Saturday, 31 December 2011

Le Nouvel Observateur

Le Nouvel Observateur
Le Nouvel Observateur
A special edition of Le Nouvel Observateur, titled Les Arabes, has been banned in Morocco on the grounds that it contains images of Mohammed. However, the magazine, published on 28th December, does not actually include any depictions of Mohammed's face. There have been inaccurate press reports about the magazine, as some articles have confused it with L'Express, which was also recently banned in Morocco and does feature images of Mohammed.

Le Nouvel Observateur did, however, publish unveiled cover images of Mohammed on 10th March 2005 and 30th November 2006. (Other foreign publications - Courrier-International in 2009 and 2011, El Pais in 2009, and L'Express International in 2008 - have also been banned in Morocco, and the Moroccan newspaper Akhbar Al Youm was closed down in 2009.)

L'Express

L'Express L'Express
An edition of L'Express magazine has been banned in Morocco, as it contains depictions of Mohammed. The issue dated 21st December, featuring a history of Arab culture, includes two traditional images of Mohammed. L'Express was banned in Morocco for the same reason in 2008, when it featured a veiled Mohammed on the cover of its international edition. (Other foreign publications - Courrier-International in 2009 and 2011, and El Pais in 2009 - have also been banned in Morocco, and the Moroccan newspaper Akhbar Al Youm was closed down in 2009.)

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Visual Dictionary Of Photography

The Visual Dictionary Of Photography
The Visual Dictionary Of Photography, by David Prakel, is an alphabetical guide to the art and technology of photography. It includes definitions of technical terms and capsule profiles of famous photographers. Each entry occupies a single page, typically with a large photograph or diagram illustrating a few sentences of text.

Primarily a guide to terminology and techniques, the book explains crucial variables such as shutter speed, aperture size, and ISO. It also provides an overview of photographic equipment and camera accessories.

This is a handy little reference guide to the practicalities of photography, covering both analogue and digital technologies. For more comprehensive studies of the art and history of photography, see Photographers A-Z, A World History Of Photography, and The Focal Encyclopedia Of Photography.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei, part of Phaidon's Contemporary Artists series, is the first book to explore Ai Weiwei's entire artistic career. Ai is China's most famous artist, and one of the leading names in international contemporary art.

The book features an interview with Ai by Hans Ulrich Obrist, a survey of Ai's oeuvre by Karen Smith, and a profile of Ai's sculpture Descending Light by Bernard Fibicher. Descending Light resembles Vladimir Tatlin's Monument To The Third International, the never-constructed Constructivist tower; it also looks like an enormous red lantern, and the director of Raise The Red Lantern, Zhang Yimou, was a contemporary of Ai's at the Beijing Film Academy.

Ai co-curated the notorious Bu Hezuo Fangshi exhibition (the Chinese equivalent of Charles Saatchi's Sensation), which introduced a new generation of provocative and taboo-breaking Beijing artists. Always an iconoclast, he was originally known for smashing priceless Han vases. He has also produced Duchampian 'readymades', beautiful porcelain sculptures, and large-scale wooden installations constructed from ancient Ming and Qing furniture.

Phaidon's monograph is a necessary introduction to Ai's background and early work, though Ai is now better known for his political activism. He has become a vocal critic of the Chinese government (unlike Zhang Yimou, who has been accused of producing propaganda), exposing state corruption and cover-ups. He was jailed earlier this year on (presumably trumped-up) tax-evasion charges; he was eventually released, though discussion of his arrest is suppressed and his associates continue to be harassed.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Sex

Sex
Sex, a group exhibition at Toot Yung Gallery in Bangkok, opened yesterday after several delays due to the recent Bangkok floods. The exhibition includes Thunska Pansittivorakul's video The Altar (from last year's Another Side), though as of today the video had not yet been installed.

Sex will close on 20th January next year. It borrows its title from Madonna's controversial book of erotic photographs (Sex, 1992). Also, Mae West wrote a play with the same title (Sex, 1926), for which she was jailed for eight days.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

4th French Open Air Cinema Festival

4th French Open Air Cinema Festival
La Belle & La Bete
The 4th French Open Air Cinema Festival begins tomorrow, with a screening of Jean Cocteau's classic fantasy La Belle & La Bete at Lumpini Park, Bangkok. While last year's Festival ran for over a week, this year's has been reduced to only two days: it will close on 17th December.

The French Open Air Cinema Festival is organised by Alliance Francaise, and screenings are free. La Belle & Le Bete was also screened earlier this year, as part of Thammasat University's Que Reste-T-Il De Nos Amours season.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Headshot

Headshot
To promote Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Headshot, Au Bon Pain restaurants in Bangkok are selling a dossier containing booklets, posters, photographs, sketches, and stickers related to the film. This unusual film souvenir is limited to 1,000 copies (mine being #584).

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Who's There?

Who's There?
The director (Ejaz Ahmed), producer (Washim Sheikh), and publicist (KA Jauhar) of the Hindi horror film Who's There? have been arrested in Mumbai. The three men are facing charges of blasphemy, as a newspaper advertisement for the film depicts Jesus being stabbed while he is crucified. The advert was published by two Indian newspapers, DNA Suday and Sunday Mid Day, on 13th November.

Headshot

Headshot
Headshot
Headshot, the new film by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, stars Nopachai Jayanama as Tul, a hitman who wakes from a coma to find that his vision is upside-down. Tul, a former police officer, was framed for murder when he refused to drop an investigation. After serving time in prison, he is hired to assassinate well-connected organised criminals. (As in The Red Eagle, Headshot's sub-plot highlights and condemns Thailand's endemic political corruption.)

Headshot is a self-styled 'crime Noir', and it does feature many Film Noir characteristics: the plot is told in a series of flashbacks, betrayal and deception are major themes, the female characters are femme fatales, and much of the action takes place at night. Although Tul is an ex-cop, his brutal intensity is far removed from the suave detectives of classic Noir (epitomised by Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep). Headshot shares its inexorable fatalism and moral complexity with Double Indemnity, Touch Of Evil, and Out Of The Past.

The film begins as an exhilarating and violent thriller, establishing its Noir credentials and revealing Tul's motivations and loyalties. In these early sequences, Tul's obsessions with guns and exercise, and his shaved head, are presumably inspired by Taxi Driver. Pen-Ek is in familiar territory here, as his previous films Fun-Bar Karaoke, 6ixtynin9, Last Life In The Universe, and Invisible Waves have also dealt with crime and murder. Headshot is a return to those earlier themes, after his recent films Ploy and Nymph (the latter also starring Nopachai).

Unfortunately, Headshot's second half can't quite sustain its initial energy and inventiveness: the plot twists seem like excuses for unconvincing story elements, and Joey Boy is an unthreatening bad guy. Joey Boy's character tortures Tul by dripping candle wax onto his crotch, though the scene reminded me of the risible Body Of Evidence; riding a bicycle and wearing tennis whites (in a tribute to Funny Games?) further undermine Joey Boy's potential menace.

[In one scene, a hitman dresses in a monk's robe as a disguise, and carries a gun concealed in an alms bowl. For the Thai release, Pen-Ek was required to digitally erase the gun from the bowl, as the censors felt that it was inappropriate for a monk to be seen carrying a gun.]

Friday, 2 December 2011

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the catalogue to Apichatpong's Primitive exhibition, is edited by Gary Carrion-Murayari and Massimiliano Gioni. The slim monograph includes an interview with Apichatpong, behind-the-scenes stills, and even a glossary of Thai spirits; it was published to accompany the Primitive exhibition in New York.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Primitive

Primitive
Primitive
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's multi-screen Primitive video installation opened today at The Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok, and will close on 29th February 2012. The exhibition was slightly delayed due to the Bangkok flood last month.

Primitive is an inter-disciplinary project that includes the short films A Letter To Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms Of Nabua. Apichatpong's feature-length Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which won the Palme d'Or last year, is also part of the Primitive project. The exhibition itself features seven videos: Primitive, Nabua, Making Of The Spaceship, A Dedicated Machine, An Evening Shoot, I'm Still Breathing, and Nabua Song.

Apichatpong has collaborated with The Jim Thompson Art Center before: he gave a talk at the Center in 2008 (Apichatpong On Video Works, part of Tomyam Pladib). He gave similar talks last year at MBK and this year at the National Film Archive.

Aside from Uncle Boonmee, Apichatpong's greatest films are Tropical Malady and Syndromes & A Century. His numerous short films include Mobile Men, Prosperity For 2008, Vampire, For Alexis, The Anthem, and Luminous People.