Wednesday, 27 July 2011

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger
You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is another of Woody Allen's late-period London films (after Match Point, Scoop, and Cassandra's Dream). Again, the main characters are writers and artists; more unusually, they all seem to be alcoholics.

Anthony Hopkins is excellent in an unflattering role, his character's mid-life crisis resulting in acute humiliation. Naomi Watts plays the unsympathetic lead female character, shouting "I need my own gallery!" at her husband and "You imbecile! I need that money!" at her mother; as in Sex & The City II, the 'problems' being dealt with are so upper-middle-class. The various plot strands are leading up to some potentially awkward moments, though Allen leaves them unresolved and instead finishes on a happy ending.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Terrorists

The Terrorists
The Terrorists
Thunska Pansittivorakul's The Terrorists is his most political film to date, a direct and personal response to last year's Black May massacre in Bangkok. With his previous political work, This Area Is Under Quarantine, Thunska waited four years before criticising Thaksin Shinawatra for the Tak Bai incident, though The Terrorists is an immediate, courageous, and necessary condemnation of the government. (This month, Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded defeat to Thaksin's sister, Yingluck, though The Terrorists was made long before the election.)

The Terrorists begins with scenes of Thai fishermen; later, it features footage shot at an aquarium. The symbolic value of these sequences is revealed when a Thai monk is quoted equating killing communists with killing fish. This strategy was also employed in Rwanda, where Tutsis were compared to cockroaches; it represents a dehumanisation of political opponents, in order to justify the massacre of civilians. The film's title itself refers to a similar propaganda tactic, Abhisit and Suthep's demonisation of the Black May protesters as terrorists in order to turn public opinion against them.

Documentary footage of the Black May protests, providing yet more evidence that the Thai army shot and killed unarmed pro-democracy protesters, is also included. Despite the existence of such evidence, no-one in the army has yet been held accountable for the massacre; the film ends with a pertinent rhetorical question: "Who do you think has the power to order the soldiers to shoot?". Rare footage of the 1976 Thammasat University massacre is also included, demonstrating that history will keep repeating itself if we don't prevent it. (The Thammasat massacre also inspired Manit Sriwanichpoom's Horror In Pink and Flashback '76.)

Thunska's trademark sexual content is also present: after the opening credits, a bound man is stripped naked and abused; later, in a recreation of Thunska's short film Middle-Earth, a nude man is filmed while sleeping. Most provocatively, Thunska also combines explicit sex with political violence: footage of a man masturbating is accompanied by captions describing the Thammasat massacre.

The Terrorists was screened at the Dialogic exhibition yesterday, alongside Thunska's short film Kiss. He has also directed the semi-autobiographical documentary Reincarnate; he presented two films, Soak and Action!, at the 5th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival; and his early short films were screened at a retrospective in 2008 (Inside Out, Outside In).

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Dialogic

Dialogic
Kiss
Kiss
The Terrorists
The group exhibition Dialogic at BACC encourages visitors to interact with its exhibits: there is a large recreation area, a media zone, a hut to sit in, even (after Tracey Emin) a bed to sleep in. The exhibits are (tangential and indirect) responses to fundamental activities such as eating, excreting, and dying; the atmosphere is informal and laid-back.

The exhibition includes Kiss, a short film by Thunska Pansittivorakul in which the text of Snow White is followed by two men kissing. Thunska's previous films include the politically and/or sexually provocative Reincarnate and This Area Is Under Quarantine; his new film The Terrorists was screened at Dialogic today, followed by a long Q&A session, as part of the Morbid Symptom film season. (After today, Morbid Symptom resumes on 6th August, and finishes on 17th September; the season is presented by Filmvirus.)

Kiss is accompanied by a collage of images of Black May 2010 and other state-sanctioned violence, including the 1976 Thammasat massacre (which also inspired Manit Sriwanichpoom's Horror In Pink and Flashback '76), Holocaust victims, numerous other corpses, and even a severed head. Fortunately, these images are uncensored, though BACC did censor Black May photographs from last year's Rupture exhibition. There is also a panel about Thanakorn Pakdeepol, who was disgracefully beaten to death in 2006 after he damaged the Erawan Shrine.

Dialogic runs from 21st July to 25th September. Various books by Sulak Sivaraksa, including his banned ค่อนศตวรรษ ประชาธิปไตยไทย, are available to buy from a stall within the exhibition.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Information

The Information
In The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, James Gleick (author of Faster) documents the history of mediated communication and calculation, from the first alphabets to contemporary social networks, and their associated technologies. He also explains how the information we exchange is stored, processed, and organised, from Charles Babbage's mechanical 'difference engine' to the modern computer.

Gleick writes in an accessible and anecdotal style, though he doesn't dumb down the science. The book's scope is extremely wide-ranging; personally, I was most fascinated by the chapters on communications technologies (telegraphy and telephony, also covered in A Social History Of The Media), lexicography (documented by Jonathon Green in Chasing The Sun), and memetics (pioneered by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene).

Convergence Culture

Convergence Culture: Where Old & New Media Collide, in its updated and expanded paperback edition, explores audience participation in the 'web 2.0' era. Author Henry Jenkins dismisses the "Black Box Fallacy" that television, telephone, films, games, and the internet will all be streamed to a single set-top box via a fibre-optic 'information superhighway', and argues instead that the media landscape is becoming increasingly multifarious. He also perceives a shift from passive to active media consumption. These trends converge into a new paradigm: the multi-platform, interactive narratives of 'transmedia'.

Smartphones represent a potential technological convergence, though Jenkins focuses on the synergistic convergence of texts and narratives, with multi-national conglomerates cross-promoting their products across a wide media spectrum. He cites The Matrix as an example of this corporate inter-textuality, with the film trilogy The Matrix I-III followed by a cartoon (The Animatrix), a game (Enter The Matrix), and various comics (The Matrix Comics I-II). These additional products are revenue-generating spin-offs, though they also add to the narrative complexity of the Matrix universe, promoting discussion among fans and acting as an advanced form of viral marketing.

Jenkins's main research interest, and the central focus of Convergence Culture, is the participatory nature of audience responses to contemporary media. He highlights the product-placement, sponsorship, and interactivity inherent in 'reality TV' quasi-documentary series such as Survivor. He examines an individual case-study in each chapter, though these are restricted to either reality TV or 'fan-fiction' - neither of which are genres that I'm particularly impressed by. Jenkins is particularly fascinated by fan-fiction - fans writing alternative narratives for existing characters - though to me it seems marginal and derivative. Regular sidebars, in which he discusses broader trends and contexts, are more interesting than the case-studies in the body text.

While the tools of media production are available to many consumers, we do not all utilise them to their full capacities. Most audience members (fortunately) do not write fan-fiction or create 'mashup' video re-edits. More people read blogs than write them. We do, however, interact with our media more than ever: time-shifting television, commenting on websites, voting for reality TV contestants, collaboratively 'crowdsourcing' data, and of course using social networks.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

"The most humble day of my life"

News Of The World
The Guardian
Rupert Murdoch gave evidence to a parliamentary select committee yesterday, and began by stating: "This is the most humble day of my life". During the committee session, a spectator pushed a custard pie into Murdoch's face, leading to inevitable "humble pie" headlines in today's news coverage.

Murdoch was responding to allegations that News Of The World journalists systematically hacked into the mobile phones of hundreds of celebrities, politicians, and other public figures. The Guardian's Nick Davies (author of Flat Earth News) has been investigating the scandal for years, and his revelation that the News Of The World hacked the mobile phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler caused public outrage when it was published earlier this month.

In a genuinely jaw-dropping moment, Murdoch's son James announced on 7th July that the News Of The World newspaper would cease publication. Its final issue was published on 10th July, headlined "THANK YOU & GOODBYE". Numerous News International journalists, including NI's former chief executive Rebekah Brooks, are facing criminal charges in relation to phone-hacking and the subsequent corporate cover-up.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The (Longer) Long Tail

The Longer Long Tail
Chris Anderson originally formulated his 'long tail' theory in a 2004 Wired magazine article. (Anderson is the editor of Wired, making him one of the most influential figures in technology and media.) The article was subsequently expanded into the best-selling book The Long Tail: Why The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More. The paperback edition contains an extra chapter (on marketing), thus it's been retitled The (Longer) Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand.

Anderson's thesis is that there is a market for everything. Not a potential market, but an actual one: that anything and everything will be consumed by someone, somewhere. He compares the limited selection of products available at bricks-and-mortar shops (where shelf space is reserved only for popular items) with the seemingly limitless diversity offered by e-commerce retailers. He then proposes a paradigm shift in supply-and-demand: catering to niche markets (the 'long tail' of the sales curve) by selling a wider range of products at lower volumes.

As we've seen in the past, wider distribution channels do not always lead to increased diversity. There may be hundreds of cable television stations, though very few of them offer original programming, so choice is only an illusion. Similarly, multiplex cinemas don't offer a variety of films; instead, they show the same blockbusters on more screens. (For instance: a fourteen-screen cinema in Bangkok showing Transformers on twelve of those screens!) More distribution channels just means more ways to receive the same content, as the new channels are all controlled by oligopolies (such as Hollywood studios, TV/radio networks, and online social networks).

Media conglomerates see increased consumer choice as a potential threat, because it leads to market fragmentation: as the number of cable TV channels increases, for example, audiences for terrestrial networks are decreasing. Anderson invites corporations to embrace this trend, utilising the seemingly limitless bandwidth of digital distribution to produce (or aggregate) an endless variety of sub-genres and specialist-interest products, all of which would eventually find an audience.

This theory works perfectly for digital aggregators such as iTunes: Apple can store millions of tracks on its servers, ready to be downloaded by a global audience. Indeed, Anderson sees the digital-only model as the ultimate future of 'long tail' distribution. It's also a potential model for other media, such as newspapers, films, computer games, and software, in their inexorable (and arguably regrettable) shift towards digital-only distribution; it's not applicable to other industries, though.

The conversion from physical to digital ("a progression from the economics of pure atoms, to a hybrid of bits and atoms, to the ideal domain of pure bits"), and especially the potential for an infinite variety of consumer choices, remain utopian ideals rather than realistic objectives. While digital files can be stored, distributed, and copied at no cost, they still have to be produced in the first place. Today, many consumers place little value on copyrighted digital content precisely because it's so readily available; this is a contemporary reality, though it's not a valid business model. The notion of transforming information from atoms to bits was predicted and advocated by Nicholas Negroponte in his Wired columns and his book Being Digital; Anderson appropriates Negroponte's concept without acknowledgement.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

European Union Film Festival 2011

European Union Film Festival 2011
Exit Through The Gift Shop
This year's European Union Film Festival is being held, like last year's Festival, at BACC. The event opened on 7th July, and will close tomorrow. All screenings are free.

The Festival includes Banksy's documentary (or mockumentary) Exit Through The Gift Shop, a profile of fellow graffiti artist Mr Brainwash. It's not clear how much of the documentary is actually true: Mr Brainwash's Warhol-esque self-documentation seems too convenient; his sudden transformation into a conceptual artist (a la Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons), and his absurdly derivative art (inspired by Andy Warhol), are surely satirical rather than factual.

Exit Through The Gift Shop was first shown on 14th July and was screened again today. Banksy, arguably the world's most famous guerrilla artist, also wrote the foreword to Trespass, a history of street art. Mr Brainwash subsequently designed the cover for Madonna's Celebration album, suggesting either that she was in on the joke or (more likely) that she believed the hype.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Que Reste-T-Il De Nos Amours

Que Reste-T-Il De Nos Amours
Napoleon
Pepe Le Moko
Le Grand Jeu
Port Of Shadows
La Bele & La Bete
Que Reste-T-Il De Nos Amours: The Year Before The New Wave Revolution [sic.] is a season of films organised by Filmvirus, screening at Thammasat University, Bangkok, between 17th July and 18th September. All screeings are free.

The season showcases some of France's key films from before the New Wave, opening with Abel Gance's epic Napoleon on 17th July. Two Poetic Realist classics are screened on 24th July: Pepe Le Moko by Julien Duvivier, and Le Grand Jeu by Jacques Feyder. The great director Marcel Carne is represented by Port Of Shadows on 31st July. Jean Cocteau's Surrealist fantasy La Belle & La Bete is showing on 14th September.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Beyond The Crash

Beyond The Crash
After A Journey and The Third Man, the final memoir of the New Labour triumvirate has been published. Gordon Brown's Beyond The Crash: Overcoming The First Crisis Of Globalisation analyses the causes and effects of the recent global economic crisis, and proposes strategies to prevent another boom-and-bust cycle. Brown has often been attacked for his dry and unemotional presentational style, and this book will do little to counter such criticisms. The text reads as if it were a fiscal-policy speech, and is about as engaging as that sounds (i.e. not very).

The book begins with Brown's personal, chronological account of the crisis: a month-by-month summary of his dealings with the UK banks, the G20, and other world leaders. However, his prose is completely dispassionate: he refers matter-of-factly to "whispers of a 'coup' to remove me", though he offers no elaboration. Tellingly, though, his predecessor merits only a single mention in the entire text: "Tony Blair and I had spent twenty years building New Labour".

A Journey (paperback)

A Journey
Tony Blair's memoir A Journey has now been published in paperback, with a new introduction. In his lengthy new essay, Blair calls for an end to the divisive polarisation of left/right politics, arguing that the boundaries between the two traditional opposites are increasingly blurred.

Blair presents some surprising statistics ("China will build seventy new international airports in the next decade"), though his analysis is hardly ground-breaking: his views on current issues (the Arab Spring, the global economy, the future of energy) are all sensible yet predictable. Also, the introduction has a more formal tone than the rest of the book; he doesn't abandon exclamation marks completely, though he does at least put them all on the same line: "listen! Get advice! Seek views!".

Monday, 4 July 2011

"Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai does..."

Yingluck Shinawatra won yesterday's election, and will become the next Prime Minister, replacing Abhisit Vejjajiva. Yingluck is Thaksin's sister; she has no political background, and became leader of his Pheu Thai party only two months ago. Pheu Thai is a reincarnation of the PPP and TRT. (TRT was dissolved in 2007, followed by the PPP a year later.)

Yingluck is the third party leader chosen by Thaksin, after Samak Sundaravej (disqualified for his cookery show) and Somchai Wongsawat (disqualified at the height of the PAD's protests). In fact, one of her campaign slogans was "Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai does", fuelling suspicions that Thaksin is controlling Thai politics while remaining in self-imposed exile.

In a bizarre twist, Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, the leader of the 2006 coup, formed his own political party (Matubhum), and won a seat in the election. (There was never any likelihood of Sonthi being prosecuted for the coup, as Thai army generals are effectively untouchable and the 2007 constitution absolved the army of any liability.)