Sunday, 25 June 2017

Nobody Speak

Nobody Speak
Brian Knappenberger's feature-length documentary Nobody Speak: Trials Of The Free Press was released by Netflix on 23rd June. The programme's thesis, summarised by journalist Leslie Savan, is that "billionaires have been trying to undercut the press, undercut the first amendment, undercut freedom of speech."

In 2012, the blog site Gawker published a two-minute clip from a sex tape featuring wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan sued Gawker for invasion of privacy, and won $140 million in damages in 2016, bankrupting the company. Nobody Speak documents the trial, and interviews Gawker staff including AJ Daulerio, who wrote the Hogan blog post. (His only previous interview about the case was in February's Esquire magazine: "the guy who decided to post the Hogan sex tape, hasn't told the story behind his story. Until now.")

Ultimately, Gawker was nothing more than a gossip site, albeit an influential one, and the Hogan sex tape was a fairly open-and-shut invasion of privacy case. As attorney Floyd Abrams explains, "The reason to save Gawker is not because Gawker was worth saving. The reason to save it is because we don't pick and choose what sort of publications are permissible, because once we do, it empowers the government to limit speech in a way that ought to be impermissible."

Hogan's lawsuit was funded by venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a former PayPal CEO. Thiel had no interest in the Hogan case per se, though he saw it as an opportunity to take personal revenge against Gawker, which had outed him as gay in 2007. Thiel hired lawyer Charles Harder, who won the lawsuit against Gawker. (Harder was later hired by Melania Trump, and he won her case against the Daily Mail.)

The documentary spends an hour on the Gawker case, though it also covers casino owner Sheldon Adelson's takeover of the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper and US President Donald Trump's sustained attacks on major news organisations. Journalism professor Jay Rosen explains the link between the three cases: "the common thread among the Peter Thiel story, the Adelson story, and the Trump story is billionaires who are proclaiming: we are not vulnerable to truth. We are invulnerable to the facts."

Monday, 19 June 2017

Truth On Trial In Thailand

Truth On Trial In Thailand
Lese majeste - under which anyone who "defames, insults or threatens" the King, Queen, heir to the throne, or regent can be prosecuted - is Thailand's most controversial law. It is strictly enforced and broadly interpreted, and carries a social stigma in addition to a long jail sentence (three to fifteen years per offence). Bail is rarely granted in lese majeste cases, trials are heard in camera, in military courts, and there is no right of appeal. In a society in which kings are regarded as semi-divine, critics of the law are demonised as traitors and anti-monarchists.

Unsurprisingly, very little has been written about the history or legitimacy of the lese majeste law, and Truth On Trial In Thailand, by David Streckfuss, is the only full-length study of the subject. (A book published this year, ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112, profiles lese majeste offenders, though it doesn't analyse the law itself. Streckfuss cites Borwornsak Uwanno's 2009 op-ed, written in defence of the law, as "the longest piece ever written in English (and probably Thai) by a Thai on the subject".)

Truth On Trial In Thailand: Defamation, Treason, & Lese-majeste was first published in 2011. With 100 pages of notes, this is a comprehensive and authoritative study of Thailand's defamation and lese majeste laws. It's part of the Rethinking Southeast Asia series, edited by Duncan McCargo, who wrote a widely-cited paper on Thailand's patronage system (in The Pacific Review, 2005): "Thai politics are best understood in terms of political networks. The leading network of the period 1973-2001 was centred on the palace, and is here termed 'network monarchy'."

Streckfuss addresses the central paradox of lese majeste: "The difficulty for defenders of the law is to explain how the institution of Thai monarchy could be so utterly loved if it required the most repressive lese-majeste law the modern world has known." He also challenges the justifications used to defend the law, including exceptionalism ("a conceit about the uniqueness of all things Thai... understandable only to Thai") and national unity ("The obvious answer to the question of the incessant calls to Thai unity is that... no such unity ever existed and that even the appearance of unity has come at a terrible cost").

He also notes the increasingly flexible interpretation of the law, a tendency that has continued since the book was published: "A fairly consistent trend from lese-majeste cases can be discerned, from cases that referred personally to the king, queen, and heir-apparent, to cases where there was... only the most tenuous connection to the monarchy." The book even quotes some passages that fell foul of the law, such as a 23rd December 1981 Wall Street Journal article.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Putin Interviews

The Putin Interviews
The Putin Interviews
Oliver Stone's documentary The Putin Interviews, broadcast on Showtime over four consecutive nights from 12th to 15th June, is a four-hour profile of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The interviews, which ran for a total of twenty hours, took place over the past two years.

A book of transcripts contains longer versions of the interviews, though it can't capture Putin's body language: he sighs heavily and smiles thinly throughout the programme, and in one episode he turns to wink at the camera. ("STONE/PUTIN" on the book's spine positions it as a successor to Frost/Nixon, though it feels more like Hitchcock/Truffaut.)

In the documentary's most surreal moment, Stone and Putin watch a DVD of Stanley Kubrick's Cold War satire Dr Strangelove. Putin is clearly unimpressed, and gives a fairly bland assessment: "There are certain things in this film that indeed make us think, despite the fact that everything you see onscreen is make believe. He foresaw some issues even from a technical point of view, things that make us think about real threats that exist."

Throughout most of the programme, Stone's questions reflect his opposition to America's hawkish foreign policies. Putin plays up to this, by criticising American interventionism, which provides Stone with validation for his own view of American neoconservatism. At one point, Putin declines to blame America for cyberattacks on Russian banks - "You are disappointed because the U.S. failed to do something?" - and Stone displays a rare moment of skepticism: "You're obviously sitting on some information. I understand why you may not want to make it public."

Too often, Putin's questionable denials of his own foreign interventions go unchallenged. When asked about Russia's hacking of the Democratic National Committee, Putin says, "Unlike many of our partners, we never interfere with the domestic affairs of other countries." Instead of asking any follow-up questions, Stone simply ends the interview session. Similarly, the issue of Crimea is presented from an entirely pro-Russian perspective: Putin says, "We were not the ones to annex Crimea. The citizens of Crimea decided to join Russia", accompanied by propagandist footage of a young girl hugging a soldier.

Only in the fourth and final episode does Stone begin to challenge Putin. (In his prologue to the book of transcripts, Robert Scheer writes: "In that last session, Stone strenuously pushes Putin".) The episode begins with their most recent interview, recorded earlier this year, in which they return to the subject of Russia's DNC hacking. Stone says of Putin: "You look like a fox who just got out of the hen house", to which Putin replies: "There were no hens in the hen house, unfortunately."

Towards the end of the last episode, Stone raises the issue of Putin's extended time in office, to which Putin offers a standard justification: "Our goal is to reinforce our country." In his reply, Stone finally criticises his interviewee directly: "That is a dangerous argument, because it works both ways. Those who abuse power always say it's a question of survival."

Friday, 16 June 2017


A group of soldiers visited Gallery VER in Bangkok yesterday, and removed three photomontages from photographer (and SpaceTime co-director) Harit Srikhao's exhibition, Whitewash. The exhibition is Harit's personal response to the 2010 military massacre, when the army opened fire on red-shirt protesters and almost 100 people were killed.

One of the images (Chosen Boys) shows crowds watching a royal procession replaced by military cadets. The other two both include reproductions of a Ravinder Reddy sculpture outside CentralWorld, one of the buildings damaged by arson following the 2010 massacre. In one image (Heaven Gate), the faces of a group of female civil servants have all been replaced by this sculpture's face; they are posing in front of a framed portrait of the King, which has been replaced by an image of the sky. In the other photograph (The Head), a group of schoolchildren are standing on some steps, which lead up to the sculpture.

Gallery VER (previously located across the river in Thonburi) is next door to another gallery, Cartel Artspace, and it was there that the seven soldiers had originally intended to inspect. They apparently noticed the VER exhibition only by chance, while waiting to gain access to Cartel. By coincidence, the three photographs in question all appear as consecutive double-page spreads in the current issue of Foam (on pages 218-223), and the magazine has been withdrawn from sale in Bangkok.

This is the third time in the past decade that exhibitions in Bangkok have been censored. Withit Sembutr's painting Doo Phra, depicting a group of Buddhist monks crowding around an amulet-seller, was removed from the Young Thai Artist 2007 exhibition at Esplanade. Five pictures by photojournalist Agnes Dherbeys were removed from the Rupture exhibition at BACC.

Dherbeys' photographs, like Harit's, depicted the 2010 protests. In all three exhibitions, the spaces left by the removed works remained conspicuously empty, to highlight the censorship. Whitewash opened on 3rd June, and is scheduled to run until 22nd July.


Thursday, 15 June 2017

ทำลายจำนำข้าว แต่ฆ่าชาวนา

ทำลายจำนำข้าว แต่ฆ่าชาวนา
ทำลายจำนำข้าว แต่ฆ่าชาวนา, a defence of Pheu Thai's rice subsidy policy, was published on 1st May, though there have been several attempts to prevent its distribution. Police and military officers suspended a press conference announcing the book on 25th March, and a book launch scheduled for 29th April was cancelled. 190 copies of the book were seized from the home of one of its writers, Suchart Lainamngern, on 27th May. (The other authors are Yuttapong Charasathien, Niyom Changpinij, Surasarn Phasuk, and Somkid Chuakong.)

The rice subsidy scheme was implemented by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2011. Her government agreed to pay farmers up to 50% above the market rate for their rice, intending to withhold it from the world market and thus drive up the price. As a result, countries such as India and Vietnam increased their rice exports, and the government was left with vast stockpiles of rice that it could not sell.

In 2014, the national Anti-Corruption Commission brought charges against Yingluck for her role in the policy, and she was retroactively impeached by the National Legislative Assembly in 2015. After an investigation into the scheme, she was fined $1 billion last year.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Bad Taste Movie Night

Pink Flamingos
Bad Taste Cafe, a new Bangkok bar with intentionally kitsch decor, will be screening the exploitation classic Pink Flamingos tomorrow. Directed by John Waters, Pink Flamingos is the ultimate example of transgressive cinema, and the perfect choice for the inaugural Bad Taste Movie Night.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

100 Greatest Movies

100 Greatest Movies
Empire has released the results of its 100 Greatest Movies online readers' poll. The list will be featured in the magazine's July issue, which will be published on 15th June with five different covers: The Godfather, The Lord Of The Rings III, Star Wars V, Pulp Fiction, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

This is Empire's eighth greatest-films poll. The previous ones are: 100 Favourite Films Of All Time (1996), Your 100 Greatest Films Ever! (1999), The 50 Best Films (2001), 100 Greatest Movies Of All Time (2004), 201 Greatest Movies Of All Time (2006), The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time (2008), and The 301 Greatest Films Of All Time (2014).

The 100 Greatest Movies are as follows:

100. Stand By Me
99. Raging Bull
98. Amelia
97. Titanic
96. Good Will Hunting
95. Arrival
94. Lost In Translation
93. The Princess Bride
92. The Terminator
91. The Prestige
90. No Country For Old Men
89. Shaun Of The Dead
88. The Exorcist
87. Predator
86. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
85. Leon
84. Rocky
83. True Romance
82. Some Like It Hot
81. The Social Network
80. Spirited Away
79. Captain America: Civil War
78. Oldboy
77. Toy Story
76. A Clockwork Orange
75. Fargo
74. Mulholland Drive
73. Seven Samurai
72. Rear Window
71. Hot Fuzz
70. The Lion King
69. Singin' In The Rain
68. Ghostbusters
67. Memento
66. Star Wars VI: Return Of The Jedi
65. The Avengers
64. LA Confidential
63. Donnie Darko
62. La La Land
61. Forrest Gump
60. American Beauty
59. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
58. Inglourious Basterds
57. Whiplash
56. Reservoir Dogs
55. Pan's Labyrinth
54. Vertigo
53. Psycho
52. Once Upon A Time In The West
51. It's A Wonderful Life
50. Lawrence Of Arabia
49. Trainspotting
48. The Silence Of The Lambs
47. Interstellar
46. Citizen Kane
45. Drive
44. Gladiator
43. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
42. There Will Be Blood
41. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
40. Twelve Angry Men
39. Saving Private Ryan
38. Mad Max: Fury Road
37. The Thing
36. The Departed
35. The Shining
34. Guardians Of The Galaxy
33. Schindler's List
32. The Usual Suspects
31. Taxi Driver
30. Seven
29. The Bog Lebowski
28. Casablanca
27. The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
26. Heat
25. Terminator II: Judgment Day
24. The Matrix
23. The Lord Of The Rings II: The Two Towers
22. Apocalypse Now
21. 2001: A Space Odyssey
20. Die Hard
19. Jurassic Park
18. Inception
17. Fight Club
16. The Lord Of The Rings III: The Return Of The King
15. Aliens
14. Alien
13. Blade Runner
12. The Godfather II
11. Back To The Future
10. The Lord Of The Rings I: The Fellowship Of The Ring
9. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
8. Jaws
7. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
6. GoodFellas
5. Pulp Fiction
4. The Shawshank Redemption
3. The Dark Knight
2. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
1. The Godfather

[Some entries in the list share the same titles as other films or remakes. Some Like It Hot is the Billy Wilder classic, Titanic is the James Cameron version, and The Avengers is the Joss Whedon version.]

Monday, 12 June 2017

Bangkok Screening Room

Sunset Boulevard
Later this week, Citizen Kane and Stagecoach, currently showing at Bangkok Screening Room, will be joined by a third all-time classic. Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, one of the greatest films ever made about Hollywood, will be shown on 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 28th June; and 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th July.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Tape Art

Tape Art
Tape Art: Materials, Techniques, Projects & Inspiration is the first book to survey the use of adhesive tape as an artistic medium. Written by Eva Hauck and the Klebebande tape artists collective, it was originally published in German (subtitled Kunst Mit Klebeband Ideen & Projekte), and begins with the Klebebande's motto, "tape is the new paint."

Photographs of contemporary tape art in situ are included (mostly from the past decade, with a handful of early examples from the 1990s). There is also a brief historical introduction by tape art pioneer Michael Townsend: "Tape art has no long history to boast of, but does have an extensive and ever expanding catalog of expressions: from protest and performance art, to the beautification and occupation of public space, to advertising."

Thursday, 8 June 2017


After the UK referendum on EU membership and Donald Trump's US presidential election victory, several books have discussed the so-called 'post-truth' era. In Post-Truth: The New War On Truth & How To Fight Back, Matthew d'Ancona credits Steve Tesich with coining the term in 1992 ("we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world"), though it was only after Brexit and Trump that post-truth became a buzzword: "2016 was the year that definitively launched the era of 'Post-Truth'."

Of course, d'Ancona highlights Vote Leave's campaign pledge ("the assertion - emblazoned on the side of the Leave battle bus - that Brexit would yield a £350 million weekly top-up for the cash-strapped NHS") and explains its mendacity: "To borrow a distinction often made by Trump's supporters, it was evidently a mistake to take the Leave campaign literally rather than seriously." He also itemises some of Trump's lies and exaggerations, which were labelled "truthful hyperbole" by Tony Schwartz (ghost writer of The Art Of The Deal) and defended as "alternative facts" by Kellyanne Conway.

Explaining the origins of post-truth, d'Ancona notes the commercial value in sensational falsehoods: "Post-Truth sells, too. Those whom the Columbia University professor Tim Wu has called the 'attention merchants' compete for our time - and market it as a hugely valuable product." He also cites the ideological fragmentation of media and audiences: "The consequence is that opinions tend to be reinforced and falsehoods unchallenged. We languish in the so-called 'filter bubble'."

The book also reminds us of pre-Trump, post-truth presidential soundbites, from "I am not a crook" (Richard Nixon) to "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" (Bill Clinton). This history, d'Ancona argues, has contributed to a public distrust of authority, a situation which was then exploited by partisan media: "If institutional failure has eroded the primacy of truth, so too has the multi-billion-dollar industry of misinformation," leading to the proliferation of 'fake news' online.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Sourcebook
Apichatpong Weerasethakul Sourcebook was published last year to coincide with the director's first museum retrospective, The Serenity Of Madness. Rather than a conventional exhibition catalogue, the book is a collection of documents from Apichatpong's personal archive, including diary entries, location photographs, and a 100-page essay by Jenjira Pongpas Widner, who has appeared in Cemetery Of Splendour, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and several of his short films. It also features reprints of articles that have inspired some of Apichatpong's works (including a history of trepanation), alongside interviews with the director.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Filter Bubble

The Filter Bubble
The Filter Bubble, by Eli Pariser, was first published in 2011, though its central thesis has regained currency in the current debate surrounding fake news and political polarisation. Pariser describes how online personalisation algorithms "create a unique universe of information for each of us - what I've come to call a filter bubble - which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information."

He argues that the 'filter bubble' acts to reinforce our ideological positions by presenting us only with opinions with which we already agree, and that this process is invisible and involuntary: "When you turn on Fox News or read The Nation, you're making a decision about what kind of filter to use to make sense of the world. It's an active process, and like putting on a pair of tinted glasses, you can guess how the editors' leaning shapes your perception. You don't make the same kind of choice with personalized filters."

The 'filter bubble' is not a new concept, though it was popularised by Pariser's book. It's related to the notion of 'cyberbalkanization' coined twenty years ago, and Tim Berners-Lee has criticised the 'walled garden' effect of closed systems such as app stores that fragment the web.

The impact of the bubble can be seen in Thailand: red-shirts and yellow-shirts each have different sources of information (Voice TV and Manager, respectively). Similarly, CNN's Reliable Sources contrasted Democrat and Republican media (respectively, MSNBC and Fox News), calling it "Red News/Blue News".

The Filter Bubble is subtitled What The Internet Is Hiding From You. For the US paperback edition, the subtitle was changed to How The New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read & How We Think.

ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112

ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112
ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112, edited by Apirada Meedetch, profiles twenty-two people who have been charged with lese majeste in Thailand. The book does not present arguments for or against the royal defamation law itself; instead, it elicits sympathy for the offenders (including Somyot Prueksakasemsuk) and humanises them by describing their families and their personal circumstances. (Most of the subjects are identified only by their given names, some of which have been changed to protect their identities.)

Lese majeste is strictly enforced and broadly interpreted in Thailand. Bail is very rarely granted to suspects, and court cases are heard in camera. Since the coup, lese majeste cases have been tried in military courts. Consequently, self-censorship is routinely exercised by Thai writers, and very little commentary about the law is published, making this book both surprising and welcome. (The only full-length study of lese majeste - in either Thai or English - is Truth On Trial In Thailand, by David Streckfuss.)

Hit Makers

Hit Makers
Hit Makers, by Derek Thompson, is a study of how blockbusters and bestsellers are born. (Its focus is squarely on the head of the sales curve, rather than the long tail.) There is, of course, no magic formula to explain commercial success, though Thompson identifies some of the key factors, such as the 'aesthetic aha' principle: "The best hit makers are gifted at creating moments of meaning by marrying new and old, anxiety and understanding. They are architects of familiar surprises."

The book's most significant contribution is its refutation of the myth that cultural memes 'go viral'. Drawing on a research paper from 2012 (The Structure Of Online Diffusion Networks), Thompson argues that viral hits rely on mass dissemination in addition to word-of-mouth: "For most so-called viral ideas or products to become massive hits, they almost always depend on several moments where they spread to many, many people from one source." Metaphorically, viral content is propagated via water pumps (broadcasting to a wide audience) rather than water coolers (conversations between individuals).

Hit Makers is subtitled The Science Of Popularity In An Age Of Distraction. In the UK, the subtitle was simplified to How Things Become Popular. Thompson's articles for The Atlantic magazine include early examinations of online clickbait, which he defines in Hit Makers: "An article is considered clickbait if the headline gets the reader to click on a story that doesn't live up to its promise."

News Writing & Reporting

News Writing & Reporting
News Writing & Reporting: The Complete Guide For Today's Journalist, by Chip Scanlan and Richard Craig, is a useful all-in-one textbook for journalism students, which covers not only writing but also interviewing, research, and ethics. The sidebars ("The Coaching Way", "Chip's Corner") are a bit gimmicky, though this is the most wide-ranging guide to news writing for print, online, and broadcasting. The only missing element is headline writing, which is covered in Anna McKane's News Writing.

News Writing

News Writing
News Writing, by Anna McKane, is an excellent introduction to writing news stories, with practical advice that's ideal for journalism students. McKane covers the standard topics - news values, the inverted pyramid, and the five Ws (who, what, where, when, and why) - though she also discusses subjects overlooked by some other guides, such as headline writing and accurate reporting. Some minor criticisms: the focus on print journalism excludes broadcasting, and the material relating to grammar and punctuation would be more appropriate in a general English style guide.

'Pink slime'

ABC World News Tonight
A meat processing company, Beef Products, is suing ABC News for defamation and seeking $5.7 billion in damages. The suit was filed in 2012, and the trial began yesterday. Beef Products alleges that ABC News "engaged in a month-long vicious, concerted disinformation campaign" with its investigation into lean, finely textured beef (LFTB), which is added to some processed meat.

ABC World News Tonight first reported on LFTB on 7th March 2012, describing it as "'pink slime', beef trimmings that were once used only in dog food and cooking oil, now sprayed with ammonia to make them safe to eat and then added to most ground beef as a cheaper filling." (There is no neutral term to describe the product: LFTB is euphemistic, and 'pink slime' is dysphemistic.)

ABC News did not coin the term 'pink slime', though its series of World News Tonight reports popularised it and increased public awareness of the presence of LFTB in processed beef. As The New York Times reported on 31st December 2009, the phrase was first used internally by the US Department of Agriculture: "department microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, called the processed beef "pink slime" in a 2002 e-mail message to colleagues". Jamie Oliver also used the term, in a 12th April 2009 episode of Food Revolution: "a new world of food. It's called pink slime."


Thursday, 1 June 2017


Risomania: The New Spirit Of Printing - Risograph, Mimeograph & Other Stencil Duplicators, by John Z Komurki, is "the first book to document... the history, present and future of the Riso," examining the use of the Risograph printer in graphic design. It includes a portfolio of contemporary prints, an international directory of printing presses, and some fascinating vintage commercial illustrations.

The book begins with a history of stencil duplication: "To date there has been no comprehensive account published of it, although there are many books waiting to be written. Here, all we have the space to do is lay out the essentials of the development of this technology, and try to straighten out some of the misconceptions that bedevil the field." Duplicators such as the mimeograph, cyclograph, hectograph, papyrograph, and typograph are all discussed.

Risomania was first published in French translation (subtitled Risographe, Mimeographe & Autre Duplicopieurs). It's an interesting account of a technology that's missing from the standard histories of printing, Prints & Visual Communication (by William M Ivins) and the definitive The Art Of The Print (by Fritz Eichenberg).

Empire's 100 Greatest Movies

Empire's 100 Greatest Movies
Empire has launched another 100 Greatest Movies online readers' survey, after previous polls in 2008 and 2014. The results will be published later this month, in the July issue of the magazine.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Cinema Explicito

Cinema Explicito
Cinema Explicito: Representacoes Cinematograficas Do Sexo, by Rodrigo Gerace, is a study of the cinematic representation of sex, especially the depiction of unsimulated sex in experimental and arthouse films. It's a comprehensive treatment of the topic, with an attractive design, though it covers much the same ground as Screening Sex, by Linda Williams, which is the definitive book on the subject.

The Attention Merchants

The Attention Merchants
In The Master Switch, Tim Wu highlighted the dangers of the oligopolisation of entertainment and communication. His new book, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble To Get Inside Our Heads, is similarly wide-ranging, analysing the symbiotic relationship between advertising and the media. Wu's title, The Attention Merchants, positions itself as a successor to The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard's early and influential critique of manipulative advertising.

Wu is as critical of advertising as Packard, emphasising its detrimental impact on the commercial media and entertainment it sustains, from the penny press to prime-time broadcasting and clickbait: "The attention merchant had always tried to reach as broad an audience as possible, bombarding them with as many ads as they'd stand before going into total revolt." (Mark Tungate's Adland is a more favourable history of the advertising industry.)

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The 4th Silent Film Festival In Thailand

The 4th Silent Film Festival In Thailand
The Mark Of Zorro
The 4th Silent Film Festival In Thailand will take place in Bangkok next month. As in previous years (2014, 2015, and 2016), the Festival will feature a week of screenings at the Lido and Scala cinemas. The highlight of this year's Festival is The Mark Of Zorro, which will be screened at Lido on 9th and 11th June, with live musical accompaniment by acclaimed composer Neil Brand.

The Mark Of Zorro was directed by Fred Niblo, who also made the silent version of Ben-Hur. Starring Douglas Fairbanks, Zorro was one of the first adventure films featuring a swashbuckling hero. Fairbanks would play several similar characters in subsequent films throughout the 1920s (including Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, The Thief Of Bagdad, and The Black Pirate), influencing Errol Flynn's performances in adventure films of the 1930s (Captain Blood and The Adventures Of Robin Hood).

The Festival opens on 8th June and closes on 14th June. The will be a photographic exhibition at Scala, Light & Shadow: Films Of The Weimar Republic, for the duration of the Festival.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Bangkok Screening Room

Citizen Kane
Later this month, Bangkok Screening Room will be showing John Ford's classic western, Stagecoach, the film that revived the Hollywood western and established many of the genre's modern conventions. Orson Welles claimed that he watched Stagecoach every night for a month, while he was preparing to direct Citizen Kane, his first film. Citizen Kane, arguably the most influential film ever made, will be shown at Bangkok Screening Room next month.

Stagecoach will be shown on 30th and 31st May; and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 14th, 15th, 17th, and 18th June. Citizen Kane will be screened on 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st, and 24th June.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Woman's Day

Woman's Day
Actress Rebel Wilson has given evidence at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Australia, after she sued the publisher of Woman's Day magazine for defamation. In its 25th May 2015 issue (published on 18th May 2015), Woman's Day revealed Wilson's real name, and claimed that she had lied about her age.

The magazine quoted a high school classmate's description of Wilson: "Her name is – or was – Melanie Elizabeth Bownds, and she's 36 – she was born in 1979 and we left school in 1997." The article also included photographs of Wilson from her high school yearbook.

Wilson launched her lawsuit on 16th May last year, and the article was deleted from the Woman's Day website on the same day. In the magazine's print edition, the article was headlined "Just who is the REAL Rebel?"


Monday, 22 May 2017

(Un) Happy Birthday

(Un) Happy Birthday
(Un) Happy Birthday
Democracy Restoration, a new pro-democracy group, held a seminar marking the third anniversary of the 2014 coup yesterday and today. (Un) Happy Birthday, at Thammasat University in Bangkok, was subject to several restrictions imposed by the military government.

Participants were not permitted to use the words 'coup' or 'dictator', and they were not allowed to refer to the junta by name. The poster for the event was censored to remove the Thai abbreviation for the NCPO ("คสช"). To circumvent the restrictions, several speakers held up placards containing the banned words during their speeches.

Similarly, when an army spokesman participated in a discussion at the FCCT in Bangkok shortly after the coup, he asked participants to refer to the coup euphemistically as an "intervention". After initially pledging to hold an election in 2015, the junta has repeatedly delayed its 'roadmap', and an election is not realistically expected until 2018 or later.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Thailand's Political History

Thailand's Political History
The second edition of Thailand's Political History, by BJ Terwiel, was published in 2011 with a new subtitle (From The 13th Century To Recent Times). This edition contains new chapters on Thailand's political origins (the Sukhothai era) and contemporary events (the PAD protests, the nullification of the 2006 election, the 2006 coup, the disqualification of Prime Minister Samak, the dissolutions of TRT and the PPP, the UDD riots, the redshirt protests, and the 2010 military massacre).

Terwiel, who has been writing about Thai history for forty years, takes a refreshingly skeptical view of the nationalistic accounts of early Thai history, which he calls "national myths." He debunks some of these legends in his opening chapter: "Some of these national scenarios were spectacular indeed and since they were flattering and generated pride in their nation they found their way into the standard history books and became part of national propaganda."

For example, Terwiel compares six different accounts of King Naresuan's elephant duel. While the objective truth remains lost in the mists of time, emphasising that these events are open to multiple interpretations is significant in itself: "It is doubtful whether anyone will unravel the details of this battle in a decisive way. Suffice to say that The Royal Chronicle version, which has had a monopoly in Thai history writing, is only one version among many."

The book's priorities are occasionally questionable - Thaksin Shinawatra's first term as Prime Minister is covered in only two paragraphs, followed by six paragraphs devoted to the 2004 tsunami -
and Terwiel's writing style is sometimes a bit clunky, especially in the new chapters. But the content is always fascinating. For instance, Terwiel hints that King Rama VI had "a decided preference for male company" and was "a confirmed bachelor who relaxed only within a circle of intimate male friends who readily accepted him."

What sets this apart from other histories of Thailand is its comprehensive treatment of the yellow-shirt and red-shirt protest movements. Terwiel provides a detailed chronology of the period from 2007 to 2010, and his account has the necessary objectivity missing from pro-yellow (The Simple Truth) and pro-red (A Kingdom In Crisis) interpretations. The book is also well illustrated, and has detailed footnotes and an extensive bibliography.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Nation

Myanmar Pongpipat, a Thai mining company, has filed a defamation lawsuit against The Nation and one of its journalists, Pratch Rujivanarom. The newspaper published an article by Pratch on 1st March (headlined "Thai mine 'destroyed Myanmar water sources'"), quoting local residents who claim that the company's Heinda tin mine has polluted the Myaung Pyo River in Burma.

The article appeared to endorse the claims, which it inappropriately presented as facts rather than allegations: "Tailings from the mine have drained directly into the river for many years, clogging it with a large amount of sediment and contaminating the village's water sources with heavy metals from the mine." Also, it didn't include a statement from the mining company, and there is no indication that the journalist even contacted the company before publication.

The Bangkok Post newspaper's Spectrum supplement ran a cover story on the mine on 19th March. The Spectrum article quoted residents complaining about the mine's impact, though unlike The Nation it distanced itself from the claims, treating them as allegations rather than facts. Also in contrast to The Nation, Spectrum included a lengthy statement from the MPC managing director, who "rejected accusations that the company had caused the water contamination."

The company's lawsuit against Pratch and The Nation accuses them of defamation and violation of the Computer Crime Act, as the article was also published on the newspaper's website. Defamation (like lese majeste) is a criminal offence in Thailand. Last year, the Tungkum mining company lost a defamation case against Thai PBS for reporting that a mine had caused water pollution in Loei, Thailand.


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant
Alien: Covenant is Ridley Scott's sequel to Prometheus, and both films are prequels to Scott's original classic, Alien. After a prologue featuring Guy Pearce minus his old-age Prometheus make-up, Covenant has more in common with the original Alien, to the extent that it feels like a retread of the earlier film. (It also has references to Scott's Blade Runner, including the line "That's the spirit!" used in similar circumstances, and alien POV shots inspired by It Came From Outer Space.)

Covenant's action takes place several years before Alien's storyline, though Alien really needs to be seen first, not for narrative reasons but to fully appreciate the original 'chestburster' sequence. In that respect, Prometheus and Covenant are similar to the (inferior) Star Wars prequels: they provide convoluted and largely unnecessary backstories, they depict 'older' worlds that paradoxically seem more advanced, and they disclose the plot twists in the earlier films.

Covenant's final revelation, involving Michael Fassbender's two characters, was far too predictable. (Revealing it to the audience sooner would have led to more Hitchcockian suspense.) Covenant benefits from Scott's typically superb production design and cinematography, though ultimately it's Alien without the tension or (Fassbender excluded) the depth of character.

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Art Of The Hollywood Backdrop

The Art Of The Hollywood Backdrop
The Art Of The Hollywood Backdrop, by Richard M Isackes and Karen L Maness, is a history of Hollywood studio backdrops (scenic trompe l'oeil backgrounds). There have been a few books on related aspects of film-making, such as matte paintings (The Invisible Art, by Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron) and production design (Caligari's Cabinet & Other Grand Illusions, by Leon Barsacq; and Designs On Film, by Cathy Whitlock), though this "DEFINITIVE HISTORY" (as the back cover justifiably proclaims) is the first survey of film backdrops.

Whereas theatrical backdrops are often stylised, cinematic backings are (like matte paintings) designed to deceive the audience: to create a realistic 2D simulation of a 3D environment. As the authors explain, "backings created for the movies of Hollywood were rarely recognized for what they were - nor was that their purpose. These special effect backings, the largest paintings ever created, were breathtaking in their artistic and technical virtuosity." (In this respect, they are also related to painted Victorian panoramas.)

Aside from double-page photographs of Georges Melies and Fritz Lang, The Art Of The Hollywood Backdrop is devoted entirely to films from the American studio system. A 100-page introduction traces the development of the Hollywood backdrop during the first 100 years of cinema, and subsequent chapters profile individual backdrop artists. This is a substantial and comprehensive book, lavishly presented in a slipcase. It has 300 illustrations, many of which are stunning full-page photographs.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Puppetry: A World History

Puppetry: A World History
Puppetry: A World History, written by Eileen Blumenthal and published by Abrams, is the first comprehensive global survey of puppetry. It includes 300 striking photographs, and features puppetry as tribal ritual (African fertility dolls), children's entertainment (Punch and Judy; Kermit the Frog), and even political satire (Spitting Image). The book was published in the UK by Thames & Hudson, under the alternative title Puppetry & Puppets: An Illustrated World Survey.

The Meaning Of Life

The Meaning Of Life
Irish police have announced that they are investigating a complaint of blasphemy in relation to comments made by Stephen Fry in a television interview. The interview, for an episode of The Meaning Of Life, was broadcast by RTE One on 1st February 2015.

In the programme, presenter Gay Byrne asked Fry what he would say to God if there was an afterlife. Fry, who has been a life-long atheist, didn't mince his words: "I'll say, 'Bone cancer in Children? What's that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It's not right, it's utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?'"

Irish law states that anyone who intentionally "publishes or utters blasphemous matter" is guilty of criminal defamation. The 2009 Defamation Act defines "blasphemous matter" as "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion," though there are exemptions for content of "literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value".

The law of blasphemy was abolished in the UK in 2008. Famously, in 1977, the editor of Gay News was prosecuted for blasphemous libel after he published James Kirkup's poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name. Extracts from the poem subsequently appeared in Socialist Challenge magazine (14th July 1977); The Observer newspaper (17th July 1977); Geoffrey Robertson's memoir, The Justice Game (1998); Bound & Gagged, a history of obscenity by Alan Travis (2000); and an episode of Joan Bakewell's TV series Taboo (12th December 2001).


Thursday, 4 May 2017

"Delete the picture..."

Royal Plaza
Royal Plaza
A commemorative plaque has been removed from its position in Bangkok's Royal Plaza. The brass plaque commemorated Thailand's transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy in 1932, and was a symbol of Thailand's democratic revolution. It has now been replaced by a new plaque with an inscription promoting prosperity and happiness.

The original plaque was installed in 1936, next to a statue of King Rama V. Apart from a hiatus from 1960 to 1963, it had remained in place until approximately one month ago, when it was removed by persons unknown. The plaque's current whereabouts, and the reason for its replacement, have not been revealed. According to the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, the CCTV cameras in the area were not operational when the plaque was removed.

Early last month, the plaque's removal generated plenty of critical comments on social media. However, that debate has since died down, as the military government has discouraged any commentary on the issue. A panel discussion on the subject, which had been due to take place at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand last night, was cancelled by the police.

Even a month after the replacement, a policeman still stands guard near the new plaque, to prevent photography, as I discovered today. The police officer was friendly, yet insistent: "You can delete? Delete. Delete. Delete! Delete the picture! OK, you delete."


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

German Film Week 2017

German Film Week 2017
Fritz Lang
The fifth annual German Film Week will take place from 23rd to 28th May at Paragon Cineplex. Organised by the Goethe Institut, it includes a screening of Fritz Lang's classic M, starring Peter Lorre, on 25th May. M will also be shown on 3rd June at the National Film Archive in Salaya, near Bangkok.