Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Paradoxocracy

Paradoxocracy
Worajet Pakeerat
Paradoxocracy, the new film by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Pasakorn Pramoolwong, is a documentary charting the progression (and frequent regressions) of Thai politics since the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Pasakorn is the founder of A Day magazine; Pen-Ek's previous films include Ploy, Nymph, and Headshot.

Paradoxocracy has a surprisingly conventional documentary structure: chronological narrative, voice-over narration, and talking heads (fourteen prominent Thai academics, not identified until the final credits). One fast-cut montage of newspaper clippings is accompanied by Beethoven's 9th Symphony, as in A Clockwork Orange.

The film's title reflects the paradoxical nature of the 1932 revolution, as noted by Thongchai Winichakul: it supposedly replaced absolute monarchy with democracy, though it also paved the way for Thailand's military to seize power. The transition is discussed at length, as are the massacres of 1973 and 1976.

The roles of the military and the monarchy are, to say the least, highly sensitive topics in Thailand. The army is essentially a law unto itself, and acts with impunity; the monarch is shielded by the lese majeste law. The film begins with Pridi Banomyong's criticism of King Rama VII, though the subsequent roles of Rama VIII and IX are not discussed in the documentary at all. (Saying The Unsayable does debate the monarchy's political influence, however.)

Unfortunately, the fact that the protagonists of recent Thai political dramas are still alive means that Paradoxocracy doesn't include any criticism of them. Prem Tinsulanonda's 'Premocracy', for example, is noted only as a time of economic boom, though its somewhat undemocratic nature is glossed over due to his current status. Similarly, Black May 1992 is not dwelt upon, as Chamlong Srimuang is still politically active. This self-censorship prevents the documentary from fully exploring Thailand's tumultuous political history.

Thaksin Shinawatra does feature, though only his relatively uncontroversial first term in office is covered. (At one point, Sulak Sivaraksa says, "Your movie shouldn't waste too much time on Thaksin", which received a round of applause at the screening I attended.) Thus, the film omits arguably the most fascinating period in Thai politics: the PAD's provocations, the nullification of the 2006 election, the 2006 coup, the 2007 military constitution, the disqualification of Prime Minister Samak, the dissolutions of TRT and the PPP, the UDD riots, the redshirt protests, and the 2010 massacre.

Thunska Pansittivorakul's documentaries This Area Is Under Quarantine and The Terrorists are much bolder in their criticism of contemporary Thai politicians, though consequently they were not classified for distribution in Thailand. Paradoxocracy's release was also delayed due to censorship issues, and a few quotes by Worajet Pakeerat and the typically straight-talking Sulak Sivaraksa have been muted. (A previous Sulak interview, in Same Sky, was also censored.)

Monday, 24 June 2013

Taxidermy

Taxidermy
Taxidermy, by Alexis Turner, is (like The Empire Of Death, also published by Thames & Hudson) a beautiful and fascinating book about a morbid subject. It provides a history and taxonomy of taxidermy accompanied by hundreds of glossy photographs depicting historical and contemporary specimens, from the quaint anthropomorphic tableaux of Walter Potter to the macabre sculptures of Polly Morgan (Psychopomps) and Thomas Grunfeld (Misfits).

Turner discusses taxidermy in natural history museums, interior design, contemporary art, and other contexts. He summarises taxidermy's place in modern art too briefly, though, with no illustrations of works by Robert Rauschenberg or Damien Hirst, and no mention of Maurizio Cattelan. Surprisingly, there is no bibliography.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

New Queer Cinema

New Queer Cinema
New Queer Cinema: The Director's Cut is a collection of articles written by film critic B Ruby Rich, the writer who coined the term New Queer Cinema. Her original New Queer Cinema essay, highlighting a wave of "Homo Pomo" independent gay films such as My Own Private Idaho, was first published as A Queer Sensation by The Village Voice in 1992. It was reprinted later that year by Sight & Sound under the now famous title The New Queer Cinema.

The Village Voice removed some of the essay's original text, and "all prior [sic.] reprints" were based on this truncated version, though this new book prints the full essay for the first time. Other chapters include a survey of gay cinema in Asia (featuring Apichatpong Weersethakul, though not Tsai Ming-Liang). Like Linda Williams's Screening Sex, Rich over-rates Brokeback Mountain. Underground directors such as Bruce LaBruce and Thunska Pansittivorakul are omitted, and recent films such as Weekend are relegated to the conclusion.

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver, published by Taschen, is a collection of previously unpublished photographs by Steve Schapiro taken during the filming of Martin Scorsese's masterpiece. It was first published in a limited edition, though is now available in a standard hardback version. (Schapiro also designed Taxi Driver's theatrical release poster.)

Scorsese wrote the book's foreword; interviews with Scorsese, writer Paul Schrader, and actor Robert de Niro are also included, though they are reprints from other sources. The book was edited by Paul Duncan, who has edited many other film books for Taschen, including Cinema Now, Art Cinema, Horror Cinema, Film Noir, Stanley Kubrick: Visual Poet, and Alfred Hitchcock: Architect Of Anxiety.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ugetsu

Ugetsu
Tomorrow, Bangkok's Japan Foundation will screen Kenji Mizoguchi's classic Ugetsu, as part of a month-long season of ghost films. The Japan Foundation previously presented a screening of another classic ghost film, The Ghost Of Yotsuya, at the 2008 Japanese Film Festival. The Foundation also organised an incredible Akira Kurosawa centenary retrospective in 2011.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Encounter Thailand

Encounter Thailand
I have interviewed director Apichatpong Weerasethakul for the May issue of Encounter Thailand magazine (on pages 36-39). He discusses his entire career: his films Tropical Malady, Blissfully Yours, Syndromes & A Century, Uncle Boonmee, and Mekong Hotel; his Primitive project and other short films; and the Free Thai Cinema Movement.

I edited the February, March, and April issues. My previous articles were published in October, November, and December last year.

PDF

Friday, 14 June 2013

Italian Film Festival 2013

Italian Film Festival 2013
La Strada
The Italian Film Festival returns to Bangkok next month. As a prelude, there will be a free screening of Federico Fellini's classic La Strada at the Italian embassy on Monday.

Last year's Italian Film Festival included a superb retrospective of Sergio Leone's films, and the year before that featured a Mario Monicelli retrospective. This year's screenings will take place at the SF World cinema from 24th to 28th July.

Stanley Kubrick: Fotografo

Stanley Kubrick: Fotografo
Stanley Kubrick: Fotografo is the catalogue for an exhibition held in Italy last year. There have been three previous exhibitions of Kubrick's photographs - Still Moving Pictures, Fotografie 1945-1950, and Visioni & Finzioni 1945-1950 - all curated by Rainer Crone, thus it's surprising that Crone had no involvement with this latest project. (The catalogue was edited instead by Dario Dondi.)

The range of photographs reproduced in Stanley Kubrick: Fotografo is fortunately wider than in Crone's recent books. The images are less manipulated (the original borders from the contact sheets are all visible, for example), though they are similarly decontextualised (without their original titles or publication dates).

There's an interesting trend relating to the cover photos of this and other recent Kubrick books. Of the seven books about Kubrick's photographs, the first four (Ladro Di Sguardi, Still Moving Pictures, Drama & Shadows, and Fotografie 1945-1950) did not use Kubrick self-portraits on their covers, while the three most recent ones (Visioni & Finzioni, Stanley Kubrick At Look Magazine, and Stanley Kubrick: Fotografo) all do.

Kubrick worked as a photographer for Look for five years, beginning in 1945. His contact sheets can now be found at the Stanley Kubrick Archive, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Library of Congress.

Stanley Kubrick
Visioni & Finzioni 1945-1950

Stanley Kubrick: Visioni & Finzioni 1945-1950
Before he became a director, Stanley Kubrick worked as a photographer for Look magazine. Look published hundreds of his photographs over a period of five years, and Philippe Mather's book Stanley Kubrick At Look Magazine analyses this neglected period of Kubrick's career.

Stanley Kubrick: Visioni & Finzioni 1945-1950, the catalogue for an exhibition held in Italy in 2011, is Rainer Crone's fifth project examining Kubrick's photojournalism. Crone previously curated the exhibitions Still Moving Pictures and Stanley Kubrick: Fotografie 1945-1950, wrote the book Stanley Kubrick: Drama & Shadows, and co-wrote an essay (Kubrick's Kaleidoscope) for the Stanley Kubrick exhibition catalogue.

Still Moving Pictures and Drama & Shadows offered a general overview of Kubrick's Look photos, though Crone has subsequently focused on a limited number of Kubrick's assignments. Thus, Fotografie 1945-1950 (co-written by Wouter Wirth) contains examples of a dozen photo-stories, and Visioni & Finzioni includes only nine of them. Crone's various books all offer beautiful full-page reproductions, though each publication recycles the same ever-diminishing selection of photographs. Also, Crone increasingly decontextualises the photographs: he retitles each photo-story, and provides no bibliographical details of the original Look titles or dates.

Kubrick's photographs were first reprinted in the Italian book Ladro Di Sguardi, and mostly recently in the Italian exhibition catalogue Stanley Kubrick: Fotografo. Kubrick's contact sheets can now be found at the Stanley Kubrick Archive, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Library of Congress.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Headshot

Headshot
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Noir thriller Headshot will be screened tomorrow at the National Film Archive in Salaya, near Bangkok. Pen-Ek's new political documentary Paradoxocracy will be released later this month.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Like Mike

Like Mike
Everything Is Fucked
On Saturday, police removed parts of an installation by Paul Yore from an exhibition in Melbourne, Australia. The installation, titled Everything Is Fucked, was part of a group exhibition celebrating the influence of Australian artist Mike Brown, who was prosecuted for obscenity in 1966.

Yore's work includes collaged photographs of children, and a shrine to Justin Bieber decorated with dildos. The exhibition, Like Mike: Now What??, opened on 18th May at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, and will close on 7th July. Five years ago, police removed photographs by Bill Henson from a Sydney gallery.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Freedom On Film

Freedom On Film
Censor Must Die
After a hiatus of several years, the Free Thai Cinema Movement has recently been revived following the confusion surrounding Boundary, a documentary about the disputed Preah Vihear Temple. Last month, the Ministry of Culture announced that Boundary had been banned, though two days later they performed a suspicious U-turn, explaining that the earlier announcement had been made by an unauthorised sub-committee.

Nontawat Numbenchapol, director of Boundary, will take part in Freedom On Film, a seminar on Thai film censorship at BACC today. He will be joined by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who founded the Free Thai Cinema Movement after Thai censorship of his film Syndromes & A Century), Tanwarin Sukkhapisit (director of the banned Insects In The Backyard), and Nonzee Nimibutr (director of Nang Nak).

The seminar will be preceded by a screening of Censor Must Die, a documentary by Ing K and Manit Sriwanichpoom about the banning of their film Shakespeare Must Die. The documentary films Manit as he waits for the censor's verdict on Shakespeare Must Die, and follows him as he appeals against the ban at the Ministry of Culture and files a case with the Office of the National Human Rights Commission.

Censor Must Die's most revealing and depressing sequence takes place in the Ministry of Culture's headquarters: in the lobby is a TV playing a looped video demonstrating the traditional Thai method of sitting in a polite and respectful manner. The Ministry, which should be supporting contemporary Thai art, instead promotes an outdated and patronising interpretation of Thai culture.