Wednesday, 25 March 2009

'Finland Plot'

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra sued political columnist Pramote Nakornthap for libel after Pramote alleged that Thaksin was involved in a republican scheme known as 'the Finland Plot'. The allegations were made in a series of five articles written by Pramote, published in the Manager Daily newspaper on 17th-25th May 2006.

Manager Daily is one of the publications owned by PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul, and the 'Finland Plot' articles were part of a campaign to discredit Thaksin by questioning his loyalty to the monarchy. Today, the Criminal Court gave Pramote a one-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, after finding him guilty of libel.

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Saturday, 21 March 2009

Six Degrees Of Separation

Six Degrees Of Separation
Diseases & A Hundred Year Period
Kiosk at Bangkok's TCDC presents a festival of short Thai films called Six Degrees Of Separation, every Saturday until 11th April. Each week, a different director introduces a retrospective of their most notable films.

Sompot Chidgasornpongse appeared tonight, and showed four films: To Infinity & Beyond (people watching the sky, played twice: first with data about space missions, then repeated as a parable about prioritisation), Physical Therapy (a very short, almost abstract study of a desert landscape, in 16mm), Yesterday (a hand-held semi-documentary following a group of Thai students in California, influenced by Dogme), and Diseases & A Hundred Year Period.

The latter film features censored scenes from Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes & A Century. It premiered with Physical Therapy and Yesterday at the 12th Thai Short Film & Video Festival last year; it was also shown recently at the Filmvirus thirteenth anniversary exhibition.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Mondo Cane

Mondo Cane
Mondo Cane, directed by Gualtiero Jacopetti, features sensationalist documentary footage set to an inappropriately thunderous musical score. The clips compiled by Jacopetti present African and Asian societies as 'primitive' and 'savage'; the narrator even refers to a tribe from New Guinea as "barbarians".

Jacopetti uses juxtapositions for shock effect, such as cutting from a close-up of a model's cleavage to a tribeswoman suckling a pig, and a shot of pet dogs in America followed by footage of an Asian dog-meat restaurant. The film is exploitative, with its National Geographic-style nudity and animal-slaughter, and it's also misleading. For example, a beached turtle is seen flapping its flippers in obvious distress, though apparently, according to the narrator, the 'delusional' creature believes it is swimming in the ocean.

Clearly unable to source sufficient shocking material, Jacopetti pads the film out with long, dull sequences showing mildly intoxicated Germans and retired American tourists. The film was, however, an inexplicable success, and it instigated the long-lasting Mondo documentary sub-genre (as discussed in the books Sweet & Savage and Killing For Culture).

Subsequent Mondo films repeated Jacopetti's formula of exotic tribal rituals, incongruous music, exploitative nudity and violence, and condescending narration. Of course, each film was more explicit than the last, with the sub-genre eventually specialising in (both genuine and simulated) footage of human death. Jacopetti himself directed several further Mondo films, including the graphic Africa Addio, the filming of which was critiqued in the horror film Cannibal Holocaust.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Making Waves

Making Waves
Making Waves: New Cinemas Of The 1960s is Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's account of cinema's various 'new wave' movements, including those of Britain, France, Germany, Brazil, and Czechoslovakia. The book's focus is almost exclusively European, thus there is no discussion of New Hollywood or the new cinemas of Japan, Yugoslavia, or Hungary. Nowell-Smith is the editor of the excellent The Oxford History Of World Cinema.

A chapter on censorship includes Dusan Makavejev and Vilgot Sjoman - yet not Andy Warhol's Flesh, which was confiscated by British police. This chapter ends with Salo and Empire Of The Senses, which, though fascinating, really belong to a later era.

There are also concise surveys of film criticism (principally Cahiers Du Cinema) and technology (colour, widescreen, and the zoom lens). Due to the lack of American coverage, critics Jonas Mekas and Andrew Sarris are excluded. A footnote in the latter essay makes the odd assertion that black-and-white productions of the 1960s were "retarded films".

The highlight is the historical section, titled Movements, with chapters on British, French, Czech, and Latin American cinemas which succinctly cover all the bases. This section also includes a less comprehensive chapter on Italian cinema, which omits Mario Bava and Sergio Leone.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Deep Storage Art Project

Deep Storage Art Project
certificate
blood samples
Kristian von Hornsleth launched his Deep Storage Art Project in Bangkok this evening, at Gallery Soulflower. The Project involves collecting blood samples from volunteers and storing the samples inside a large sculpture which will be lowered onto the sea bed in the Mariana Trench (the deepest location on the planet's surface). Blood donors receive a certificate marked with blood and signed by the artist, and there will be a further opportunity for donation next Saturday evening.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Saboteur

Saboteur
Saboteur is archetypal Alfred Hitchcock: an innocent man caught up in counter-espionage and on the run from the authorities. Hitchcock had used almost exactly the same plot in his earlier (and better) British thriller The 39 Steps, and he would return to it again for North By Northwest.

Saboteur's leading man, Robert Cummings, doesn't quite have the charm of Robert Donat (The 39 Steps) or Cary Grant (North By Northwest). The supporting cast, however, includes a plethora of fascinating characters, such as a truck driver who looks like (but isn't) James Cagney, a kindly blind hermit (perhaps influenced by a sequence from The Bride Of Frankenstein), and even a group of circus freaks. As usual with Hitchcock, the villains are the most interesting figures, and Saboteur's spymaster, played by Otto Kruger, is as suave as those of The 39 Steps, North By Northwest, and Notorious.

The film is bookended by two impressive action sequences: a factory fire, with black smoke ominously filling the screen (the eponymous saboteur is an arsonist); and a climactic scene set at the top of the Statue of Liberty (a precursor of the Mount Rushmore chase scene in North By Northwest). But in between those two sequences, there are too many unexplained plot holes (methods of escape and reunion are conveniently omitted) and too much overtly patriotic speechifying (as Saboteur was made during World War II).

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Trouble With Harry

The Trouble With Harry
Alfred Hitchcock's black comedy The Trouble With Harry begins right away with the discovery of Harry's corpse in a wood. The body is found by a poacher, who assumes that he shot Harry by mistake and buries him to conceal the crime. But Harry is soon disinterred, and the poacher is vindicated. Then, a spinster reveals that she knocked Harry unconscious when he attacked her, and he is buried again to protect her modesty. The characters, including Harry's estranged widow, take all this in their stride, treating Harry's corpse merely as an inconvenience, with no sense of guilt, abjection, or even shock. They are all assisted by a local artist, Sam Marlowe, whose name is a cross between Film Noir detectives Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) and Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep).

The film is full of bright, verdant autumn landscapes, a counterpoint to the macabre subject-matter. It's not a murder mystery, and has no suspense, making it a rather atypical Hitchcock film (though it's notable as his first collaboration with composer Bernard Herrmann). The setting, a village in Vermont, is almost equivalent to Royston Vasey (the fictional location of The League Of Gentlemen), with an insular population who seem to exist outside of conventional moral codes. The villagers discuss sex (the poacher crossing the spinster's "threshold"; whispered references to a "double bed") and death (Harry's repeated interments and exhumations) with a surprising frankness, and, in common with many Hitchcock characters, they seem to distrust the law.

In an unexpected 'happily ever after' ending, a passing millionaire grants wishes to all of the principal characters. It makes no sense at all, though it's surely deliberately unrealistic, perhaps even a Hitchcockian fairy-tale. As such, it's similar in tone to some of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television dramas and Roald Dahl's Tales Of The Unexpected short stories.