30 April 2006

Misselijke Grappen

Misselijke Grappen
Misselijke Grappen
Pseudonymous Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot has published a book of his cartoons titled Misselijke Grappen. The book includes two especially provocative images of Mohammed having sex with his bride Aisha and the writer Anne Frank.

27 April 2006

Ash Red

Ashred Gao Qiang
Late last month, Chinese authorities raided the Ash Red exhibition in Beijing and ordered the removal of more than twenty artworks, including a painting of Mao Zedong by Gao Qiang. Other Mao images were also removed from the exhibition, which had opened a week before the works were confiscated.

25 April 2006

The Lumiere Brothers' First Films

The Lumiere Brothers' First Films
Workers Leaving The Lumiere Factory
The Sprinkler Sprinkled
The documentary The Lumiere Brothers' First Films presents eighty-five of Auguste and Louis Lumiere's earliest works, dated 1895-1897. Their most famous films are all included, such as Workers Leaving The Lumiere Factory (the first film they ever made, thus the first film to be projected), Train Arriving At A Station (especially shocking to its original audience, as it depicts a train heading towards the camera), and The Sprinkler Sprinkled (the very first fictional narrative in cinema).

The films are presented impeccably: windowboxed to prevent cropping, restored from their original negatives, and with no modern graphics obscuring the image. We can see their unusual diagonal perspectives and multi-layered compositions, and the surprising depth of focus the Lumieres achieved. The commentary, by Bernard Tavernier, is passionate and witty.

The films are grouped thematically (children, work, travel, etc.), though this makes it difficult to ascertain their chronological order. It would be useful to have an accompanying list of the French titles and their release dates, though this is certainly a fascinating and priceless documentary compilation nonetheless.

7 April 2006

The Aristocrats

The Aristocrats
The Aristocrats (by Paul Provenza) is a documentary about the world's most offensive joke, supposedly an old Vaudeville tradition recited backstage amongst comedians as a furtive rite of passage. The joke is as follows: a man walks into a talent-agent's office and says, "I have a great act for you". The act consists of multitudinous defilements. After he finishes describing it, the talent-agent asks him what it's called. He replies: "The Aristocrats!". The set-up and punch-line are always the same, with the body of the joke providing an opportunity for extended improvisation.

In this documentary, 100 comedians give their own interpretations of the joke and its significance, with the film effectively representing a barometer of contemporary taboos. Gilbert Gottfried, who was performing in New York a few weeks after the Twin Towers were destroyed, made a 9/11 joke and was heckled by the audience. To recover, he told them The Aristocrats instead, one of the first times it had been performed in public. In the documentary, Gottfried is praised as a fearless pioneer for daring to make The Aristocrats public, however it seems to me that he would have been more daring if he had continued with the 9/11 material.

Our true contemporary taboos are race, sexuality, disability, religion, and terrorism - one comedian not involved in the documentary, Jerry Sadowitz, would have surely contributed the most truly fearless, shocking version of the joke. Having said that, my favourite version of the joke is Howie Mandel's, because he claimed that the only English word his Polish grandmother knew was...

Inside Deep Throat

Inside Deep Throat
Inside Deep Throat, by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, is a documentary about the film Deep Throat. It discusses the making of the film, the backgrounds of its stars and director, the film's distribution, convictions, and cultural impact.

The central argument of this rather polemical film is that Deep Throat represents a triumph of art, pioneering spirit, independent film-making, and enlightenment, suppressed by feminists, courts, and governments. The fact is, though, that the independent film movement began in the 1940s and 50s, the sexual revolution happened in the 1960s (both predating Deep Throat), and exploitation films have always been about money rather than art.

Some heavyweight names are interviewed, including Camille Paglia, Linda Williams, and Annie Sprinkle, though they aren't given enough time to develop their arguments. (The DVD commentary track, however, does include extra interview material.) Deep Throat's director (Gerard Damiano) and male star (Harry Reems) also contribute, though Linda Lovelace died shortly before the documentary was filmed.

The most notable omission is Chuck Traynor, Lovelace's husband, who beat her and (perhaps) forced her into making Deep Throat amongst other less savory films. Lovelace's contention that, when we watch Deep Throat, we are watching her being raped, is neither supported nor rejected, though the extent of her consent is an issue that requires the sort of balanced, in-depth analysis missing from this documentary.

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity
Double Indemnity is one of the archetypal examples of Film Noir. It has a despondent voice-over, an amoral male anti-hero, chiaroscuro light and shadow from Venetian blinds, and a femme (tres) fatale. It also tackles classic Noir themes: murder, sex, and betrayal.

Barbara Stanwyck in an icy blonde wig is excellent as the sleazy wife plotting to kill her husband for his insurance money, and Fred MacMurray is great as the Mr Nobody insurance salesman who requires little persuasion to formulate a lucrative and murderous plan. The highlights are Stanwyck's lingering stares, straight into the camera, clearly revealing that she is about to double-cross MacMurray. But best of all is Edward G Robinson as MacMurray's boss, whose fast-paced and complex speech about suicide statistics is a key set-piece.

This being the 1940s, crime cannot pay, so Stanwyck's fate is doomed - but not, of course, before she admits that she is a tramp. MacMurray must pay, too, though in the unexpectedly tender conclusion he is shown genuine compassion by Robinson.

Yet another masterpiece from Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity's dying male protagonist's voiceover seems to prefigure one of his later films, Sunset Boulevard. The script was co-written by Wilder and pulp Noir novelist Raymond Chandler.

4 April 2006

Thaksin:
"If His Majesty whispers in my ear..."

Democracy Monument
Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai party won the election held two days ago. The result was hardly unexpected, as the Democrats and other opposition parties boycotted the election. In fact, TRT was unopposed in many northern constituencies (TRT's heartland), and many voters in Bangkok and the south (the Democrat's stronghold) abstained as there were no Democrat candidates.

There have been street protests by monarchists in Bangkok for the past few months, eventually leading Thaksin to dissolve parliament in February. The protests started after Thaksin sold a 48% stake in his Shin Corp. business to the Singaporean company Temasek. Thaksin's government had increased the legal limit on foreign ownership of national assets to enable the Shin sale, and changed the tax code to avoid paying any tax on the deal, a blatant manipulation of the law for personal gain.

Thaksin has announced that despite winning a majority, he will not accept the position of Prime Minister. He had earlier joked that he would quit "If His Majesty whispers in my ear", a remark that further angered his opponents as it showed an apparent lack of reverence towards the King.