Saturday, 29 August 2009

"Using all forms of violence..."

MICT
An audio clip, in which PM Abhisit appears to call for the suppression of the red-shirt demonstrators "using all forms of violence", has been blocked by the Ministry of Information, Communication, and Technology, and Thai sites which previously streamed the clip (including matichon.co.th and thaiinsider.info) have now deleted it.

The general consensus is that the tape has been heavily edited to misrepresent Abhisit, using extracts from his 19th and 26th April Confidence In Thailand TV programmes (similar to the two Bushwhacked clips of George W Bush by Chris Morris).

According to the Democrats, the clip was originally distributed via email by an employee of SC Asset (a company owned by Thaksin's younger sister). It was apparently sent to Pheu Thai (the political party Thaksin controls) on 26th August. It has since been broadcast by ASTV and D-Station.

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Thursday, 27 August 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds [sic.] is the new film by Quentin Tarantino, slightly re-edited (and two minutes longer) following its premiere at Cannes earlier this year. For more than a decade, Tarantino had been telling interviewers that he was planning a 'guys on a mission' film, and he had apparently been writing the script for much of that time. The result is a World War II revenge fantasy in a Spaghetti western style. (The opening caption, "Once upon a time", indicates the fantasy element; it is also a Spaghetti tribute, as are the many Ennio Morricone music cues.) The title is an intentional (though unexplained) mis-spelling of The Inglorious Bastards, the American release title of a 1978 Italian exploitation film.

So, Tarantino is again paying homage to 1970s genre cinema (after Blaxploitation in Jackie Brown, rape-revenge in Death Proof, and 'chop socky' in Kill Bill), though here he's also paying tribute to the cinema in general. The 'basterds' of the title, a group of Jewish-American vigilantes intent on killing Nazi soldiers led by top-billed Brad Pitt with a Southern drawl, are not really the main focus of the film. The crux of the plot actually involves a scheme to kill Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Third Reich officers, by sending a former film critic and an actress to blow up a Parisian cinema. Coincidentally, the cinema's owner also plans to burn it down, by setting fire to inflammable nitrate film prints. Thus, cinema literally saves the world.

Christoph Waltz has received substantial praise for his performance as SS Colonel Landa. His character is arguably more significant than Pitt's, and he certainly gives the film's greatest performance. Speaking French, English, German, and Italian, he charms his suspects with effortless charisma. The film is composed of a series of chapters, each containing one or more long dialogue scenes; those featuring the cordial yet ruthless Landa are the most tense, amusing, and captivating. Like Samuel L Jackson and Harvey Keitel in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Waltz's precise delivery and verbal dexterity steal the show. (Jackson and Keitel have voice-over cameos in this film, as does Tarantino himself.)

Monday, 24 August 2009

Getting Off At Gateshead

Getting Off At Gateshead
Getting Off At Gateshead: The Dirtiest Words & Phrases In English From Ass-End To Zig-Zag, by lexicographer Jonathon Green, is divided into twenty-six alphabetical chapters, with each chapter devoted to a particular word. (Chapter three is the most interesting.) Brief etymologies and literary citations are provided, followed by synonyms and derivatives. The content is not all that different from Green's earlier Slang Down The Ages, and several other works, all produced by extracting thematic lists of words from Green's comprehensive slang dictionary (published in 1998, revised in 2005, and updated in 2008).

Friday, 21 August 2009

13th Thai Short Film & Video Festival

13th Thai Short Film & Video Festival
The 13th Thai Short Film & Video Festival closes this Sunday (and opened on 13th August). Each year, a short film to promote the Festival is played before every programme, and this year's film (Man Who Eat An Egg) was directed by Thunska Pansittivorakul, who filmed it in a recreation of Thomas Edison's primitive Black Maria studio. (The Black Maria replica was on show earlier this year, at the Cine-Bananas event; Thunska's Middle-Earth was screened at the 11th Festival.) Like the 12th Festival, this year's event takes place at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Discovering Orson Welles

Discovering Orson Welles
Discovering Orson Welles is a compilation of articles about Welles by Jonathan Rosenbaum. There are a few essays and film criticism pieces, though many articles are less substantial: book reviews, notes, and other ephemera. In fact, what's most interesting here are not Rosenbaum's comments on Welles but rather his comments on other Welles books. He also presents a useful survey of the various versions of every Welles film, and discusses his contribution to the restoration of Touch Of Evil.

Rosenbaum's annotations are too "autobiographical in nature", and he tends to "spin out" his single meeting with Welles - both of which he acknowledges in his introduction. Despite this, however, Rosenbaum is the ideal Welles scholar, more objective and meticulous than acolytes such as Barbara Leaming or Peter Bogdanovich. Also, his criticisms of both Pauline Kael and David Thomson are very welcome.

Spaghetti Westerns

Spaghetti Westerns
This is the third edition of Christopher Frayling's classic study of Italian westerns, subtitled Cowboys & Europeans From Karl May To Sergio Leone. Though Frayling did not coin the term 'Spaghetti western', his book did popularise and destigmatise it.

Although the original Spaghetti Westerns was written almost thirty years ago, neither subsequent edition has revised or expanded the text, with the only additions being new prefaces and a brief introduction by the editor, film historian Jeffrey Richards. Even the errata and typographical errors remain uncorrected, though they are at least listed in the prefaces.

The book is essential as the first substantial, academic analysis of Spaghetti westerns. It's also vital for anyone interested in the western genre, or in genre cinema in general. Frayling has since written two books with production designer Ken Adam: an extended interview, and a design monograph. He also wrote a biography of Sergio Leone (Something To Do With Death) and a monograph on Leone's films (Once Upon A Time In Italy).

Ganapati

Ganapati
Ganapati, an exhibition at Kerkar Art Complex in India, is causing controversy as it features irreverent drawings of the Hindu god Ganesha. The artist, Subodh Kerkar, has been threatened with violence, and complaints have been made to the police. He has been warned by the police not to "hurt religious feelings". The exhibition opened yesterday and will close at the end of the month.

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Lae Nang... Long Tai

Lae Nang... Long Tai
Invisible Waves
Paragon Cineplex, Bangkok, will host a mini film festival from 7th-9th August, called Lae Nang... Long Tai. The festival's films all depict life in southern Thailand, with the highlight being a screening of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Invisible Waves on the final day. Invisible Waves was first shown in 2006, when it opened that year's Bangkok International Film Festival.

Cinerama Adventure

Cinerama Adventure
Cinerama Adventure is a feature-length documentary written and directed by David Strohmaier. It presents a comprehensive history of the Cinerama film production and distribution process.

Cinerama was developed by Fred Waller, who originally created an eleven-projector system called Vitarama in 1939, later modified to five projectors as a flight simulator for trainee pilots in World War II. Rare footage of both versions of Vitarama is included in Cinerama Adventure. Another key Cinerama antecedent was the triptych Polyvision system used by Abel Gance for Napoleon in 1927, also featured in Cinerama Adventure. Gance was inspired by the incredible Cineorama of 1900, a truly panoramic display produced by ten 70mm projectors.

No surviving Cineorama footage exists, and the process is not discussed in Cinerama Adventure. Also, footage from multi-projector processes produced after Cinerama, such as Disneyland's Circle-Vision (nine projectors, 1955), the Russian Kinopanorama (three projectors, 1958), and the experiments discussed by Stan van der Beek (author of Culture: Intercom & Expanded Cinema) and Gene Youngblood (author of Expanded Cinema), is also omitted.

Filming in Cinerama required three synchronised 35mm cameras, which could then be projected as a triptych onto a curved screen at an aspect ratio of 2.89:1. This resulted in an immersive audience experience, with the screen extending into the viewer's peripheral vision. Also, the process utilised seven audio tracks, with speakers positioned at the front, back, and sides of the auditorium.

Cinerama Adventure includes numerous short clips from the first Cinerama film, This Is Cinerama, which premiered in 1952 and is most famous for its roller-coaster opening sequence. [I saw This Is Cinerama in one of the three surviving Cinerama cinemas, the National Media Museum in Bradford, UK.] This Is Cinerama is not commercially available, so the clips in Cinerama Adventure are invaluable. Longer extracts were featured in The Reality Trip (a 1995 BBC Moving Pictures documentary), though this has never been released on video.

The documentary also includes extensive footage from various Cinerama travelogues, and from How The West Was Won, one of the few narrative Cinerama films. Finally, brief clips from conventional 70mm films projected onto Cinerama screens (including Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, originally shown in 2.21:1 with six audio tracks) are included. All Cinerama extracts are presented using the new Smilebox process, a digital simulation of the curved Cinerama screen.

Cinerama was a relatively short-lived process, as the three-camera system made close-ups and vertical compositions virtually impossible. Also, it was prohibitively expensive for cinemas to install the two extra projection booths necessary for Cinerama exhibition. However, the format did directly inspire the use of anamorphic widescreen processes such as CinemaScope, which successfully approximated the spectacle of Cinerama without the need for such cumbersome cameras or drastic cinema alterations. Cinerama, CinemaScope, and also 3D projection (all popularised in the early 1950s) were gimmicky attempts to draw audiences away from television and other pursuits, after American cinema audiences declined steeply in the late 1940s. (History is currently repeating itself, with new IMAX and 3D crazes perhaps reacting to the popularity of home theatre systems and HDTV.)

Cinerama Adventure features interviews with film historians such as John Belton (author of Widescreen Cinema) and Kevin Brownlow (who restored Napoleon and directed the documentary series Hollywood), and director Joe Dante. Belton and Dante also contributed to The Reality Trip, which discussed one aspect of Cinerama not mentioned in Cinerama Adventure: the vertical seams which appeared when the films were projected. These seams were often disguised by positioning conspicuous trees or similar objects within the frame, creating another aesthetic limitation for Cinerama directors.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Nymph

Nymph
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang originally screened Nymph at Cannes, and that version was given a limited release in Bangkok last month. Pen-Ek has also prepared a shorter, more commercial version, which has received a wider release. This version makes slight trims to many scenes, shortening the dialogue-free stretches which multiplex audiences may have dismissed as longueurs.

Some sequences, such as Korn leaving his wife, and Korn and May praying to the tree, have been removed because they are already referred to in the dialogue: the audience knows that they have happened, so it is not necessary to actually show them. At least one key shot has been cut: we hear a loud noise, and later see Korn's bandaged hand, though without the shot of the broken glass (present in the original), it is not clear that Korn smashed the window of May's car.

Also, to enable the characters to reach the forest as quickly as possible, several scenes from the beginning of the film are deleted in their entirety. These include sequences in a photography shop (where Nop discusses his plan to visit the forest), a hotel (where May surreptitiously telephones Korn), and the car journey to the forest (during which May ignores Nop and answers phone calls from work). The result is that May and Nop's relationship seems to deteriorate only when they reach the forest, whereas in the original version it is clear that their marriage is in trouble even before they begin their trip.

The shorter version certainly has a faster pace, though the most noticeable change relates to the soundtrack. To create a conventional horror film atmosphere, music has been added to many scenes, whereas there was no music at all on the original soundtrack.

Courrier-International

Courrier-International
The 9th July issue of Courrier-International has been banned in Morocco. The magazine features a cartoon of King Mohammed VI, by Khalid Kadar, depicting the King riding a jet ski on a pile of money. (Last year, an issue of L'Express International was also banned in Morocco.)