. In the most egregious instance, on 29th November she conducted the first post-election TV interview with Trump, encouraging him to rehash a stream of conspiracy theories and lies about election fraud. Bartiromo and Freeman also interviewed Trump for their book; he refers to former House speaker Paul Ryan as “a f______ disaster”, and says that he was on the verge of telling China: “Go f___ yourself”. [The authors censored the f-words.]

Unsurprisingly, Bartiromo and Freeman stick closely to the discredited Trumpian narrative, arguing that Trump was the victim of a deep-state conspiracy: “the abuse of federal investigative power against him is the greatest scandal of his era.” They also claim that the mainstream media is “unable or unwilling to report on Donald Trump objectively,” which is ironic given the biased, hagiographic nature of their own book.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

24th Short Film and Video Festival

24th Short Film and Video Festival
24th Short Film Marathon
24th Short Film and Video Festival
Give Us a Little More Time
Prelude of the Moving Zoo
The 24th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 24) opens at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on 14th December. More than 300 films were submitted, and screened alphabetically in a Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน) from 3rd November to 10th December. Around 10% of those submissions were selected for the Short Film and Video Festival itself.

Highlights include Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s Give Us a Little More Time (ขอเวลาอีกไม่นาน), which premiered at the CityCity Gallery in Bangkok and was shown at the Marathon on 10th November. This rapid-fire video montage remixes and distills six years of mainstream press coverage of the military government, and was created from a six-volume collection of more than 1,000 newspaper collages. Its sarcastic title is a line from a propaganda song released by the junta, Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย).

Chulayarnnon’s film is screening in a programme titled These Kids Don’t Know Thai History (เด็กรุ่นใหม่ไม่รู้ประวัติศาสตร์), an ironic reference to a criticism unfairly directed towards young Thais with anti-establishment attitudes. The programme also includes Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo, which was shown at the Marathon on 13th November and was also screened yesterday at N22 in Bangkok. It documents the closure of Dusit Zoo in 2018, and begins subversively with a cylinder recording of the royal anthem, accompanied by footage of penguins seemingly standing to attention.

The These Kids Don’t Know Thai History programme will be shown on 21st December, and repeated on the last day of the Short Film and Video Festival, 27th December. Admission is free.

ANIMAL KINgDOM

Animal Kingdom
A House in Many Parts
Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship
Shadow and Act
Prelude of the Moving Zoo
A House in Many Parts (บ้านเเหวกศิลป์), the arts festival being held at various Bangkok venues from 1st to 16th December, continued yesterday at N22 with ANIMAL KINgDOM, a selection of short films programmed by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa. The outdoor screening was divided into two sections: ANIMAL and KINgDOM (the lower-case ‘g’ indicates a double meaning: human kinship with animals, and the kingdom of Thailand).

The ANIMAL programme included two new films: Taki Sakpisit’s Shadow and Act and Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo. Both feature sequences shot at Dusit Zoo, which was closed by royal decree in 2018. (The zoo was situated on Crown Property Bureau land, which King Rama X reclaimed.)

Prelude of the Moving Zoo, filmed on the last day of the zoo’s operation, begins subversively with a cylinder recording of the royal anthem, accompanied by footage of penguins seemingly standing to attention. Shadow and Act also includes shots filmed at another prestigious institution from a bygone age, the Chaya Jitrakorn photography studio. As in A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ), Taki’s camera pans slowly and elegiacally around the studio’s fixtures and fittings, settling upon dusty portraits of Cold War dictator Phibun Songkhram and other kharatchakan (‘civil servants’).

The KINgDOM segment included Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s The Pob’s House (บ้านผีปอบ), which was previously shown at Histoire(s) du thai cinéma, another film programme curated by Wiwat. In The Pob’s House, an elderly woman is attacked by villagers who believe her to be an evil spirit. Her granddaughter is also killed, and the child’s body is beaten in an echo of the mob violence of 6th October 1976. A little boy turns to the camera and grins, in reference to the smiling boy from Neal Ulevich’s famous 6th October photograph. The Pob’s House was made in response to another massacre, in 2010, and as Ukrit explains in a voiceover, his film is an allegory for the violence “buried in people’s minds.”

The evening ended with Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship, another new film by Sorayos, compiled from raw footage of riot police firing water cannon at protesters outside parliament on 17th November. The protesters used inflatable rubber ducks to protect themselves from jets of water laced with tear gas, and Sorayos was on the front line with the protesters, whereas most news camera crews were behind the barricades.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

14 ตุลาคม

Thai PBS
14 ตุลาคม: 40 ความทรงจำเดือนตุลาคม (‘14th October: forty years of memories’), a four-part Thai PBS documentary on the 40th anniversary of the 14th October 1973 massacre in Bangkok, was released on DVD in 2014. The series, broadcast in 2013, was the first substantial 14th October documentary since historian Charnvit Kasetsiri’s 14 ตุลา (‘14th Oct.’), which was released on VHS to commemorate the twentieth anniversary in 1993.

Charnvit’s hour-long documentary was later released on VCD under the English title October 14 Thai Student Uprising 1973, and repackaged with the docudrama Tongpan (ทองปาน) and the 6th October 1976 massacre documentary พ.ศ. 2519 (‘2519 B.E.’). Episodes relating to 14th October from the บันทึกเมืองไทย (‘save Thailand’) documentary series were also released on VCD in 2001.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us

Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us
Jirat Prasertsup’s exhibition Our Daddy Always Looks Down on Us (คิดถึงคนบนฟ้า) opened on 5th December (Thai Father’s Day and the late King Rama IX’s birthday) at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, and runs until 24th January 2021. Appropriating indirect royal iconography recognisable to generations of Thais (a pair of glasses; a squeezed toothpaste tube), the exhibition parodies the propaganda and myth-making associated with the Thai state.

The gallery has been fitted with a false ceiling, with one tile missing: visitors climb a stepladder to poke their heads into the loft space and peer at a large bust of a dog (Tongdaeng?). This installation constitutes almost the entire exhibition, though there are also some small line drawings near the skirting boards. (The beatific smiles in the drawings are reminiscent of Joan Cornella’s satirical cartoons.)

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

“...turning his back on Marines”

The Mail on Sunday
Prince Harry has announced plans to sue The Mail on Sunday for libel. On 25th October, the newspaper published an article by Mark Nicol headlined “Top general accuses Harry of turning his back on Marines”. The story, printed on page 9, alleged that he had not been in contact with the Royal Marines in the past six months.

Harry launched libel proceedings on 27th November, and the article has now been deleted from The Mail on Sunday’s website and removed from other online newspaper archives. Harry and his wife Meghan are also suing the same newspaper for breach of copyright, after it printed a personal letter Meghan wrote to her father.

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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.