Friday, 30 September 2011

Sunday Mirror

Footballer Rio Ferdinand has lost his lawsuit against the Sunday Mirror newspaper. Last year, the Mirror published a kiss-and-tell interview with Carly Storey, in which she revealed her affair with Ferdinand, and he sued them for invasion of privacy. The two-page article by Gary Anderson, headlined "My affair with England captain Rio", was published on 25th April 2010.

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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
Peter Kramer's A Clockwork Orange is the latest in the Controversies series of monographs on censored films. As in Kramer's 2001: A Space Odyssey book, his research at the Stanley Kubrick Archive has revealed new details about the film's production.

A Clockwork Orange is almost unique in British film censorship, as it was screened privately for the Home Secretary before its public release. Also, Kubrick famously requested that the film be withdrawn from the UK (not because of its violent content, but because his family received death threats).

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Midnight In Paris

Midnight In Paris
Woody Allen's latest film, Midnight In Paris, stars Owen Wilson as a struggling writer in a mismatched relationship. Wilson is essentially a substitute for Allen, and imitates (probably subconsciously) some of Allen's mannerisms and speech patterns. Allen has played similar characters in many films, including Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Deconstructing Harry. His last film, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, featured Josh Brolin in an almost identical role.

As in The Purple Rose Of Cairo, there's a Magical Realist twist; in this case, Wilson is transported back to the 1920s every night at midnight, discussing his novel with F Scott Fitzgerald, pitching The Exterminating Angel to Luis Bunuel, and falling in love with Pablo Picasso's muse. There's an attention to detail here that's been missing from most of Allen's recent films, and, even though the plot sometimes feels like Goodnight Sweetheart, the film is romantic and charming. Allen continues his European odyssey, after several films in London and Barcelona.

The Film Book

The Film Book
The Film Book: A Complete Guide To The World Of Cinema is a repackaging of Ronald Bergan's book Film. This new edition comes in a smart tin box, though some of the first edition's content has been removed: there are no appendices, and the directors section has been cut by 50%. Bergan's Top 100 Movies list is the same as in the previous edition.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Umong Pa Meung

Umong Pa Meung
Bhandevanop Devakula's film Umong Pa Meung transposes Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon to northern Thailand circa 1500. It was filmed in and around Chiang Mai, with some scenes shot in the atmospheric Wat Umong compound. The cast includes several of Thailand's most popular contemporary stars: Ananda Everingham, Mario Maurer, Petthai Wongkumlao, and Chermarn Boonyasak. (Ananda, Chermarn, and Bhandevanop have worked together on several previous films.)

The plot, in which a monk, a woodcutter, and a commoner discuss a perplexing murder trial, is told in a series of flashbacks, each of which presents a different interpretation of the action. All the witnesses agree that a bandit ties a man to a tree and rapes his wife, though their stories diverge when the husband is murdered. The structure, plot, and characters are all familiar from Kurosawa's original masterpiece.

Perhaps to avoid unfavourable comparisons with Kurosawa, Bhandevanop insists that Umong Pa Meung is not a Rashomon remake. He told The Nation newspaper: "do not expect to see what you see in 'Rashomon'. They are totally different". To further minimise the Kurosawa connection, and to add literary and Thai-historical credibility, the film is being marketed as an adaptation of a play by Kukrit Pramoj. Kukrit reworked Rashomon as a theatrical drama, which Bhandevanop subsequently directed on stage.

Despite Bhandevanop's disclaimer, Umong Pa Meung is clearly a Kurosawa remake. Many shots - such as the woodcutter's entry into the forest, the witnesses giving evidence direct-to-camera, and the triangular compositions of the three principal flashback characters - are direct imitations of sequences from Kurosawa's film.

In a rare deviation from Rashomon, Bhandevanop has chosen to depict the judge observing the witnesses in court, thus distancing the audience. Bhandevanop's most substantial additions are the backstories he develops for each of the protagonists: the upbringings of the monk, the wife, and the bandit are presented as flashbacks. He has also modified the commoner character, who is now reduced to a comically grotesque figure.

While remaking one of the world's greatest films may seem sacrilegious, there have already been several Hollywood Kurosawa remakes: The Outrage remade Rashomon and The Magnificent Seven remade Seven Samurai. Rashomon has also been adapted into a Broadway play and an opera.

Kurosawa's Rashomon was a modest film, achieving success to the surprise of its producers, though Umong Pa Meung is a self-consciously prestigious production, a lavish widescreen epic. In contrast to Kurosawa's emphasis on the subjective nature of truth, Bhandevanop heightens the melodrama and uses frequent slow-motion to romanticise the action. Mario and Chermarn have appeared together in two previous films - Love Of Siam and Rhatree Reborn - though Chermarn is more famous for (and more suited to) her 'lakorn' (soap-opera) roles, and Umong Pa Meung does sometimes feel like an expensive soap-opera.

Following the relaxation of censorship since Rashomon was first released in 1950, a modern remake could conceivably present the central rape and murder more graphically than Kurosawa was able to. (Kurosawa circumvented such restrictions by representing the rape symbolically, with a dagger dropping into the ground.) However, aside from a briefly gory prologue, Bhandevanop's film remains as chaste as the original. Which begs the question: why remake Rashomon, if not to present its plot more realistically?

The answer, and the reason for the lack of explicit sex or violence, is that Umong Pa Meung is intended as a reflection of the Buddhist 'dharma' philosophy. Carried away by this overt religiosity, the film arguably takes itself too seriously, especially during the monk's extended backstory flashback, with earnest dialogue and an unintentionally camp sensibility.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Gagasmicism

Gagasmicism
Gagasmicism
After Carnivalism, Thailand's art scene has coined another new 'ism': Gagasmicism, a multi-media exhibition by Pan-Pan Narkprasert. Pan-Pan's kitsch sculptures are lovingly crafted representations of Lady Gaga as a deity or icon. Gagasmicism opened today at BACC, Bangkok, and will close on 11th October.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Best In Film

Best In Film
Best In Film: The Greatest Movies Of Our Time was broadcast by the American TV network ABC on 22nd March this year. ABC viewers and People magazine readers voted online for the five greatest (English-language) films in each genre:

Comedy

1. Airplane!
2. Monty Python & The Holy Grail
3. Some Like It Hot
4. Young Frankenstein
5. Tootsie

Sci-Fi Film

1. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
2. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
3. Avatar
4. The Matrix
5. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Musical

1. The Sound Of Music
2. Grease
3. The Wizard Of Oz
4. Singin' In The Rain
5. West Side Story

Action

1. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
2. The Dark Knight
3. The Lord Of The Rings III: The Return Of The King
4. Die Hard
5. Gladiator

Suspense/Thriller

1. The Silence Of The Lambs
2. Jaws
3. Psycho
4. The Shining
5. Pulp Fiction

Animated Film

1. The Lion King
2. Toy Story
3. Beauty & The Beast
4. Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
5. Fantasia

The votes for greatest film overall were:

1. The Wizard Of Oz
2. The Godfather
3. Casablanca
4. Gone With The Wind
5. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

I'd like to think that Citizen Kane was #6 on that final list, but somehow I doubt it. (Beauty & The Beast is the Disney animated version; Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece not the obscure 1939 comedy.)

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Life On Air

Life On Air
Life On Air: A History Of Radio 4, by David Hendy, is a meticulous and thorough history of BBC Radio 4. I only started listening in the 1990s, so I was most interested in Hendy's final chapter (covering 1997 onwards). The Pleasures chapter, which discusses the station's most popular programmes, is another highlight.

Cinema: The Whole Story

Cinema: The Whole Story
Cinema: The Whole Story, edited by Philip Kemp, is a decade-by-decade survey of international film. Like Film Factfinder, Film, and The Virgin Encyclopedia Of The Movies, it summarises a wide range of film genres and styles accessibly for a general audience. Kemp's book is especially valuable because, with a team of contributing writers including Sight & Sound editor Nick James and Nightmare Movies author Kim Newman, it's more authoritative than most of its predecessors.

Though broadly chronological, the book organises its discussion of each decade thematically, with chapters on cinematic genres, movements, and regions. Each chapter is followed by double-page spreads profiling key films, together with brief biographies of significant directors. There are multiple colour stills on almost every page, though the book's thick-but-narrow format precludes full-page images.

The content is pleasingly comprehensive, though there are a couple of surprising omissions: there is no discussion of documentary films, and little coverage of technological development. The coverage is admirably international in scope, though some countries inevitably receive more space than others: Japanese silent cinema and Italian exploitation films are both neglected. Unfortunately, there is no bibliography, so anyone seeking recommendations for further reading will be disappointed.

Navigating through the book's impressive content can be confusing. The contents page is extremely minimalist: individual chapter titles are listed only at the start of each section, rather than all together at the front of the book. Expanding the contents page to list every chapter would substantially improve the book's organisation; alternatively, the text could be restructured into three distinct sections - chronology, film profiles, and director biographies - instead of mixing them all together.

The Oxford History Of World Cinema remains the gold standard for single-volume cinema histories, though it's less profusely illustrated than Kemp's book. Cinema: The Whole Story can't quite replace The Oxford History, though it will hopefully revive interest in classic and international films for a mainstream audience. Its awful American title is Movies: From The Silent Classics Of The Silver Screen To The Digital & 3D Era.

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