Saturday, 30 April 2011

Voice Of Taksin

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, editor of Voice Of Taksin magazine, has been arrested and charged with lese majeste. The charge relates to two columns, titled Kom Kwan Kid, published in February and March 2010, written by Jit Pollachan (a pseudonym for Jakrapob Penkair). Voice Of Taksin is notorious for its radical and inflammatory content: some issues have incited violence, with a cartoon of a Molotov cocktail ("Don't throw more than two bottles per day!") and a cover depicting a hand grenade ("Bomb the aristocrats").

Friday, 29 April 2011

Digiplay

Digiplay
Pong
Digiplay opened at TCDC on 25th March. It was originally scheduled to close on 1st May, though it has now been extended to 22nd May. The exhibition showcases contemporary computer-game design and animation from Thai and British artists.

Digiplay also includes a selection of old games consoles representing the history of video games. There are playable versions of many games, including the first-ever computer game, Spacewar; the original console game, Pong; and an interactive/virtual-reality game, Kinectimals.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Modern Architecture A-Z

Modern Architecture A-Z
Modern Architecture A-Z is a dictionary of architects and architectural styles, edited by Laszlo Taschen (a project he inherited from Peter Gossel, who co-wrote Taschen's Architecture In The 20th Century) and similar in format to Taschen's Photographers A-Z. It's published in two volumes: A-K and L-Z.

Significant modern and contemporary architects, including masters such as Le Corbusier and Frank Gehry, are profiled. There are gorgeous full-page photographs of iconic buildings such as the Eiffel Tower (Paris), the Chrysler Building (New York), and the Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao). The Encyclopedia Of Architecture, edited by Joseph A Wilkes, is a five-volume encyclopedia that also includes biographies of key architects.

Photographers A-Z

Photographers A-Z
Photographers A-Z, compiled by Hans-Michael Koetzle for Taschen, is a bibliographical dictionary of modern photography, from portraiture and photomontage to photojournalism. The format is similar to that of Taschen's Modern Architecture A-Z (and Ian Jeffrey's The Photography Book). Each entry - covering one or two pages - includes a bibliography and a list of selected exhibitions.

Each photographer's work is illustrated with (sometimes rather small) reproductions from one of their published monographs. The selected artists range from masters such as Man Ray and Henri Cartier-Bresson to leading contemporary photographers such as Andreas Gursky and Sebastiao Salgado. For more historical context, see A World History Of Photography, Photography: A Cultural History, and The Focal Encyclopedia Of Photography.

Monday, 25 April 2011

A Serious Man

A Serious Man
A Serious Man, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a semi-autobiographical black comedy about Larry Gopnik, a man who faces one crisis after another. Crisp cinematography by Roger Deakins (who also photographed True Grit and numerous other films by the Coens), and a supporting cast of typically eccentric characters, result in a satisfying and enjoyable film.

Like Barton Fink, and Steve Buscemi's character in the Coens' Paris, Je T'Aime segment, Larry is just a very unlucky guy. Unlike Lester in American Beauty, who experiences similar pressures, Larry doesn't empower or reinvent himself; instead, like many of Woody Allen's characters (Zelig, for example), he turns to his rabbi for (ineffective) advice.

A Serious Man, like Barton Fink, is influenced by Kubrick's The Shining: the dramatic reveal when Larry reads his brother's notebook is similar to the moment in The Shining when Wendy discovers Jack's manuscript. Both films also use black title cards to indicate sequential events.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Conversations With Scorsese

Conversations With Scorsese
Richard Schickel's book-length interview with Martin Scorsese, Conversations With Scorsese, expands and updates Schickel's documentary Scorsese On Scorsese. (It's also more comprehensive than Ian Christie's book Scorsese On Scorsese.)

Many of the anecdotes are familiar from previous Scorsese interviews, and there are no personal revelations. (Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls has more explosive details about Scorsese's drug use.) Scorsese is more candid than usual, however: describing the delayed release of Shutter Island, he says it felt like "somebody just has a baseball bat and hits you in the chest". He is surprisingly dismissive of Shutter Island, in fact ("I want to leave Shutter Island"), and critical of the constraints imposed by the studio system during the making of Gangs Of New York, The Aviator, and The Departed.

The book also includes a detailed filmography of Scorsese's work as director, actor, and producer. Schickel's previous interviews with film directors include The Men Who Made The Movies (a documentary series and book) and Woody Allen: A Life In Film (a documentary and book).

Friday, 15 April 2011

Scream IV

Scream IV
Scream IV (or Scre4m) was directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, as were Scream I-II. (Williamson wrote a treatment for Scream III, though not the script; Craven and Williamson also collaborated, less successfully, on Cursed.) The original Scream was a genre classic, starting a trend for post-modern horror; in Nightmare Movies, Kim Newman calls it "the defining horror film for a generation". (Craven's earlier New Nightmare was equally post-modern, though less successful at the box office.) Scream II was an unusually impressive sequel, though the metafictional self-referentiality in Scream III felt too much like a parody. Since Scream III, Craven has directed the effective thriller Red Eye, one of the better segments of Paris, Je T'Aime, and the shockingly mediocre My Soul To Take.

With Williamson (who also wrote the excellent The Faculty) back on board, Scream IV should have reinvigorated the series. However, there's nothing original here, merely the same old phone calls (once clever, now formulaic) and villain-unmaskings (inviting unwelcome Scooby Doo comparisons). The body count is extremely high, though the large cast and frequent killings mean that characters are given very little back-story, so it's hard to become emotionally involved in their fates. Also, there is little suspense, and each victim is dispatched so quickly, thus the film is never really scary.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Film Theory Reader

The Film Theory Reader
The Film Theory Reader: Debates & Arguments, edited by Marc Furstenau, includes some of the most fundamental film-studies texts, covering auteurism (two extracts from Andre Bazin's What Is Cinema?), semiotics (an extract from Christian Metz's Film Language), and spectatorship (Laura Mulvey's widely-anthologised Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema). The final chapter, Digital Cinema, is a sceptical essay by cinema's leading technology writer, John Belton. Film Theory & Criticism: Introductory Readings (1974) and Movies & Methods (1976) are the most comprehensive film-theory anthologies.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Typographic Desk Reference

The Typographic Desk Reference
The Typographic Desk Reference (abbreviated to TDR), by Theo Rosendorf, is a concise guide to typographical terminology and type anatomy. TDR's design is especially striking: it's slim, stark, sturdy, and elegant.

Fortunately not another conventional font catalogue, TDR instead devotes more space to the minutiae of typography, complete with diagrams and examples. This material is usually covered only in brief glossaries, so TDR's meticulous coverage is exceptional. (For a detailed account of typographic history, see Daniel Updike's Printing Types and Lewis Blackwell's 20th-Century Type; in both cases, the first and second editions are superior to the third.)

...Isms
Understanding Architecture

...Isms: Understanding Architecture
...Isms: Understanding Architecture, by Jeremy Melvin, is part of the ...Isms series (also including Understanding Art and Understanding Cinema). Whereas Understanding Cinema contained mostly redundant 'isms', the '-ism' suffixes in Understanding Architecture are all kosher.

Like Understanding Art, the book presents a logical and concise historical summary. The book was subsequently reprinted under the less succinct subtitle Understanding Architectural Styles.

...Isms
Understanding Cinema

Film Isms
Film Isms: Understanding Cinema classifies film history into a series of categories, all suffixed by '-ism'. This approach was adopted successfully by the first book in the ...Isms series, Understanding Art, because modern art has fragmented into numerous isms. (Other books in the series include Understanding Architecture; Manifesto and Styles, Schools, & Movements, unrelated to this series, are more extensive studies of artistic isms.)

Unlike art, cinema is more suited to classification by genre than by ism, though Film Isms (written by Ronald Bergan, co-author of 501 Must-See Movies) takes "an 'ismatic' viewpoint" that awkwardly converts genres into isms, coining such bizarre neologisms as 'Horrorism', 'Film Noirism', 'New Wavism', etc. These incongruous labels are unfortunate distractions, obfuscating rather than simplifying their subject-matter, and are thus counter-productive in a book that purports to provide a concise and accessible summary of film history. Also, Bergan's definition of Orientalism is simply incorrect, and the appendices are too short to be useful.

Finally, the book's title punctuation is unclear. Film Isms... appears on the cover and title page, while Film...Isms appears on the spine and flaps. ...Isms: Understanding Cinema would be more consistent with the other titles in the series. Bergan's previous book Film is a better beginner's guide to cinema history, and 1,000 Films To Change Your Life is a better thematic guide to great films.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Nightmare Movies

Nightmare Movies
Kim Newman has revised and substantially updated his definitive history of modern horror cinema, Nightmare Movies, which has been published with the new subtitle Horror On Screen Since The 1960s. This edition is divided into two parts: the previous version of Nightmare Movies (covering horror cinema since Night Of The Living Dead, which he profiled recently in The Empire Five-Star 500; the original text is untouched, except for new footnotes) and "the sequel" titled New Nightmares (a reference to Wes Craven's film New Nightmare).

Newman is the ultimate horror expert, and Nightmare Movies is his magnum opus. In the updated version, he discusses serial-killer films (notably The Silence Of The Lambs), the proliferation of vampires in cinema and on TV, postmodernism (Scream) and Hollywood's current obsession with remakes, J-Horror ghost films (Ringu), 'torture porn' (Hostel), virtual-reality SF (The Matrix), and zombie horror. The last two categories also serve as an update of his apocalypse-cinema book Millennium Movies. He previously summarised contemporary horror trends in Horror, which he co-edited.

Newman is also a contributor to 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Contemporary American Cinema, Fear Without Frontiers, 100 European Horror Films, The Oxford History Of World Cinema, and the Aururm Film Encyclopedia: Horror. He has written for various magazines, including Premiere, Sight & Sound, and Empire. He also appears in the supplements to DVDs of Video Nasties, Double Indemnity, Notorious, Suspiria, and The Old Dark House. I saw him introduce a screening of Zombie Holocaust at the ICA, London.

Monday, 4 April 2011

A Voix Nue

Last month, the French radio station France Culture broadcast five episodes of A Voix Nue, directed by Manoushak Fashahi and featuring Stanley Kubrick. Each episode, transmitted daily from 21st to 25th March, was an extract from interviews with Kubrick recorded by film critic Michel Ciment.

Ciment interviewed Kubrick in 1975, 1980, and 1987, and they discussed Kubrick's films Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket. The interviews were originally published in the French newspaper L'Express, and subsequently in Ciment's book Kubrick: The Definitive Edition.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Obsessive Compulsive

Obsessive Compulsive
ตัวใครตัวมันนะโยม
Vasan Sitthiket's latest exhibition, Obsessive Compulsive, opened yesterday at Number One Gallery, Bangkok, and will close on 7th May. (Vasan's previous exhibition, Ten Evil Scenes Of Thai Politic, was shown at the same gallery last year.)

The exhibition includes ตัวใครตัวมันนะโยม, a painting of naked monks fighting and having sex, with a monk's saffron robe appliqued to the canvas. This characteristically provocative work is as controversial as Anupong Chantorn's painting Moral Boundary, in which naked monks were painted onto a monk's robe.

La Fete 2011

La Fete 2011
Cinema Picnic By Moonlight
Monrak Transistor
This year's La Fete festival runs from 10th February until 10th April, at various venues around Bangkok. The highlight of the festival was Museum Siam's Cinema Picnic By Moonlight, an evening of free outdoor film screenings. To celebrate Valentine's Day, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's romantic comedy/thriller Monrak Transistor was screened on 14th February.

La Fete, like the recent French Open Air Cinema Festival, is organised by Alliance Francaise. Pen-Ek's other films are Fun-Bar Karaoke, 6ixtynin9, Last Life In The Universe, Invisible Waves (shown at the 2006 Bangkok International Film Festival), Ploy (shown at the 2007 Bangkok International Film Festival), and Nymph (shown at the 2009 Bangkok International Film Festival; also released in a director's cut version). He has directed several short films, including a segment of Sawasdee Bangkok.