Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Team of Five

Team of Five
Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump, published yesterday, reveals how the most recent ex-Presidents and their spouses have adapted to life out of office. Author Kate Anderson Brower interviewed Jimmy Carter and three former First Ladies, though most of the ‘team of five’ didn’t participate.

Brower also spoke to the incumbent, Donald Trump, and the book begins with her Oval Office interview. Trump showed Brower a letter he had received from Kim Jong Un, presumably the same one that he showed to another interviewer, Doug Wead. In both cases, Trump used the document to give the illusion of bringing the interviewers into his confidence: he told Wead that his advisors “don’t want me to give these to you”, and he told Brower that she “was not meant to see this,” though he had already Tweeted the letter months earlier.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Sunset Boulevard (blu-ray)

Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s masterpiece Sunset Boulevard was first released on blu-ray by Paramount in 2012. The disc included a newly-discovered deleted scene, in which lyricists Ray Livingston and Ray Evans sing one of their own compositions, The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues. The song was cut from the film—and replaced with Buttons and Bows—because the studio considered it too much of an inside joke, though plenty more inside jokes survived the edit.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Il Re di Bangkok

Il Re di Bangkok
Il Re di Bangkok
The graphic novel Il Re di Bangkok (‘the king of Bangkok’), was published in Italian last year, and has now been translated into Thai. The book was written by Claudio Sopranzetti and Chiara Natalucci, with illustrations by Sara Fabbri. (The Thai edition has been self-censored—on pages 93, 157, and 205—though the Italian edition is unexpurgated.)

The title character, Nok, is a blind lottery-ticket vendor from Isaan who travels to Bangkok for a better life. Economic migration from upcountry to the capital is commonplace, and was a standard theme of politically-conscious writers and directors in the mid-1970s. Nok becomes increasingly politically engaged during his time in Bangkok, as he lives through the ‘Black May’ massacre, the ‘tom yum kung’ economic crisis, the rise and fall of Thaksin Shinawatra, the 2006 coup, and the ‘red-shirt’ protests. The book ends as the red-shirts are massacred by the military, an event that took place exactly a decade ago.

For its Thai publication, Il Re di Bangkok was retitled ตาสว่าง (ta sawang), which describes the sense of political awakening experienced by Nok. Several of the Thai filmmakers I’ve interviewed have explained their own feelings of newfound political enlightenment. Pen-ek Ratanaruang (“somebody like me, who five years ago had no interest in politics at all”), Chulayarnnon Siriphol (“I turned to be interested in the political situation”), Thunska Pansittivorakul (“I started to learn about politics”), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“I was politically naïve”), and Nontawat Numbenchapol (“I was a teenager, a young man not interested in politics so much”) all discussed their personal experiences of ta sawang.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Cannibal Ferox (blu-ray)

Cannibal Ferox
Eaten Alive!
The short-lived Italian cannibal horror subgenre was one of the most controversial chapters in the history of exploitation cinema. Umberto Lenzi directed the film that launched the cycle, Man from Deep River (Il paese del sesso selvaggio), though Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is the only example of any real cinematic interest. Despite its exploitation origins, Cannibal Holocaust provided a multi-layered critique of mondo filmmaking, and it directly influenced The Blair Witch Project and other ‘found footage’ horror films.

Cannibal Ferox eschewed the structural sophistication of Cannibal Holocaust in favour of ritualised, explicit violence. As Kim Newman wrote in Nightmare Movies: “Lenzi takes the form about as far as it can go in the direction of gratuitous violence”. Both films contain scenes of genuine animal killings, and both were included on the ‘video nasties’ list in the UK, though Newman calls Cannibal Ferox “the nastiest of the nasties”.

The deluxe blu-ray edition of Cannibal Ferox released by Grindhouse in 2015 features approximately twenty seconds of newly-discovered footage. This extra material, which has no soundtrack, includes additional shots of a pig being killed. (As a vegetarian, scenes like this are hard to watch.) The blu-ray supplements include a feature-length documentary, Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film, directed by Calum Waddell, featuring interviews with Lenzi, Deodato, and Newman.

Monday, 4 May 2020

No Filter

No Filter
Which is the most harmful social media platform? Facebook’s attention-grabbing and data-mining is unprecedented, and it hosted anti-Rohingya propaganda with devastating consequences. Fake news spread by WhatsApp group chats has led to mob killings in India. But Instagram has an arguably more pernicious cultural impact, and—as Sarah Frier writes in No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram— it’s changing our entire way of life.

Cafés, galleries, and tourist attractions have become mere selfie backdrops, visited to be photographed at rather than experienced. As Frier notes, savvy businesses capitalise on this by changing “the way they design their spaces and how they market their products, adjusting their strategies to cater to the new visual way we communicate, to be worthy of photographing for Instagram.”

Instagram’s square frame is like the pool that captivated Narcissus. Instagram influencers post daily semi-naked selfies, and Instagram is a world of endless vacations, flawless bodies, and ideal homes. As Frier writes, “Instagram has made us not only more expressive but also more self-conscious and performative.” Whereas traditional advertising is aspirational, the picture-perfect lifestyles self-promoted on Instagram are absolutely unattainable.

Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, initially resisted commercialisation, though after Facebook bought the company they began running ads to placate Mark Zuckerberg. But most advertising on Instagram is more insidious and ambiguous: what Frier calls “this thriving new economy of influence. As Instagram grew, so did the set of people willing to take money in exchange for posting about their outfits, vacations, or beauty routines, choosing their “favorite” brands with financial incentive to do so.”

Zuckerberg’s cooperation with the book extended only to a two-sentence email, though Frier did interview Systrom and Krieger. Zuckerberg comes across as the villain of the piece, though this may be because his perspective is missing. Once under the Facebook umbrella, Instagram was pressured to increase revenue. When it achieved this, by crossing previous red lines on user privacy and design integrity, it was regarded by Zuckerberg as an internal threat to be subjugated. (Inevitably, Systrom and Krieger resigned in 2018, just as the founders of other Facebook acquisitions—WhatsApp and Oculus—had done earlier that year.)

In the UK, No Filter is subtitled The Inside Story of How Instagram Transformed Business, Celebrity and Our Culture. In her preface, Frier describes the book as “an effort to bring you the definitive inside story of Instagram.” That effort was certainly successful, and No Filter stands alongside Facebook: The Inside Story, The Facebook Effect, and Hatching Twitter as an essential account of the creation and consequences of social media.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Moments of Silence

Moments of Silence
Thongchai Winichakul’s Moments of Silence: The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976 Massacre in Bangkok, published this month, is equal parts memoir and academic analysis. Thongchai, one of Thailand’s leading historians, is a survivor of the 6th October massacre, and the book begins with his personal account of that day and its aftermath. The massacre was swept under the carpet for decades and, in fact, it’s primarily due to Thongchai’s efforts that it’s still commemorated at all: he organised an exhibition marking the twentieth anniversary in 1996. This book now serves as a permanent reminder of the inexplicably savage event.

Forty-six people were killed on 6th October, when militia groups and state forces stormed Thammasat University, though there has been no accountability and the attackers have never been prosecuted. Instead, the massacre remains officially whitewashed, conspicuously absent from the national history curriculum. As Thongchai explains, “the silence about the massacre speaks loudly about Thai society in ways that go beyond the incident itself: about truth and justice, how Thai society copes with conflict and its ugly past, about ideas of reconciliation, the culture of impunity, and rights, and about the rule of law in the country.”

Thongchai has interviewed relatives of the victims, including Jinda and Lim Thongsin, whose son Jaruphong was killed. The chapter on the Thongsin family’s long search for closure is truly heartbreaking. He also sought out some of the perpetrators, such as Lieutenant Colonel Salang Bunnag (who was photographed aiming his gun while nonchanlently smoking a cigarette) and General Uthan Sandivongse (in charge of anti-Communist radio propaganda, and described in the book as the “most infamous propagandist in modern Thai history”). Thongchai’s encounters with “the Wolf who devoured the Lamb” recall the documentary The Look of Silence, in which a survivor of the Indonesian Communist purge confronts those responsible for the atrocities.

Moments of Silence is notable as the first commercial book to reproduce the incendiary Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page that sparked the massacre. (The front page was included in an art book published last year, though it was given only to participants in a research study.) For that reason, and for Thongchai’s discussion of “the biggest elephant in the room and the most troubling question for Thai society”, the book is highly unlikely to be distributed in Thailand.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Cultures at War

Cultures at War
Cultures at War: The Cold War and Cultural Expression in Southeast Asia, edited by Tony Day and Maya H.T. Liem, was published in 2010. The anthology includes ten essays that examine how Southeast Asian popular culture embraced independence and modernity in response to Cold War ideologies and geopolitics.

The cover depicts Mitr Chaibancha as the Red Eagle, and in one chapter Rachel V. Harrison discusses the character’s political subtext. In Mitr’s final film, he vanquishes a Red Eagle imposter—“his heroic guise has been commandeered by leftists”—and is transformed into the Golden Eagle, “epitomizing Thailand’s Cold War struggle with the communist enemy.”

Other Thai films of the Cold War era featured more pernicious anti-Communist messages. Harrison’s essay includes a close reading of หนักแผ่นดิน (‘scum of the earth’), a notorious propaganda film that glorifies the royalist paramilitary Village Scout movement.

Thailand’s anti-Communist purge ultimately led to the ‘red barrel’ killings and the 6th October 1976 massacre. The Moonhunter (14 ตุลา สงครามประชาชน) and Pirab (พิราบ) dramatise the decisions of radical students to join the Communist insurgency. Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถึงลุงบุญมี), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), and the exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ) interrogate northern Thailand’s violent anti-Communist legacy.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Apichatpong Weerasethakul


Pen-ek Ratanaruang

Yuthlert Sippapak

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Kubrick by Kubrick

Kubrick by Kubrick
Grégory Monro’s documentary Kubrick by Kubrick (Kubrick par Kubrick) premiered on the French Arte channel on 12th April. The film is largely comprised of audio clips from Kubrick interviews recorded by Michel Ciment in 1975, 1980, and 1987, and begins with Kubrick’s admission that “I’ve never found it meaningful, or even possible, to talk about film aesthetics in terms of my own films. I also don’t particularly enjoy the interviews.” Most of his thirteen films are covered, with three exceptions (Killer’s Kiss, The Killing, and Lolita).

Much more extensive extracts from Ciment’s recordings were broadcast on French radio in 2011, though the material in the documentary has improved sound quality (thanks to noise reduction). Some extracts also appeared in Making Barry Lyndon. Extended interviews with Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut) and Orson Welles (The Lost Tapes of Orson Welles; This Is Orson Welles) have also been released in audio format.

If your main source material is an audio tape, how can you make a visually appealing documentary film? Monro follows the pattern previously adopted by other documentaries built around audio recordings: as in Marlene and Listen to Me Marlon, a tape recorder plays while the camera prowls around a set. In this case, the set is a recreation of the bedroom from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the audio is supplemented with vintage talking-head clips, shown on an old CRT television (just like the TV playing Summer of ’42 in The Shining).

Other Kubrick interview recordings have also been released in recent years. The collector’s edition of The Stanley Kubrick Archives included a CD featuring a 1966 Kubrick interview by Jeremy Bernstein for The New Yorker. A 1987 Kubrick interview by Tim Cahill for Rolling Stone was issued as an episode of The Kubrick Series podcast. Japanese TV producer Jun’ichi Yaoi interviewed Kubrick by telephone in 1980, and VHS video footage of the interview was released online in 2018.

Monday, 20 April 2020

The Awful Truth

The Awful Truth
In 1933, Cary Grant appeared in supporting roles alongside Mae West in She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel, but it was The Awful Truth, released four years later, that made him a star. Grant and Irene Dunne (who received top billing) play a mutually distrustful—and mutually unfaithful—married couple who decide to divorce, yet are unable to stop themselves from sabotaging each other’s new romances.

The Awful Truth established the suave persona that would become synonymous with Grant for the remainder of his career. It’s one of the greatest screwball comedies, a subgenre that emphasised farcical action, fast-paced delivery, witty repartee, and battle-of-the-sexes humour.

Leo McCarey’s direction is a notch below that of Howard Hawks, who made the screwball classics Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday (both also starring Grant), though The Awful Truth is a more satisfying film. In Bringing Up Baby, Grant’s character is absent-minded and ineffectual, and the havoc wreaked on him is rather exasperating. His Girl Friday’s frenetic pace is impressive though exhausting. In contrast, The Awful Truth feels more sophisticated, and its satirical swipes at the institution of marriage are as sharp as ever.

The film ends with a touching scene clearly modelled on the Walls of Jericho sequence from the popular romantic comedy It Happened One Night (which is sometimes—incorrectly, I would argue—described as the first screwball comedy). In turn, The Awful Truth’s essential premise—Cary Grant jeopardising his (ex) wife’s engagement to a rube played by Ralph Bellamy—was repeated in His Girl Friday.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

The Criterion Collection
Dr Strangelove

Dr Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove was first released by the Criterion Collection on laserdisc, in 1992. That transfer was supervised by Kubrick himself, and he even designed the front cover, though the disc was swiftly withdrawn from sale after Kubrick complained about the unauthorised inclusion of a screenplay draft among the supplementary features. (The draft script opened with a segment titled The Dead Worlds of Antiquity, told from the perspective of an alien civilisation.)

The Criterion laserdisc presented Dr Strangelove “in its original split-format aspect ratio for the first time.” The film alternated between 1.66:1 and 1.33:1, as it had on its original theatrical release. (Criterion’s Lolita laserdisc also featured these alternating ratios.) When Dr Strangelove was released on DVD for the first time, in 1999, the split-format was retained, though all subsequent releases have been matted to 1.66:1. Sadly, the Criterion blu-ray, released in 2016, is also framed at 1.66:1, though it does have an uncompressed mono soundtrack.

The blu-ray’s supplementary features include an extraordinary new discovery: an exhibitor’s trailer of highlights from the film, narrated by Kubrick himself (“Please remember, as you watch this, that the material is uncut”). The disc also includes an interview with Mick Broderick, author of the excellent Reconstructing Strangelove. The packaging is equally impressive, with reproductions of the “miniature combination Russian phrasebook and Bible” and the “Plan R” dossier.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Facebook: The Inside Story

Facebook: The Inside Story
David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect, published in 2010, remains the definitive history of Facebook’s formative years. But the Facebook of 2020 is very different from that of 2010, and Steven Levy’s Facebook: The Inside Story provides an updated account of the social network’s exponential expansion.

As Levy writes in his introduction, “the Facebook reputational meltdown has been epic.” That meltdown arguably began in earnest during the 2016 US election, when pro-Trump fake news was shared on Facebook more often than genuine news stories. In an interview with Kirkpatrick two days after Trump’s victory, Mark Zuckerberg dismissed concerns about the impact of fake news as “a pretty crazy idea.” Interviewed for Levy’s book three years later, Zuckerberg admits that he “might have messed that one up”.

The first half of Levy’s book covers the same ground as Kirkpatrick’s. Like Kirkpatrick, Levy was granted extensive access to Zuckerberg and dozens of other Facebook executives. (Levy also draws on “a seventeen-page chunk” of Zuckerberg’s 2006 journal.) The Facebook Effect’s assessment of the company was scrupulously balanced, though Kirkpatrick has since revised his opinion, telling the Financial Times in 2018 that Facebook represents an “extraordinary threat to democracy on a global scale”.

In Facebook: The Inside Story, Zuckerberg discusses Facebook’s early years in detail, though the chapters on more recent crises have a conspicuous lack of Zuckerberg quotes. The biggest of these PR disasters was the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, which Levy calls “the worst catastrophe in the company’s history”.

In the last of his seven interview sessions with Levy, Zuckerberg is more candid about his company’s failings: “Some of the bad stuff is very bad and people are understandably very upset about it—if you have nations trying to interfere in elections, if you have the Burmese military trying to spread hate to aid their genocide, how can this be a positive thing?” The answer is that it can’t be.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

The Birth of a Nation (blu-ray)

The Birth of a Nation
The Birth of a Nation
The Birth of a Nation, the first epic American film, is now rightly regarded as racist propaganda. Even on its original theatrical release, it was condemned as inflammatory. Nevertheless, it’s a historically significant film, and it was released on US blu-ray by Kino in 2011. A UK blu-ray edition, as part of the Eureka! Masters of Cinema Series, followed in 2013. The Birth of a Nation was the very first film to feature an intermission, and the “End of the first part” intertitle was restored for the two blu-ray releases. (It had been missing from previous video versions.)

Blade Runner
(30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition)

Blade Runner
Dangerous Days
The Blade Runner 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition blu-ray features five (yes, five) versions of the film: the original theatrical release (with the studio-imposed happy ending and narration), the international theatrical cut (with slightly more violence), the director’s cut (with the unicorn dream sequence), The Final Cut (with some CGI enhancement), and the workprint. (For an exhaustive comparison of the different versions, see Future Noir.)

The three-disc blu-ray set also includes the feature-length documentary Dangerous Days, a definitive guide to the making of the film. The set was originally released on DVD in 2007, and was rereleased on blu-ray in 2012 for the film’s 30th anniversary.

The Exorcist (blu-ray)

The Exorcist
Raising Hell
Mark Kermode’s The Fear of God is the definitive documentary on the making of The Exorcist. It was first broadcast on BBC2 in 1998, and an extended version (featuring interviews with actress Mercedes McCambridge and censor James Ferman) was released on the BBC iPlayer last year. However, the 2010 blu-ray release of The Exorcist contained a thirty-minute featurette, Raising Hell, which includes newly-discovered silent 16mm footage shot on the set.

The Criterion Collection
Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead
Night of Anubis
Due to a technical oversight—the omission of a copyright notice in the opening title sequence—George A. Romero’s zombie classic Night of the Living Dead was a public-domain film from the moment it was released. (The law has since changed, and copyright is now granted automatically.) Without copyright protection, the film was distributed on video by all and sundry, in various poor-quality editions.

A restored version was finally released on blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in 2018. The Criterion edition also includes a workprint version of the film, with the alternate title Night of Anubis. (The workprint is silent, though audio from the theatrical version was synched with it.) The blu-ray also features newly-discovered dailies (also silent), and the release was supervised by Romero shortly before his death.

The Criterion Collection
The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick’s stunning The Tree of Life was released on blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in 2018. One disc features the theatrical version, though Malick also created an extended version (fifty minutes longer) especially for the Criterion release. The extended cut has also been reframed, revealing slightly more of the image while retaining the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

It Came from Outer Space (blu-ray)

It Came from Outer Space
It Came from Outer Space
Jack Arnold’s classic 1950s sci-fi film It Came from Outer Space was released on blu-ray in the UK in 2016. The disc features both the 3D and conventional 2D versions of the film, though this edition is particularly significant for completists as it includes the original theatrical intermission.

Intermissions are usually associated with epics such as Gone with the Wind, though they were required for all 3D films in order to change reels on both projectors. So, despite its brisk eighty-minute running time, It Came from Outer Space also had an intermission, and this blu-ray release is the first video edition to include it.

Apocalypse Now (Full Disclosure)

Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure
The three-disc Full Disclosure edition of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was released on blu-ray in 2010. The box set includes the original theatrical version of Apocalypse Now, the extended Apocalypse Now Redux, and the making-of documentary Hearts of Darkness (though not, of course, the five-hour workprint or the recent Final Cut version). It also features a booklet with material from Coppola’s archive.

This release is most notable for its aspect ratio, it being the first time that the film was ever released in 2.35:1 on any video format. All previous video editions were cropped to 2.0:1—the Univisium ratio retroactively applied by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro—a fate that also befell Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo).

Monday, 23 March 2020

The Big Goodbye

The Big Goodbye
“It’s set in Chinatown?”
“No. Chinatown is a state of mind.”
“A love state of mind?”
“The detective’s fucked-up state of mind.”

Screenwriter Robert Towne’s pitch to producer Robert Evans perfectly captures the essence of Chinatown. And The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood, by Sam Wasson, perfectly captures the making of that extraordinary film. He recounts the on-set tensions between Faye Dunaway and the crew (“They hated her”), a melodramatic play-fight between director Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson (“They were down to their underwear, screaming at each other”), and the creation of the film’s legendary ending (“a grand crane-up evokes a lost Hollywood—most famously the last shot of Casablanca”).

Wasson’s account is bookended by two notorious scandals in Polanski’s life: the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate; and his conviction for the rape of an underage girl. As with most five-star classics, Chinatown’s production history is broadly familiar from previous memoirs and documentaries, though The Big Goodbye is already being justifiably acclaimed as one of the best making-of books ever written.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

A Curious History of Sex

A Curious History of Sex
A Curious History of Sex, published last month, is a fascinating guide to sexual attitudes and rituals. As author Kate Lister explains in her introduction, the book is not a comprehensive encyclopedia of sex, offering instead “a paddle in the shallow end of sex history, but I hope you will get pleasantly wet nonetheless.” Lister provides potted histories of a wide range of often-overlooked sex-related topics, including a chapter on the c-word that’s the most detailed study of the word in print. (I’ve been researching the c-word for twenty years.) A Curious History of Sex is impressively scholarly (with eighty pages of notes and references), and has plenty of extraordinary historical illustrations.

Bad Words

Bad Words
Bad Words: Philosophical Perspectives on Slurs (edited by David Sosa), was published in 2018 as part of a series titled Engaging Philosophy. The final chapter, Nice Words for Nasty Things by Laurence R. Horn, takes its title from an infamous definition by lexicographer Francis Grose in his Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Grose defined the c-word as “a nasty name for a nasty thing”. In his essay, Horn discusses the euphemisms devised to avoid not only tabooed words themselves but also their otherwise-unrelated homophones: “taboo avoidance occurs more broadly, even in the absence of phonological identity between the taboo and innocent items, the latter of which may suffer a kind of contagion or guilt by association”.

Horn cites an interesting French example, que l’on (‘that one’), which is regarded as more polite than the contraction qu’on due to the latter’s homonymy with con (‘cunt’). He also identifies what is surely the earliest instance of the practice, a comment by Cicero in his treatise on rhetoric, Orator. Cicero writes that the Latin cum nobis (‘with us’) should be rendered as nobiscum, to avoid an obscene juxtaposition (“obscænius concurrerent litterae”). The unspoken reference is to cunno bis (‘into the cunt twice’), which supports the (increasingly contested) etymological connection between cunnus (‘vulva’) and ‘cunt’.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

“WIFE-BEATER DEPP”

The Sun
Johnny Depp is suing The Sun newspaper for defamation, following publication of an article labelling him a wife-beater. The article, the lead story in Dan Wooton’s Bizarre column, appeared in the tabloid on 28th April 2018, headlined “HOW CAN JK ROWLING BE ‘GENUINELY HAPPY’ TO CAST WIFE-BEATER DEPP IN FILM?”

In the article, Wooton criticised author J.K. Rowling after she endorsed Depp’s casting in the film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, adapted from one of her novels. Depp has been accused of assaulting his ex-wife Amber Heard, and he filed a libel suit against her after she wrote about domestic abuse in The Washington Post.

The Sun’s print headline did not include the usual scare-quotes around the word ‘wife-beater’. However, the online version omitted the word altogether. The article remains online, though a note has been added, saying that “the article is the subject of legal proceedings.” Depp attended pre-trial hearings at the High Court in London last month, and the trial itself will begin on 23rd March.

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Sunday, 1 March 2020

"...a blatant false attack
against the Campaign."

The New York Times
Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has filed a defamation lawsuit against The New York Times, accusing it of “a blatant false attack against the Campaign.” The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages “in the millions”, after the newspaper published an op-ed by one of its former editors, Max Frankel.

The article, published on page 27 on 28th March 2019, argued that, before the election, Trump had an implicit quid pro quo agreement with Vladimir Putin: “There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration’s burdensome economic sanctions.”

The suit was filed by Trump’s lawyer Charles Harder, who became famous for bankrupting the gossip website Gawker. Harder also obtained substantial damages from the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, in relation to allegations about Melania Trump. Trump previously threatened the publisher of Fire and Fury with a lawsuit, making the book an instant bestseller.

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สยองขวัญ Uncut

Men Behind the Sun
Mondo Cane
Cannibal Holocaust
Cannibal Ferox
Deep Red
Over the next two months, Filmvirus has programmed a series of extreme horror movies, สยองขวัญ Uncut (‘horror uncut’). The season includes some of the most notorious and explicit films ever made, all of which are being shown in their full uncut versions. All screenings are free, and will take place at Thammasat University’s Pridi Banomyong Library.

Highlights include Men Behind the Sun (黑太阳731) on 15th March, which includes a sequence apparently showing a real autopsy. The original mondo documentary, Mondo Cane, is showing on 22nd March. 29th March has a double bill of Italian video nasties, Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox. (As if to demonstrate the organiser’s commitment to showing each film uncensored, Cannibal Holocaust will be followed by the rarely-seen uncut version of the film-within-a-film The Last Road to Hell.) Dario Argento’s giallo classic Deep Red (Profondo rosso) will be shown on 19th April.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Thai Film Archive

Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters
A Streetcar Named Desire
An impressive new library and cinema will open at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya next month. The Archive has always maintained an extensive collection of Thai and English film books, though it was previously housed in a Portakabin. Screenings at the new cinema include A Streetcar Named Desire (featuring one of Marlon Brando’s greatest performances) on 15th March, and the Thai New Wave classic Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง) on 7th and 20th March. All screenings are free, and the cinema and Cherd Songsri Library are both located in a new building named after Prince Thongthaem Thavalyawongse.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Cult of Identity

Cult of Identity
World of Wrestling
Nathee Monthonwit’s exhibition Cult of Identity opened at BACC on 6th February, and runs until 1st March. Nathee’s cartoon-style digital prints satirise society, politics, and the military. One picture, World of Wrestling (โลกมวยปล้ำ), combines references to the 6th October 1976 massacre and the 2014 coup. The painting shows the folding chair from Neal Ulevich’s infamous photograph of the massacre, with the hanging corpse as a wrestler defeated by a figure representing the military junta.

World Class Cinema

World Class Cinema
The Shining
The Graduate
Jaws
The Housemaid
After The Wizard of Oz and Annie Hall, the National Film Archive has announced the next batch of films in this year’s World Class Cinema (ทึ่ง! หนังโลก) programme. Highlights over the next few months include Stanley Kubrick’s horror film The Shining (showing on 15th March), the ‘New Hollywood’ classic The Graduate (19th April), Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece Jaws (17th May), and the South Korean ‘golden age’ melodrama The Housemaid (하녀; 16th August).

The Shining was originally scheduled for last year’s World Class Cinema season, though Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was shown instead. All screenings will take place at the Scala cinema in Bangkok.

Friday, 21 February 2020

A Man Called Tone

A Man Called Tone
Next month will be a rare opportunity to see one of the Thai film industry’s greatest classics on the big screen. A Man Called Tone (โทน) represents a turning point in Thai cinema: before its release, almost all Thai films were formulaic quickies, shot on 16mm without sound. The success of A Man Called Tone led to a creative and technical evolution in the film industry, making it Thailand’s first truly modern film.

A Man Called Tone will be shown at Bangkok’s Scala cinema on 22nd March. Scala is the perfect venue for the film’s revival, as A Man Called Tone was originally released in 1970, only a few months after Scala first opened.

In her essay in Film in Southeast Asia, Chalida Uabumrungjit writes that A Man Called Tone “changed the way of thinking in Thai filmmaking.” In another essay in the same book (the most authoritative history of Thai film), Anchalee Chaiworaporn describes it as “a key transitional point in the history of the Thai movie.” It has an equally laudatory review in Thai Cinema: “The significance of Tone as a milestone in the development of Thai cinema cannot be underestimated.”

“The struggle will continue...”

Future Forward
This afternoon, Thailand’s Constitutional Court dissolved the opposition Future Forward Party, ruling that it had violated party funding rules by accepting ฿191m from its founder, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The money was seized by the Court, and Thanathorn and other Future Forward executives were banned from politics for ten years.

In fact, Thanathorn had loaned the money to Future Forward, as he explained in an interview with Southeast Asia Globe last week: “The loan has a clear contract – I’m not giving this money for free to the party.” (Party fundraising to repay the loan had already begun.) Despite this, the Court ruled that the money constituted a donation, therefore exceeding the ฿10m limit on donations to political parties.

The ruling against Future Forward was practically a foregone conclusion, given that the Constitutional Court has previously dissolved three other parties: Thai Rak Thai in 2006, the People Power Party in 2008, and Thai Raksa Chart last year. The Court also dismissed Yingluck Shinawatra as Prime Minister in 2014. In each of these cases, the Court’s judgements went against parties opposed to the military establishment.

Future Forward contested its first election last year, and quickly built up tremendous support among young Thais frustrated by the country’s perpetual cycle of military coups. Today’s verdict could lead to a significant increase in anti-military activism from this politically-engaged generation of Future Forward supporters.

In his Southeast Asia Globe interview, Thanathorn announced that the party would be renamed following its dissolution, and that he would lead a protest movement to campaign against the influence of the military: “If we’re found guilty of this and our party is dissolved, the struggle will continue... there will be two paths running in parallel – one is a new party in parliament, running under a new name but the same ideology, and the second is a social movement run by me”.

A Better Tomorrow

A Better Tomorrow
This weekend, Bangkok’s House cinema will be screening a 4k restoration of John Woo’s classic A Better Tomorrow (英雄本色). The film set the template for the ‘heroic bloodshed’ sub-genre of Hong Kong action films, which also included Woo’s The Killer (喋血雙雄). A Better Tomorrow will be shown tomorrow and on 23rd February.

The Four

The Four
The New York Times
Financial Times
The Economist
Financial Times
Esquire
Financial Times
The Economist
Scott Galloway’s book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google analyses the impact of the 800-pound gorillas of online technology: “Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are the four most influential companies on the planet.” Galloway calls them “the Four Horsemen,” and Nick Bilton (author of Hatching Twitter) made the same point in a November 2017 Vanity Fair article: “The four horsemen of the coming economic apocalypse - Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook - have already flattened entire industries.” (Alphabet is Google’s parent company.)

Referring to the same tech oligopoly, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt called them the “gang of four” at the D9 conference in 2011: “Obviously, one of them, in my view, is Google, the other three being Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.” Schmidt and Jared Cohen discussed the same four brands in The New Digital Age: “We believe that modern technology platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, are even more powerful than most people realize”. The Wall Street Journal (on Boxing Day 2012) assessed the rivalry between the same four firms (“Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook vs. Amazon”).

The Economist (on 1st December 2012) also highlighted the same quartet: “THE four giants of the internet age - Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon - are extraordinary creatures. Never before has the world seen firms grow so fast or spread their tentacles so widely.” In a cartoon for the magazine’s cover, David Parkins depicted the companies as giant squid. Continuing the cephalopod metaphor, an article by Galloway in the March 2018 issue of Esquire featured an illustration by Andrew Rae representing the four companies as a giant octopus. A cartoon by Matt Kenyon in the Financial Times (23rd April 2018) showed the so-called FAANG group (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google) as a mechanical octopus, and in the FT on 17th June 2019, Kenyon depicted the group (minus Netflix) as a steam train.

Farhad Manjoo has also written extensively about this group of big tech giants, initially in a Fast Company (November 2011) cover story: “Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon battle for the future”. Adding Microsoft to the mix, Manjoo calls them “the Frightful Five” and his 6th May 2017 New York Times column featured an illustration by Doug Chayka showing a raft formed from the five logos. A photomontage by James Ferguson in the Financial Times on 15th November 2017 showed the same five as UFOs over New York. The cover of The Economist this week, by Justin Metz, shows them as five charging robotic bulls.