Saturday, 29 March 2014

Silapathorn: A Decade Of Success
In Thai Contemporary Art

Silapathorn: A Decade Of Success In Thai Contemporary Art
The Terrorists
Thunska Pansittivorakul's provocative documentary The Terrorists will be shown tomorrow as part of an event celebrating ten years of the Silapathorn Award. Silapathorn: A Decade Of Success In Thai Contemporary Art will conclude with a screening of Thunska's film before a play at the Chang Theater in Thonburi, across the river from Bangkok.

Thunska won the Silapathorn Award in 2007. The Terrorists has previously been screened as part of two art exhibitions in Bangkok: Dialogic in 2011 and ประชาเฌอระลึก in 2012.

Thursday, 27 March 2014


Dracula, directed by Todd Browning, was the first official screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's Victorian Gothic novel. The book had been filmed before, as Nosferatu by FW Murnau, though Murnau's adaptation was unauthorised and its American distribution was legally prevented following a lawsuit by Stoker's widow. Murnau's Nosferatu is one of the masterpieces of Expressionist cinema, though Browning's Dracula pales in comparison.

Dracula's script was based on a popular Broadway stage play, rather than being adapted directly from the original novel. As a result, the film feels too theatrical, with long dialogue scenes and characters wandering around large, bare sets. There are frequent silences, accentuated by the lack of a music score, giving the film a stilted and slow pace. Dracula is finally killed in an anti-climactic and perfunctory way, followed by a strangely abrupt ending. (The film originally had an epilogue and greenish tinting, and a silent version was also released; these have since been lost, though a Spanish-language version survives.)

The camerawork is also quite pedestrian, panning slowly away from the action whenever anything horrific happens. Only one sequence demonstrates the skills of cameraman Karl Freund: the fluid camera movement in the establishing shot of the sanitarium, filmed with a dolly and crane. Freund was the cinematographer for several classic German silent films, including Metropolis, The Last Laugh, and Berlin: Symphony Of A Great City; after working on Dracula, he directed Universal's The Mummy.

Count Dracula and Frankenstein's monster are the two most iconic characters in horror literature and cinema. Dracula was not marketed as a horror film (hence the odd selection of Swan Lake as its opening-titles music), though it initiated a cycle of Universal horror films that would continue throughout the 1930s. (For a detailed history, see Kevin Brownlow's documentary Universal Horror.) Immediately after Dracula, Universal released James Whale's Frankenstein, Hollywood's first true horror film, a far superior production inspired by German Expressionism. Frankenstein featured two of Dracula's supporting cast, Edward van Sloan and Dwight Frye; Frye also appeared in Whale's The Invisible Man and Bride Of Frankenstein.

Dracula may be dead, though Bela Lugosi's performance is too lifeless, with his thick Hungarian accent and odd delivery. Later interpretations, such as Christopher Lee in Hammer's Dracula and even Udo Kier in Andy Warhol's Blood For Dracula, have more vitality and menace. Lugosi and Boris Karloff (Frankenstein's monster) later appeared together in Universal's The Black Cat. Lugosi became a rather tragic figure, playing cameos in Edward D Wood's Glen Or Glenda and Plan Nine From Outer Space. He was portrayed by Martin Landau in Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood.

Friday, 21 March 2014

"Don't even dream that
there'll be another election..."

This afternoon, the Constitutional Court declared that the election held on 2nd February was unconstitutional. Citing article 108 of the constitution, which requires that the "election day must be the same throughout the Kingdom", the Court argued that the election did not take place on a single date and was thus invalid.

PDRC protesters led by Suthep Thaugsuban prevented candidates from registering in twenty-eight constituencies, and blocked voting at 11% of polling stations. Suthep's anti-democratic agenda has never been in doubt, though he confirmed it again yesterday: "If the court rules the election void, don't even dream that there'll be another election. If a new election date is declared, then we'll take care of every province and the election will fail again."

The Constitutional Court's judgement is in contrast to its verdict of 12th February, when it rejected calls from the opposition Democrats to nullify the election. Today's verdict is hardly surprising, however, given that the Court had previously nullified the 2006 election. The Democrats boycotted this year's election, as they did in 2006, in the expectation that the result would be voided by the Court.

Today's verdict legitimises the protesters, and reinforces the impression that the judiciary lacks impartiality. The Constitutional Court has a history of anti-Thaksin judgements. In 2007, it dissolved TRT though exonerated the Democrats. The following year, in what has been described as a judicial coup, it disqualified Samak Sundaravej for hosting a TV cookery show, and dissolved the PPP.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Canal Zone

Canal Zone
A long-running copyright lawsuit, involving artist Richard Prince's appropriation of existing photographs,, has finally been settled out of court. Photographer Patrick Cariou sued Prince in 2009, claiming that Prince's Canal Zone exhibition included photographs reproduced without permission from his book Yes Rasta. Canal Zone was shown at the Gagosian Gallery in New York from 17th June to 28th August 2009.

Cariou initially won the case, when the Southern District Court of New York ruled in 2011 that the gallery must transfer ownership of the exhibited artworks to Cariou, and cease distribution of the exhibition catalogue. That decision was overturned on appeal last year, and twenty-five of Prince's works were deemed to have altered Cariou's original images sufficiently enough to qualify as distinctive artworks rather than copies.

The appeal verdict applied to the majority of Prince's exhibited works, though a handful of pieces were excluded from the ruling: "there are five artworks that, upon our review, present closer questions. Specifically, Graduation, Meditation, Canal Zone (2008), Canal Zone (2007), and Charlie Company do not sufficiently differ from the photographs of Cariou's that they incorporate for us confidently to make a determination about their transformative nature as a matter of law."

This week, Cariou received an undisclosed settlement from Prince, and dropped his claim of copyright infringement. Prince's Spiritual America, his appropriation of a Gary Gross photograph, caused controversy when it was censored from the Pop Life exhibition and catalogue in 2009.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Book: A Global History

The Book: A Global History
The Book: A Global History, edited by Michael F Suarez and HR Woudhuysen, is a collection of more than fifty essays covering the entire history of publishing and printing. Most of the chapters are also available in the first volume of The Oxford Companion To The Book, though The Book: A Global History features three additional essays and costs six times less. (The Oxford Companion also includes a second volume of 5,000 shorter encyclopedic entries.)

Each chapter is a concise overview of its topic rather than a comprehensive survey, though all chapters are accompanied by individual bibliographies. The number of illustrations is limited, though the book is elegantly designed (except for the stock photo on the jacket). The scope is truly global, with accounts of book production in more than thirty countries and regions. As the editors write in their introduction, "We have sought not only temporal comprehensiveness, but broad geographical range as well."

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman Month

Philip Seymour Hoffman Month
Synecdoche, New York
Bangkok's Jam Cafe is hosting a season of Philip Seymour Hoffman films this month, as part of its regular Cult Movie Night event. The season is a tribute to Hoffman, who died last month. (Previous Cult Movie Night seasons include Noir Month.)

Tonight's film is Synecdoche, New York, the directorial debut of acclaimed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. It was previously screened in Bangkok last November, as part of the Cinema Diverse season and the 11th World Film Festival of Bangkok.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Godfather Family Album

The Godfather Family Album
The Godfather Family Album, published by Taschen, features photographs taken by Steve Schapiro on the sets of Francis Coppola's Godfather trilogy. The format is similar to Schapiro's Taxi Driver book, with hundreds of photographs accompanied by reprints of old magazine articles about the making of the films. It was first published in a limited edition, though it's now available as a standard hardback.

Schapiro's "two most memorable images" from The Godfather - Marlon Brando holding a cat, and Salvatore Corsitto whispering into Brando's ear - are both included, though the most remarkable photos are a series of candid shots of Brando in the make-up chair, his face being manipulated by two make-up artists. 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, Alfred Hitchcock: Architect Of Anxiety, and Taxi Driver.

This is the latest of several books about the making of The Godfather: previously, Peter Cowie wrote The Godfather Book and The Godfather: The Official Motion Picture Archives, and the screenplay was published as The Annotated Godfather with notes by Jenny M Jones. There are also several versions of the Godfather trilogy itself: the three films are available individually, though there are also two VHS box sets with re-edited versions of the films - The Godfather Trilogy 1901-1980 and The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1902-1959.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Behind The Scenes At The BBFC

Behind The Scenes At The BBFC
Behind The Scenes At The BBFC: Film Classification From The Silver Screen To The Digital Age, edited by Edward Lamberti, is a history of the British Board of Film Classification (formerly the British Board of Film Censors), published a hundred years after the BBFC was founded in 1912. Despite its somewhat cliched title, this is a rigorous and academic history of a century of British film censorship.

Each of the book's eleven essays examines a different period of the BBFC's history, beginning with Simon Brown's meticulous account of the Board's formation and its regulation of silent films. The 1930s and 1940s are covered by Robert James, though Jeffrey Richards, who specialises in the social history of British cinema, has written about this period elsewhere. Steve Chibnall, author of Quota Quickies, discusses 1950s censorship. Tracy Hargreaves deals with the permissive 1960s, and the BBFC's libertarian censor, John Trevelyan. The 1970s are split into two essays: Stevie Simkin explores the wave of sexually violent films such as A Clockwork Orange; and Guy Osborn and Alex Sinclair examine the role of the BBFC's most influential censor, James Ferman.

Sian Barber's essay on 1980s censorship is not really substantial enough, as it devotes only limited space to perhaps the most significant period of the BBFC's history, namely the 'video nasties' controversy and the subsequent Video Recordings Act. (Video nasties have been analysed elsewhere by Martin Barker; John Martin's Seduction Of The Gullible, David Kerekes and David Slater's See No Evil, Karl French's Screen Violence, and Jake West's documentary Video Nasties also examine the video nasty debate.)

In contrast, the final three essays - Julian Petley's summary of 1990s censorship, and accounts by former and current BBFC heads Robin Duvall and David Cooke - are outstanding. Petley, who has written elsewhere about contemporary film censorship and the moral panic surrounding Child's Play III, discusses the classifications of "Carmaggedon" [sic] and Crash. Duvall's chapter, The Last Days Of The Board, takes its title from a television documentary which covered the retirement of James Ferman. Cooke examines the issue of arthouse hardcore films such as Nine Songs, Destricted, and Inside Deep Throat.

The book concludes with a short section on the BBFC's role in classifying online content, and there are also profiles of controversial films including Battleship Potemkin, A Clockwork Orange, Ichi The Killer, and Nine Songs. Mark Kermode contributes a brief foreword, though he does not discuss the censorship of The Exorcist (which he has written about elsewhere, in a BFI Classics book and a Video Watchdog article).

This is not the first study of the BBFC's history. Censored, by Tom Dewe Mathews, also explores the history of the BBFC and British film censorship in considerable detail, and there have been several documentaries on the BBFC: BBC2's Empire Of The Censors from 1995, Channel 4's The Last Days Of The Board from 1999, and BBC4's Dear Censor... from 2011.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

"We will stop closing Bangkok..."

Suthep Thaugsuban has announced that his 'Shutdown Bangkok' campaign, which has disrupted traffic in the city since 13th January, will finally end on 3rd March. He pledged to dismantle his blockades at major intersections, and consolidate his protest camp at Lumpini Park: "We will stop closing Bangkok and give every intersection back to Bangkokians. We will stop closing Bangkok from Monday."

However, Buddha Issara, a Suthep ally who is leading a protest site at Chaengwattana, has refused to withdraw from the area. (Buddha Issara, a Buddhist monk, has also been accused of extortion, after protesting at businesses associated with Thaksin Shinawatra and insisting on payment before agreeing to leave: last week, he demanded 120,000 baht from the SC Park Hotel, which is part of the Shinawatra Group.)

Suthep led protests against the government's proposed amnesty bill last year, and successfully pressured the government into dropping the proposal, though the protests continued to escalate. Protesters blocked the registration of candidates for some constituencies before the general election, and obstructed polling stations to prevent advanced voting. On election day, Suthep's PDRC forced the closure of 11% of polling stations, denying millions of citizens their right to vote.

The decision to end the shutdown is an acknowledgement that Suthep's PDRC has been unsuccessful in its plan to bring down the government. Suthep caused maximum disruption on the streets (as the PAD did in 2006 and 2008), and the Democrat Party boycotted the election (as it did in 2006), recreating the circumstances that led to the coup in the hope that the army would intervene again. However, this time the Court ruled that the election was legal, and army chief Prayut called on both sides to avoid confrontation.

Suthep's public support is also dwindling, and attendance at his rallies has been declining sharply. There were also concerns about public safety, after several deaths from grenades and gunfire aimed at some protest sites: last weekend, four people, including three young children, died after attacks on protesters in Ratchaprasong (close to Siam Square in Bangkok) and Trat (a province on the Cambodian border).