31 October 2007

Songs Of Mass Destruction

Songs Of Mass Destruction
Madonna is featured on the new Annie Lennox album Songs Of Mass Destruction. She appears on the track Sing, along with Anastacia, Isobel Campbell, Dido, Celine Dion, Melissa Etheridge, Fergie, Beth Gibbons, Faith Hill, Angelique Kidjo, Beverley Knight, Gladys Knight, KD Lang, Sarah McLachlan, Beth Orton, Pink, Bonnie Raitt, Shakira, Shingai Shoniwa, Joss Stone, Sugababes, KT Tunstall, and Martha Wainwright. While the others make brief, barely distinguishable contributions, Madonna sings the entire second verse.

28 October 2007

Chandramohan

Durga Slaying Krustacean
Chandramohan, a Fine Art student at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Gujarat, was arrested in May after his degree show included paintings of nude Hindu deities. One painting, Durga Slaying Krustacean, depicts the goddess Durga giving birth; he has also depicted Jesus ejaculating during the crucifixion.

Durga Slaying Krustacean is reproduced, in black-and-white, in the current issue of Index On Censorship. (MF Husain also caused controversy in India with representations of naked Hindu goddesses, most notably his painting Mother India.)

27 October 2007

European Union Film Festival 2007

European Union Film Festival 2007
Four Months, Three Weeks, & Two Days
This year's European Union Film Festival is afiliated with the World Film Festival of Bangkok, at Esplanade Cineplex.

Four Months, Three Weeks, & Two Days, the Romanian 'new wave' film which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes earlier this year, is screening on 3rd and 4th November. The film, by Cristian Mungiu, stars Anamaria Marinca as Otilia, a student who helps her friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) obtain an illegal abortion shortly before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Mungiu films most interior scenes with a stationary camera, contrasted by shaky hand-held shots for corridors and exteriors. The two leading characters provide a further contrast: Gabita's (frankly annoying, though realistic) self-deluding naivety is offset by Otilia's determination and resilience. Back-street abortion is hardly a new topic, though the film also reveals the everyday hardships of life in a Communist state - black-market cigarettes, daily power-cuts, and Trabants.

26 October 2007

5th World Film Festival of Bangkok

5th World Film Festival of Bangkok
Help Me Eros
Closely Observed Trains
George Melies: Le Cinemagicien
A Trip To The Moon
The 5th World Film Festival of Bangkok opened on 25th October and will close on 4th November. Most screenings take place at Esplanade Cineplex. The Festival's main attraction is a sidebar event: Jiri Menzel, one of the leading directors of 1960s Czech cinema, will speak about his classic Closely Observed Trains, at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on 1st November.

Taiwanese drama Help Me Eros, directed by and starring Lee Kang-Sheng, is screening on 31st October and 2nd November. Kang-Sheng has acted in several films by Tsai Ming-Liang, and Help Me Eros is clearly influenced by him. Many scenes are filmed with diagonal compositions from a static camera, with the action contained within a corner of the frame, as befitting the film's lonely, uncommunicative characters. There are two clips from a fictional TV cookery show, in which a carp is filleted alive and an unhatched ostrich is fried.

This evening, the great-grand-daughter of Georges Melies introduced a selection of his films at Alliance Francaise, in an event titled Georges Melies: Le Cinemagicien. (It will take place again tomorrow.) Melies was one of the pioneers of cinematic special effects, and although his films have a quaint Victorian charm their technical genius still impresses even now.

Melies's films were accompanied by narration and a piano recital, both performed live, to recreate their original theatrical presentations. The recreation only went so far, however: the mostly expositional narration also included some (slightly incongruous) historical information about Melies, and the films were (disappointingly) screened on DVD rather than the advertised 16mm.

Some of Melies's most famous films were included, such as L'Homme A La Tete En Caoutchouc (in which his head is seen to inflate, deflate, and explode in a puff of smoke) and A Trip To The Moon (one of the first attempts at a sustained cinematic narrative, a series of tableaux in which Victorian astronomers are attacked by spear-wielding natives on the moon). [There are many inaccuracies in the published lists advertising the films to be shown at this event.]

25 October 2007

From Message To Media

From Message To Media
How To Explain Art To A Bangkok Cock
Horror In Pink I
From Message To Media is a retrospective survey of Thai new-media art 1985-2005, at Bangkok University Gallery from 22nd September until 10th November. (The title inverts Marshall McLuhan's dictum "the medium is the message".)

The exhibition, part of the Bangkok Design Festival, features video art and digital photography by ten artists. (Eleven were originally planned, though for some reason acclaimed director Apichatpong Weerasethakul was unfortunately omitted at the last minute.)

Apinan Poshyananda's video installation How To Explain Art To A Bangkok Cock (1985) features footage of the artist interpreting Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa for a group of chickens. He was presumably inspired by Joseph Beuys's performance How To Explain Pictures To A Dead Hare - the difference being that Apinan's chickens were all alive. Apinan also printed photocopies of Leonardo's painting onto crates, so that they resembled Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes. (He has also silkscreened the same image, titled Metamorphosis Of Mona, in a further Warhol parallel.) He cites Walter Benjamin's fascinating essay The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction as a key influence, and he is one one of the most interesting of the many artists inspired by Benjamin.

Several videos by Vasan Sitthiket are included, such as There Must Be Something Happen [sic.] (1993), in which he was filmed while urinating and excreting (similar in content, if not in style, to the Aktionist films by Kurt Kren, such as The Eating Drinking Shitting Pissing Film). Vasan's other videos are I Manning Myself Around (the artist's fruitless attempts to grab some money dangling in front of him), Top Boot On My Head (performing everyday tasks with a boot balanced on his head), Goodbye Thailand (in which he pretends to kidnap himself at gunpoint), and How To Make A Good Art For Get Win Award [sic.] (in which he presents a lecture on art to an empty classroom).

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook is represented by her video Reading For Female Corpse (2001). [Confusingly, I saw a different Araya video two years ago which had the same title and date.] Araya can be seen reading aloud to a woman's corpse which is positioned in a coffin-like glass box.

Manit Sriwanichpoom's trademark 'Pink Man', a man in a bright pink suit pushing a shopping trolley incongruously inserted into photographs, is seen here as a spectator at the public lynchings of Thai pro-democracy protesters in 1976. The images (Horror In Pink) are extremely powerful, especially Horror In Pink I, in which a hanged man is about to be savagely beaten with a chair. This horrifying photograph (taken by photojournalist Neal Ulevich) was also used as the cover for the 7" Dead Kennedys single Holiday In Cambodia in 1980.

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24 October 2007

Doo Phra

Doo Phra
Perceptless
A painting by Withit Sembutr titled Doo Phra, depicting a group of Buddhist monks crowding around an amulet-seller, has been withdrawn from an exhibition in Bangkok. Withit, an art student, entered the painting in the Young Thai Artist 2007 competition, and the winning entries are currently on show at the Esplanade mall. There is, however, a blank space where Withit's painting should be.

It was withdrawn due to controversy surrounding a painting by another artist, Anupong Chantorn, which is currently being exhibited at Silpakorn University in Bangkok (at the 53rd National Exhibition, until 30th October). Anupong's painting, Perceptless, shows monks with beaks, presenting them as bird-like scavengers. There have been demonstrations against the painting by Thai monks, though it has not been removed.

19 October 2007

Bloody Cartoons

Bloody Cartoons
The twelve Mohammed caricatures, originially published in Jyllands-Posten and subsequently reprinted, have finally been broadcast by the BBC in the UK. BBC2's Why Democracy? series posed the question Is God Democratic? in a Storyville documentary titled Bloody Cartoons on Monday evening. The programme opened with a new version of the most famous cartoon (Mohammed's turban as a bomb). It also featured material from Idomeneo and Charlie Hebdo.

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17 October 2007

Film

Eyewitness Companions: Film
Film, by Ronald Bergan, is a single-volume introduction to cinema history, as part of Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness Companions series. Within its 500 pages, it includes a decade-by-decade history of the cinema, an explanation of the film production process, chapters on each film genre, film production in each major country, profiles of 200 key directors, and reviews of 100 significant films.

Each of its five sections (history, production, genres, countries, directors, and films) really deserves its own book, and indeed such books exist. Strangely, however, Bergan provides no bibliography or further reading guide at all, which is disappointing because, although his book is a perfect introduction to film for young people, as their interest develops they will be inspired and grounded by Bergan yet will naturally want to seek out more specialist material.

Reductivism is inevitable in any book with this ratio of size to scope, but each section does adequately summarise the key points, providing a broad overview for novice film fans. The section on film production is useful as it provides a more practical approach than most introductory film guides. The section on genre surprisingly finds space for categories which are often overlooked in other genre summaries. The world cinema section is less all-encompassing, with some countries (including Thailand) reduced to brief paragraphs in a general introduction instead of receiving their own individual chapters.

There is almost no cross-referencing, which is a pity, and the photo captions are often overly literal or redundant. There is a detailed index, though it has some omissions. There are also a few mistakes: at one point, for instance, Bergan refers to "Pierre and Auguste Lumiere" (Auguste's brother was called Louis). I would also quibble with some of Bergan's opinions: he describes Salvador Dali's contributions to Luis Bunuel's early films as "invaluable", which seems to massively over-rate Dali's cinematic work, and he claims that the remake of The Mummy "benefits from" (rather than suffers from) the use of CGI. Three times, Bergan describes Kubrick as "anti-militarist", which ignores Kubrick's fascination with war. In an appendix, Bergan oddly (and incorrectly) lists Our Daily Bread as joint 10th in a reprint of Sight & Sound's 2002 critics' poll, even though it received only a single vote.

I've never been quite certain who DK's books are aimed at. They state that they publish educational, illustrated reference books for both adults and children, but to me all of their books seem more suited to younger people. Their educational tone, large fonts, glossy paper, and copious photographs (as distinct from figures or plates) give the impression of children's textbooks. For instance, DK's The Look Of The Century, by Michael Tambini, was one of the very first books on visual culture that I ever bought, and I still have it today; but, although I bought it when I was a teenager, I couldn't imagine buying it now, at twenty-nine.

The book that Film most resembles is The Virgin Encyclopedia Of The Movies, by Derek Winnert, which was published at the height of cinema's centenary celebrations but which is now out of print. That book was an excellent introduction to cinema for any young person who is starting to develop a serious interest in film, and Bergan's book serves a similar purpose.

Bergan concludes with a chronological list of Top 100 Movies, limited to one film per director. (Although there are technically 104 films because Three Colours and The Lord Of The Rings are both trilogies, and this also violates the one-film-per-director rule.) Who exactly selected the 100 films is unclear: Bergan is the book's credited author, though he introduces the Top 100 Movies as "the films we have chosen".

The Top 100 Movies are as follows:
  • The Birth Of A Nation
  • The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari
  • Nosferatu
  • Nanook Of The North
  • Battleship Potemkin
  • Metropolis
  • Napoleon
  • Un Chien Andalou
  • The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
  • All Quiet On The Western Front
  • The Blue Angel
  • City Lights
  • 42nd Street
  • Duck Soup
  • King Kong
  • L'Atalante
  • Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
  • Olympia
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Gone With The Wind
  • The Philadelphia Story
  • His Girl Friday
  • The Grapes Of Wrath
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Little Foxes
  • To Be Or Not To Be
  • In Which We Serve
  • Casablanca
  • Ossessione
  • Children Of Paradise
  • A Matter Of Life & Death
  • It's A Wonderful Life
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • Letter From An Unknown Woman
  • Passport To Pimlico
  • The Third Man
  • Orphee
  • Rashomon
  • Singin' In The Rain
  • Tokyo Story
  • On The Waterfront
  • All That Heaven Allows
  • Rebel Without A Cause
  • Pather Panchali
  • The Night Of The Hunter
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Vertigo
  • Ashes & Diamonds
  • The 400 Blows
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Breathless
  • La Dolce Vita
  • Saturday Night & Sunday Morning
  • L'Avventura
  • Last Year At Marienbad
  • Lawrence Of Arabia
  • Dr Strangelove
  • The Battle Of Algiers
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Andrei Rublev
  • The Chelsea Girls
  • Bonnie & Clyde
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Easy Rider
  • The Conformist
  • The Godfather
  • Aguirre: The Wrath Of God
  • Nashville
  • In The Realm Of The Senses
  • Taxi Driver
  • Annie Hall
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • The Marriage Of Maria Braun
  • The Deer Hunter
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Blade Runner
  • Paris Texas
  • Heimat
  • Come & See
  • Blue Velvet
  • Shoah
  • A Room With A View
  • Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
  • Cinema Paradiso
  • Do The Right Thing
  • Raise The Red Lantern
  • Unforgiven
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Three Colours I-III
  • Through The Olive Trees
  • Four Weddings & A Funeral
  • Toy Story
  • Fargo
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • In The Mood For Love
  • Traffic
  • The Lord Of The Rings I-III
  • City Of God
  • Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Note that The Maltese Falcon is the John Huston version, which is actually a remake of an earlier (and inferior) Roy Del Ruth film. Also, Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy.

14 October 2007

Creativities Unfold 2007-2008

Creativities Unfold 2007-2008
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang Stefan Sagmeister
Creativities Unfold 2007-2008 at TCDC (10th-14th October) featured a series of design workshops, seminars, and symposia, and was part of the Bangkok Design Festival. The theme for this year's event is Genius Of The Place: In Search Of Excellence From Within. We went to the final day's event, the Genius Loci & Design symposium, to see Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Stefan Sagmeister.

Pen-Ek, one of the leading directors of the Thai 'new wave', explained that the uncommercial, depressing nature of his films reflects his personal interests in grief, death, and funerals. Alongside clips from his own films, he included sequences from Manhattan, and revealed that he is a fan of Woody Allen. (Unsurprising, as Allen appears to have a similar personality.)

Austrian graphic design superstar Sagmeister showed examples of his previous work, concentrating on Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far, a series of written mottoes (similar to Jenny Holzer's Truisms) which have appeared in a wide range of typographical styles. He gave a candid and fun presentation; unfortunately, though, he didn't mention his most famous project, which involved carving the text of a poster into his bare flesh in 1999.

Bangkok Design Festival 2007

Bangkok Design Festival 2007
This year's Bangkok Design Festival runs from 10th-21st October. Among the many events are Creativities Unfold 2007 at TCDC and From Message To Media at Bangkok University Gallery.

Siam Center

Siam Center
The Siam Center mall in Bangkok has redesigned its interior, and now features several large wall displays seemingly inspired by the artists Gilbert and George.

11 October 2007

Quote of the day...

Time
A patronising Ministry of Culture official (who justified the banning of Bangkok Inside Out last year). The first in an occasional series of I-can't-believe-they-said-that quotes.

On Kubrick

On Kubrick
James Naremore's On Kubrick is a substantial new study of the director's feature films. Each film (excluding Spartacus, omitted on the grounds that it is not an auteurist work) is given approximately twenty pages of analysis, within six rather broad chapters.

Naremore strikes a largely successful balance between production history, synopsis, criticism, and theory. He does include un-necessarily long dialogue extracts, though there is minimal exposition, and his analysis is always fascinating and often original. (Many books on Kubrick, unlike Naremore's, are either overly theoretical [Michel Chion, Thomas Allen Nelson, Mario Falsetto] or overly descriptive [Norman Kagan, Gene D Phillips].)

Do we really need another guide to Kubrick's films? There have been a plethora either written or revised since his death in 1999 [Alison Castle, Paul Duncan, James Howard, Alexander Walker, David Hughes, etc.], though Naremore's is justified because of his archival research. He quotes from screenplay drafts and correspondence, uncovering new information regarding Kubrick's dealings with studios and censors.

The book's photographs are apparently screen-grabs rather than production stills, and are consequently rather murky. There is even a fuzzy screen-grab from a bootleg copy of Fear & Desire, even though a clearer production still of the same shot exists. Ironically, given the book's title, there are no images of Kubrick himself.

Spartacus is omitted from Naremore's consideration, though AI is included. While Kubrick planned AI for much of the early 1990s, arguably little of his original vision remains in the final Steven Spielberg film, so why Naremore includes it yet excludes Spartacus (begun by Anthony Mann, though taken over by Kubrick) is a mystery.

Naremore incorrectly states that A Clockwork Orange was banned by the BBFC; in fact, they passed it uncut for adult audiences. Also, his discussion of Eyes Wide Shut is marred slightly by his misunderstanding of the film's post-production: he wrongly claims that it was Kubrick himself, not the studio, who removed the Bhagavad Gita from the soundtrack and digitally censored the orgy sequence.

10 October 2007

Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan
Mexican singer Paulina Rubio is facing charges of flag-desecration, due to a photograph published in this month's issue of the Spanish edition of Cosmopolitan magazine. The photo shows Rubio, apparently naked, wrapped in the Mexican flag (perhaps in a reference to Madonna's Rock The Vote video from 1990).

6 October 2007

Paris, Je T'Aime

Paris, Je T'Aime
Montmartre
Quais De Seine
Le Marais
Tuileries
Loin Du 16e
Porte De Choisy
Bastille
Place Des Victoires
Tour Eiffel
Parc Monceau
Quartier Des Enfants Rouges
Place Des Fetes
Pigalle
Quartier De La Madeleine
Pere-Lachaise
Faubourg Saint-Denis
Quartier Latin
14e Arrondissement
Paris, Je T'Aime is an anthology in which eighteen Paris arrondissements are each represented by a different eponymous short film:

Montmartre
(a man sees a woman faint in the street, and invites her to rest in his car; directed by Bruno Podalydes)

Quais De Seine
(ignoring his aggressive friends, a young man begins a friendship with a young Muslim woman; directed by Gurinder Chadha)

Le Marais
(a designer's assistant is attracted to a printer, though cannot communicate with him; directed by Gus van Sant)

Tuileries
(a tourist inadvertantly provokes a minor conflict; directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)

Loin Du 16e
(a woman takes care of her employer's baby, after leaving her own baby in daycare; directed Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas)

Porte De Choisy
(a foreign salesman visits a strange hair salon; directed by Christopher Doyle)

Bastille
(a man is planning to leave his wife, though he changes his mind when she reveals her terminal illness; directed by Isabel Coixet)

Place Des Victoires
(a mother grieving for her dead son is reunited with him; directed by Nobhiro Suwa)

Tour Eiffel
(two mime artists fall in love; directed by Sylvain Chomet)

Parc Monceau
(a difficult conversation between father and daughter; directed by Alfonso Cuaron)

Quartier Des Enfants Rouges
(an actress develops a crush on her drug dealer; directed by Olivier Assayas)

Place Des Fetes
(a dying man is comforted by a paramedic; directed by Oliver Schmitz)

Pigalle
(a middle-aged couple role-play in a brothel; directed by Richard La Gravenese)

Quartier De La Madeleine
(a backpacker falls in love with a vampire; directed by Vincenzo Natali)

Pere-Lachaise
(two fiancees argue in front of Oscar Wilde's grave; directed by Wes Craven)

Faubourg Saint-Denis
(a young blind man remembers his relationship with an actress; directed by Tom Tykwer)

Quartier Latin
(a married couple meet for a drink to discuss their divorce; directed by Gerard Depardieu and Frederic Auburtin)

14e Arrondissement
(a tourist describes her impressions of the city; directed Alexander Payne)

The films are linked by postcard-style footage of Paris, and the entire anthology is, of course, a love letter to the city. The opening, with fireworks over the city's skyline, closely resembles that of Manhattan.

Montmartre and Quais De Seine both involve a man coming to the aid of a woman who falls over, leading to possible relationships between them; the two films don't really benefit from their juxtaposition. Le Marais also features a chance encounter with romantic potential (this time between two men who speak different languages), though, like the earlier segments, the outcome is not revealed.

Tuileries, set entirely in a Metro station, stars the great Steve Buscemi as a tourist who looks in the wrong direction and suffers the consequences. Hilariously, the precise insults shouted at him are translated in his otherwise cliched guidebook.

Loin Du 16e is not particularly involving. Porte De Choisy, clearly influenced by Doyle's experiences as a cinematographer for Wong Kar-Wai, tries too hard to be exotic. Bastille is simple yet sweet. The ending of Place Des Victoires, a fantasy in which a cowboy on horseback leads a mother to her child's ghost, is too unrealistic to be emotionally involving. Quartier De La Madeleine seems out of place. The slapstick antics of the mimes in Tour Eiffel also leave me cold.

Parc Monceau, filmed in a single take, is much more credible, with a father and daughter bonding as they walk the streets of the district. Quartier Des Enfants Rouges is an equally observational story. The tender and sad Place Des Fetes is one of the highlights. Why it's followed by the ridiculous Pigalle is anyone's guess.

Pere-Lachaise is one of the few films to fully exploit the features of its chosen location. Faubourg Saint-Denis is another standout film, featuring rapid editing and realistic observations. Quartier Latin is not especially ambitious, though the actors are convincing.

The final segment, 14e Arrondissement, is one of the greatest. It's a totally believable, naturalistic portrait of a lonely tourist who, in the film's final line, feels happy and sad at the same time.

4 October 2007

ค่อนศตวรรษ ประชาธิปไตยไทย

ค่อนศตวรรษ ประชาธิปไตยไทย
A book by Sulak Sivaraksa, ค่อนศตวรรษ ประชาธิปไตยไทย, has been banned by Thai police citing national security grounds. The book is an account of the challenges faced by democracy in Thai politics in recent history.

PDF

1 October 2007

Thanksgiving

Klara & Edda Belly-Dancing
Staff at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (UK) have alerted local police to a potentially obscene image of a child, and they are currently assessing its legality. The picture was to have been included in a retrospective exhibition by photographer Nan Goldin, titled Thanksgiving. The exhibition is currently on show at Baltic, though this single image is missing.

The photograph (Klara & Edda Belly-Dancing, 1998) shows two young girls, one clothed and the other naked, both of whom have their legs spread open. It has previously been seen in several international exhibitions: Thanksgiving (White Cube, London, 2000), I Am A Camera (Saatchi Gallery, London, 2001), Le Feu Follet (Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2001), The Devil's Playground (Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 2002; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2002; Castello di Rivoli, Rome, 2002-2003; Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, 2003), and Still On Earth (Fundacao de Serralves, Porto, 2002). There's a full-page reproduction of the original image in Goldin's monograph The Devil's Playground (2002).

Photographs of children by Robert Mapplethorpe, Graham Ovenden, Ron Oliver, Will McBride, David Hamilton, Tierney Gearon, and Annelies Strba have previously been seized by UK police as potentially obscene. In America, the FBI investigated photographers Jacqueline Livingston and Jock Sturges, though ultimately no charges were brought.