Friday, 26 February 2010

"To confiscate all of the wealth
of Mr Thaksin would be unfair..."

The Supreme Court ruled today that more than half of Thaksin Shinawatra's assets, frozen in 2007, will now be confiscated. The Assets Examination Committee froze seventy-six billion baht pending the outcome of an anti-corruption investigation, and Thaksin was convicted in absentia in 2008.

Of the total assets in question, forty-six billion baht will be seized, and the remaining thirty billion will be returned. The Supreme Court judge delivering the verdict said: "To confiscate all of the wealth of Mr Thaksin would be unfair".

The Court ruled that Thaksin had attempted to conceal his personal wealth while he served as Prime Minister, by transferring his 48% stake in Shin Corp. to his children. It was his sale of Shin Corp. to Temasek in 2006 that sparked the PAD's anti-Thaksin protests, which led to a coup against him and four subsequent years of political instability.

Circus Christi

Circis Christi
An exhibition at Granada University in Spain has been closed following protests from Catholic groups. The show, Circus Christi by Fernando Bayona, features a series of photographs depicting Jesus as a gay man; he is also shown making love with Mary Magdalene. The exhibition opened on 11th February and closed after less than a week; it was originally scheduled to run until 5th March.

A fantasy scene featuring Jesus and Mary making love, from Martin Scorsese's film The Last Temptation Of Christ, caused controversy in 1989, and DH Lawrence's novel The Escaped Cock (1929) also depicts Jesus and Mary's sexual relationship. Jesus has previously been depicted as gay in two films (Matthias von Fistenberg's Passio, 2007; Ed D Louie's He, 1974), a poem (James Kirkup's The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, 1976), a lithograph (Enrique Chagoya's The Misadventures Of The Romantic Cannibals, 2003), a play (Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi, 1998), and a magazine illustration (Johnny Correa's Resurrection, in The Insurgent, 2006).

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Enjoying Cursive Writing

Jesus
A series of exercise books for children, Enjoying Cursive Writing I-IV, has provoked violent demonstrations in Batala, India. The books contain a drawing of Jesus holding a can of beer and a cigarette, and their publisher, Ram Mohan Jha, has been arrested.

The image in question, used to illustrate the word 'idol', was sourced from the internet; three years ago, it appeared on the front page of a Malaysian newspaper, Makkal Osai, and it also provoked violent protests when it was published by the Hyderabad newspaper Sakshi on 13th July 2008.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Game Change

Game Change
Game Change: Obama & The Clintons, McCain & Palin, & The Race Of A Lifetime (also published with the more manageable title Race Of A Lifetime: How Obama Won The White House), by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, is a journalistic account of the 2008 American presidential election campaign. Like Andrew Rawnsley's The End Of The Party (which covers contemporary UK politics), Game Change benefits from hundreds of senior yet unattributed sources.

The book's overall tone is rather gossipy, though it contains numerous revelations. While Barack Obama is certainly an infinitely better President than John McCain would have been, McCain was an amusing presidential candidate during the campaign (with hilarious appearances at the Al Smith Dinner and on Saturday Night Live). Game Change shows that McCain is privately much less entertaining, quoting angry outbursts directed at his wife. Hillary Clinton's aggressive plans to challenge Obama are also discussed, and Sarah Palin is revealed to be even more ignorant than we first thought.

The End Of The Party

The End Of The Party
The End Of The Party: The Rise & Fall Of New Labour is Andrew Rawnsley's sequel to his excellent Servants Of The People. The earlier book is an authoritative account of Tony Blair's first term as British Prime Minister; with the same access to senior yet unattributed sources, The End Of The Party covers Blair's second term and Gordon Brown's succession. Whereas the previous book centred on Brown's rows with Blair (deliberately omitted from Alastair Campbell's The Blair Years), the new volume discusses Brown's bad-tempered relations with his staff.

Despite the international impact of his bank bail-out scheme, Brown's leadership has been heavily criticised after a series of U-turns and chronic presentational failures. There have been at least three internal attempts to remove him as Labour leader, the latest of which (organised by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt, with cabinet ministers offering Brown delayed and qualified support) came too late for Rawnsley's book.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Nuit & Brouillard

Nuit & Brouillard
The Holocaust documentary Nuit & Brouillard was directed by Alain Resnais, better known for his oblique French New Wave classics Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year At Marienbad. With a poetic narration, it intercuts contemporary footage of the concentration camp at Auschwitz with archive footage of dying and dead Holocaust victims.

Scenes of bodies bulldozed into mass graves shocked audiences even ten years after the atrocities took place, though arguably even more disturbing are the mountains of hair and personal effects removed from the millions of victims. Holocaust footage had previously been included in the drama The Stranger, and of course Schindler's List remains the most famous Holocaust film, though neither can convey the horror of the Holocaust as Nuit & Brouillard does.

My Own Private Idaho

My Own Private Idaho
Gus van Sant's visually and emotionally powerful road movie My Own Private Idaho was one of a group of films from the early 1990s known as New Queer Cinema, all of which were independent films with gay themes (arguably the first being Poison by Todd Haynes). The potentially controversial subject-matter (young male hustlers) was offset by the unexpected casting: teen idols River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, both of whom were risking their mainstream appeal by starring in the film.

The narcoleptic central character, played by Phoenix (who, of course, would die of a drugs overdose two years later), first appears on an empty highway. It feels like the build-up to the crop-dusting sequence from North By Northwest. We return to this road at the end of the film, when Phoenix is bundled into a car by an unseen driver. This was originally intended as a happy ending, with the driver's identity revealed, though van Sant ultimately filmed the sequence in long-shot to maintain ambiguity. To me, the ending has echoes of the tragic conclusion to Easy Rider.

A Clockwork Orange is another key reference, with similar scenes of young gang-members using intentionally unidiomatic dialogue. The brightly-coloured credits and inter-titles are an homage to Kubrick's film, though the (incongruous) Shakespearean dialogue was apparently inspired by Chimes At Midnight (which is namechecked, as is Rio Bravo) and the film is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry IV.

Gus van Sant has also directed the black comedy To Die For and an oddly anachronistic Psycho remake. Several of his films, including My Own Private Idaho, take place in Portland, Oregon though he is now most famous for Good Will Hunting which, like The Departed, stars Matt Damon and is set in Boston. Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix had previously appeared together in I Love You To Death. Reeves later appeared in superior blockbusters such as Speed, Devil's Advocate, and The Matrix, though his more recent films (The Lake House and a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still) have been much less successful.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Film Talk

Thai film director Thunska Pansittivorakul gave a Film Talk yesterday at The Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok. He discussed his experiences at international film festivals, and screened two films: Vous Vous Souviens De Moi? and Middle-Earth. (Thunska premiered the latter at the 11th Thai Short Film & Video Festival.)

Dagbladet

Dagbladet
After Aftenposten printed Kurt Westergaard's Mohammed cartoon last month, another Norwegian paper has also printed a Mohammed caricature. There have been demonstrations outside the offices of Dagbladet after the paper printed a front-page drawing of Mohammed on 3rd February.

The image (apparently drawn by Tatiana Soskin in 1997) is not one of the original Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons, and is considerably more offensive than any of them: it depicts Mohammed as a pig, which is an extreme insult in Islamic culture. It is one of three deliberately inflammatory images circulated in the Middle East by a group of Danish imams to provoke protests against Jyllands-Posten.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Revenge

Revenge
Revenge is the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the television series hosted by Hitchcock for a decade and first broadcast on 2nd October 1955. The series was apparently devised by Lew Wasserman, who advised Hitchcock to capitalise on his celebrity status by appearing on TV. Royalties from the CBS show gave Hitchcock a substantial income, as did his shares in Wasserman's MCA talent agency. At a time when the rest of the film industry was competing with TV using gimmicks such as 3D (which even Hitchock could not avoid) and Cinerama, the idea of a film director producing a TV show was unexpected. (Thomas Schatz discusses this in The Genius Of The System.)

Hitchcock directed seventeen half-hour episodes of the show (and one hour-long episode of the programme's successor, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), though he appeared at the beginning of every episode to set the scene with a droll monologue. The dramas themselves featured several actors from Hitchcock's films, including Claude Rains and Vera Miles. Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia, also appeared in several episodes. (She also appeared in three Hitchcock films: Stage Fright, Strangers On A Train, and Psycho.) Famously, Hitchcock used members of the show's crew to film Psycho (the subject of recent books by David Thomson and Philip J Skerry), in order to cut costs and produce an AIP-style thriller.

Revenge, directed by Hitchcock, stars Vera Miles, who later appeared in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man and Psycho (and was unsuccessfully groomed for the lead role in Vertigo, later replaced by Kim Novak). Her character suffers a nervous breakdown and is subsequently attacked by an unidentified man, and her husband attempts to track down her attacker. In the establishing scenes before the attack, Miles is sexy and confident, and she then makes an effective transition to post-traumatic confusion (similar to her character in The Wrong Man). The episode's conclusion is rather predictable, though it's an effectively suspenseful and succinct drama.

There are two inexplicable moments: a female character looks at Miles's legs for slightly too long, and Miles is seen holding the head of a carnation. The carnation clearly suggests the Miles has been 'deflowered', though its status as a clue to the attacker's identity is not explained, and potential suspicions about the other female character are also unresolved.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Purple Rose Of Cairo

The Purple Rose Of Cairo
In Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo, Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a downtrodden Depression-era housewife, who finds escapism in glamorous Hollywood movies. When she sees The Purple Rose Of Cairo (the film-within-the-film, Allen's parody of a 1930s high-society melodrama), one of its characters, Tom, breaks the fourth wall by stepping out of the screen and into the cinema.

Cecilia and Tom fall in love, though his fellow characters are left standing around on screen, unable to continue the film because Tom is missing. Though Cecilia recognises the impossibility of a real relationship with Tom, she ultimately returns to the short-term escapism of the movies, with Fred Astaire in Top Hat as her only consolation.

Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr was the first film to feature interaction between cinema audiences and fictional characters as a plot device. The idea was later ripped off by the critical and commercial flop Last Action Hero (and the Thai horror film Coming Soon). Allen played on the confusion between fantasy and reality in his Stardust Memories, with the actors commenting on their own performances; in Play It Again, Sam, Allen's character is visited by Humphrey Bogart as he appeared in Casablanca; and Allen's brilliantly acerbic Deconstructing Harry features characters from a novel who invade the life of the author, as does the recent film Stranger Than Fiction. Finally, Bruce La Bruce's Otto features a character who thinks she's a silent movie character, consequently appearing in black-and-white and speaking via inter-titles.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Orson Welles: The One-Man Band

Orson Welles: The One-Man Band
Orson Welles: The One-Man Band, directed by Vassili Silovic with Ojar Kodar, features clips and out-takes from various unfinished Orson Welles films. The footage was left to Kodar by Welles in his will, and the film's title comes from a sketch in which Welles played both a busker and his unappreciative audience. (Welles saw himself metaphorically not as a one-man band but as a "friendly neighbourhood grocery store" in an age of supermarkets.)

The documentary includes extracts from The Other Side Of The Wind, which resembles Easy Rider with its zooms and jump cuts. Impressive footage from The Merchant Of Venice (Welles as Shylock, with gothic locations and masked extras), The Deep (later filmed by Phillip Noyce), and the television pilot The Orson Welles Show (featuring the Muppets!) is also included. In one hilarious clip, a butler who thinks he's a chicken keeps his job because his employer needs the eggs; this traditional joke later appeared at the end of Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Footage of Welles reading from the novel Moby Dick now appears somewhat dated, and there is unfortunately no mention of Don Quixote.

An alternate version of the documentary, narrated by Welles acolyte Peter Bogdanovich, also exists. Filmographies of unfinished Welles projects are included in Discovering Orson Welles and Orson Welles At Work.