Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Film Programme

This afternoon's episode of The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4 was a special edition devoted to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which presenter Francine Stock visited the Kubrick Archive. The programme also included an interview with Piers Bizony, author of the limited edition book The Making Of Stanley Kubrick's 2001. There have been several previous 2001 documentaries, notably A Look Behind The Future (produced by Look magazine, 1967) and The Making Of A Myth (Channel 4, 13th January 2001).

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Kubrick Remembered

Kubrick Remembered
Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection
Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection
Kubrick Remembered, directed by Gary Khammar, is a major new feature-length documentary about the life and work of Stanley Kubrick. Like the more comprehensive Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures (2001), it was made with co-operation from the Kubrick estate, and it includes interviews with members of Kubrick's family and the personal assistants who worked for him. It also features material from the Kubrick Archive.

TV documentaries about Kubrick include Stanley Kubrick: The Invisible Man (Channel 4, 20th June 1996), A La Recherche De Stanley Kubrick (Canal+, 1st September 1999), The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick & Eyes Wide Shut (Channel 4, 5th September 1999), Remembering Stanley Kubrick (Channel 4, 12th September 1999), Stanley & Us (thirty-eight episodes; Rai Sat, 1999), and Stanley Kubrick's Boxes (More4, 15th July 2008). There have been three Kubrick radio documentaries: Looking For Stanley (Radio 3, 10th January 1999), In The Director's Chair (Radio 4, 14th October 1999), and A Voix Nue (five episodes; France Culture, 21st-25th March 2011).

Kubrick Remembered was given a brief cinema release this month, though it's most widely available as part of Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection, a new Warner blu-ray box set. The Masterpiece Collection also comes with a book featuring documents and photographs from the Kubrick Archives.

Warner's first Kubrick DVD/VHS box set, The Stanley Kubrick Collection, was released in 1999 and remastered in 2001. Another DVD/VHS collection, Directors Series: Stanley Kubrick, was released in 2007. A blu-ray box set, titled Stanley Kubrick: Limited Edition Collection in the USA and Stanley Kubrick: Visionary Filmmaker Collection in the UK, was released in 2011.

[After the 1999 Stanley Kubrick Collection, the mono soundtracks of A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket were replaced by 5.1 mixes; Dr Strangelove's alternating aspect ratio was fixed to 1.66:1; Barry Lyndon was cropped from 1.66:1 to 1.78:1; and The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut were cropped from Academy to widescreen format. Unfortunately, these changes persist in the new Masterpiece Collection.]

Diorthosi

Diorthosi Diorthosi
On 21st November, police in Cyprus removed photographs from an art exhibition and charged the organisers with exhibiting obscene material. Diorthosi, an exhibition of photographs by Paola Revenioti, opened at the Old Municipal Market in Nicosia on 20th November, and was scheduled to run for three consecutive evenings.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Yingluck: "Someone points
a gun at my head..."

Bangkok Post
Bangkok Post
The Bangkok Post has performed a remarkable act of self-censorship, by printing and subsequently retracting an interview with former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The interview appeared in yesterday's print edition, headlined "Yingluck saw the coup coming" and written by Wassana Nanuam; it was a major scoop, billed as Yingluck's "first public interview since she was ousted", yet it appeared on page three rather than page one.

A Yingluck interview is remarkable in itself, as she is prohibited by the NCPO from commenting on politics. (Contrary to claims by an army spokesman, Yingluck and other political leaders were detained by the military after the coup, and released after agreeing to refrain from political activity.) Her comments in the interview are particularly unexpected, given the ban on criticism of the coup imposed under martial law.

In the interview, Yingluck spoke surprisingly frankly about the military's role in Thai politics, accusing the Constitutional Court and the army of political interference: "I knew from the first day I was prime minister that if it wasn't cut short by the independent agencies or the judiciary, it would be a coup". (Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed by the 2006 coup, and prime ministers appointed by him were removed by the Constitutional Court in September 2008 and December 2008.)

Most provocatively, Yingluck said that she felt as if she were being metaphorically held at gunpoint by the military: "I did my best to fulfil my duty as a prime minister installed via an election and who preserved democracy... It's the same as if the people had handed me the car keys and said I must drive and lead the country. Then suddenly, someone points a gun at my head and tells me to get out of the car while I'm at the wheel driving the people forward."

The article focused entirely on politics, and prominently stated several times that Yingluck may seek re-election in the future: "Ex-premier mulls returning to politics... she has designs on a parliamentary run in 2016... Yingluck said that if in 2016 there is a general election and she is still qualified to stand, she intends to run for parliament." There were only three non-political sentences, giving a rather twee account of Yingluck's daily routine: "Whiling away the time, she now cultivates mushrooms in her garden..."

It was an explosive interview, though yesterday evening the Bangkok Post deleted it from its website and replaced it with a completely rewritten version, headlined "Yingluck focuses on family, not politics". The revised version's emphasis is entirely on Yingluck's private life, with no political content, making it the exact opposite of the original.

The new, much shorter version removes all of the quotes from the original, replacing them with a single new quote: "I've put all my energy in [sic.] taking care of my son... growing mushroom [sic.], reading books and writing. That's all". It was clearly hastily rewritten, as it was not copy-edited before publication. It's also intentionally bland and without any news value. (Surely it's almost unheard-of to write something so deliberately uninteresting?)

The revised article actually contradicts the original interview, claiming that Yingluck has not decided whether to seek re-election: "Yingluck reiterated that her political future was uncertain, including a plan to run in future elections". Indeed, after the original interview appeared yesterday, Yingluck issued a statement denying that she plans a comeback. The Bangkok Post reported her denial today, headlined "Yingluck denies plan to seek re-election", though it made no mention of yesterday's interview which repeatedly stated precisely the opposite.

It's highly unusual for a newspaper to publish such a newsworthy interview and then remove every quote from it, make it six times shorter (only 104 words, compared to 673 words in the original), and rewrite it with an anodyne and contradictory spin. The original publication also raises questions about the writer's motivations, as Wassana sometimes acts as a military mouthpiece and she is certainly experienced enough to know the difference between on- and off-the-record conversations.

(Thaksin has had his own troubles with newspapers, as his unguarded comments have led to controversial headlines. In a 9th November 2009 interview with The Times, he agreed with the interviewer that the Crown Prince's reign "will be a "shining" age". In a 20th April 2009 interview with the Financial Times, he claimed that three privy councillors "told his majesty that they will do a favour for him by getting me".)

Friday, 21 November 2014

"I don't know whether
it's illegal or not..."

The Hunger Games
This week, there has been a new wave of protests against the coup, inspired by the release of the film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I. The three-finger salute used in the film, and other activities such as eating sandwiches and reading George Orwell's 1984, were adopted as protest symbols by those opposed to military rule.

After the 22nd May coup, protests at Victory Monument were tolerated for a week or so, before a police and military crackdown began. Then, opponents of the coup turned to symbolic acts such as the Hunger Games salute, though even these innocuous acts resulted in arrests.

By June, police were being stationed at Victory Monument, Siam Paragon, and other Bangkok venues to pre-empt any possible protests. This, coupled with the detention of critics of the NCPO, effectively ended the protests, and the anti-coup movement apparently dissipated. Since then, the NCPO has implemented various popular policies, such as banning vendors from some streets and beaches (though this is similar to the "Mussolini made the trains run on time" argument: efficiency is no substitute for democracy).

However, the release this week of the latest Hunger Games film has revived the anti-coup protests, and police were again stationed at Siam Paragon. Five students were arrested on Wednesday after they gave the three-finger salute during a speech by PM and coup leader Prayuth. Several other students were arrested yesterday outside two Bangkok cinemas, on the day the new film was released. When asked about the arrested protesters today, Prayuth said: "I'm not concerned about the three-finger salute. I don't know whether it's illegal or not, but it could jeopardise their futures."

Thailand is currently under martial law. However, the anti-coup protesters have all been released without charge, suggesting that their actions are not illegal, and their arrests are therefore intended to intimidate pro-democracy activists.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Thai Charisma

Thai Charisma
Angel Angel
Thai Charisma: Heritage + Creative Power will close today at BACC in Bangkok. (The exhibition opened on 29th August.) [BACC seems to favour '+' rather than '&' in exhibition titles, as in Traces Of Siamese Smile: Art + Faith + Politics + Love.]

Thai Charisma features thirty-eight artefacts from the vaults of the Fine Arts Department, juxtaposed with new works by nineteen contemporary artists. The Fine Arts pieces include an impressive 12th century stone Buddha and Naga statue, and a collection of Bronze Age Ban Chiang pots decorated with abstract patterns. Prasert Yodkaew's sculpture Angel (2012, an eight-armed Buddha holding a cage containing a dead fish and frog) is one of the contemporary highlights.

One of the galleries at BACC has been completely renovated for the exhibition. New walls, and even a double-glazed door, have been installed, to display the Fine Arts Department artefacts.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Taxidermy Art

Taxidermy Art
Taxidermy Art: A Rogue's Guide To The Work, The Culture, & How To Do It Yourself, by self-styled 'rogue taxidermist' Robert Marbury, profiles a selection of contemporary taxidermists and provides a step-by-step guide to DIY taxidermy. Only twenty artists are included, three of whom (including the author) don't actually use real animals in their work.

As the title suggests, Taxidermy Art focuses on taxidermy animals presented as sculptures or installations, not as traditional decorative or educational displays. The specimens have all been manipulated in some way, either juxtaposed with incongruous found objects or grafted together to form hybrid creatures. Very few of the animals are anthropomorphised, in contrast to the twee Victorian tableaux of Walter Potter. (Potter is discussed alongside other taxidermy pioneers in a historical chapter, though this section is brief and unillustrated.)

The selection of taxidermists includes Polly Morgan (whose Psychopomps exhibition was held in 2010) and Sarina Brewer (who uses 'esodermy' to preserve the bones and muscle tissue of skinned animals, in a reversal of the traditional taxidermy process). Damien Hirst's shark (The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living) and Robert Rauschenberg's eagle (Canyon) are described though not illustrated, and other celebrated artist-taxidermists such as Thomas Grunfeld and Maurizio Cattelan are not mentioned at all.

Taxidermy Art is interesting as a concise portfolio of recent taxidermy artworks, though it's not really useful for reference as no dates or dimensions of the works are provided. Alexis Turner's Taxidermy is a more extensive guide to the subject.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A Kingdom In Crisis

A Kingdom In Crisis
A Kingdom In Crisis
Andrew MacGregor Marshall's book A Kingdom In Crisis: Thailand's Struggle For Democracy In The 21st Century (from the Asian Arguments series) has been banned by Thai police. Incredibly, the police did not actually read it before banning it: their decision was instead based on two newspaper reviews.

As the author acknowledges in his introduction, open discussion of the monarchy is prevented by the lese majeste law: "Anyone writing about contemporary Thailand faces the extraordinary dilemma that telling the truth about the country's recent history or politics can only be done by breaking Thai law." A Kingdom In Crisis therefore joins The King Never Smiles and A Coup For The Rich on the banned list.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Interstellar (IMAX 70mm)

Interstellar
Christopher Nolan's Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey as a former NASA pilot who turns to subsistence farming as life on Earth becomes increasingly unsustainable. Michael Caine (who also appeared in Batman Begins and its sequels, The Prestige, and Inception) sends McConaughey and other astronauts (including Anne Hathaway, who played Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises) through a wormhole in search of a habitable planet. The cast also includes (shh!) Matt Damon in a cameo role.

As in Nolan's previous films, practical special effects (such as gimbals) are prioritised over CGI. For the first time since his directorial debut, Nolan worked without cinematographer Wally Pfister, collaborating instead with Hoyte van Hoytema (who previously photographed the more modest Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). The result is an ambitious and spectacular film that should be seen on the largest screen possible.

Interstellar is heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. In both films (and others such as Contact and Prometheus), an alien signal inspires a mission into deep space. Interstellar's black hole is as out-there as 2001's 'stargate', and both films feature artificial environments designed for inter-dimensional acclimatisation. Interstellar's rotating Endeavor spaceship was surely inspired by 2001's Space Station V (itself based on a design by Wernher von Braun). Hans Zimmer's score occasionally references Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was popularised by 2001.

Nolan is sometimes compared to Kubrick, as both directors are famous for maintaining secrecy around their work and for their perfectionist approach to cinema exhibition. They're both also associated with emotionally detached films, and the uncharacteristic sentimentality in Interstellar is its main weakness. As in the climaxes of Contact and AI, there's too much corn, and not just from McConaughey's cornfield. A father's love for his children was an understandable character motivation in Inception, though Interstellar presents it as part of a scientific explanation of cosmic events.

In a Hollywood of lowest common denominator franchises, reboots, and remakes, Nolan stands out as a director of original and intelligent blockbusters. Interstellar is a science-fiction film, though it's informed by research into complex theoretical physics. Similarly, Memento and Inception were challenging films that demanded concentration from their viewers. However, as the black hole approaches in Interstellar, the film abandons its connections to logical science, and it becomes impossible to suspend disbelief. As in AI, it feels as if a mawkish and implausible coda has been tacked onto an otherwise coherent science-fiction adventure.

It also stretches credibility that McConaughey would be invited to lead an interstellar mission immediately after arriving at NASA unannounced, and Caine's line "I can't tell you any more unless you agree to pilot this craft" is best forgotten. Equally unbelievably, McConaughey leaves his family the very next day to begin the mission. Then, as the spaceship approaches a wormhole, another astronaut has to draw him a diagram to explain how a wormhole works. These clunky moments, and the final act's shift from sci-fi into sentimental fantasy, ultimately make Interstellar less satisfying than Inception or Memento.

Nolan shot half an hour of footage for The Dark Knight with a 70mm IMAX camera, and its sequel The Dark Knight Rises contained an hour of IMAX. Interstellar features even more IMAX footage, and is being released in 70mm at selected IMAX cinemas; these prints have an aspect ratio alternating between 1.43:1 (for the IMAX footage) and 2.4:1 (for the anamorphic sequences). The film does indeed look incredible when presented in 70mm IMAX, which has the highest picture quality and largest screen size of any cinema projection system.

Interstellar is also being released in a variety of other formats, all of which crop the IMAX footage to varying degrees. At digital IMAX cinemas, the aspect ratio will alternate between 1.9:1 and 2.4:1. There are also 70mm prints, screening at 2.2:1; and 35mm, DCP, and 4DX releases, at 2.4:1. It's a sign of Nolan's passion for film over digital (shared by Quentin Tarantino, and articulated in the documentary Side By Side), and of his close relationship with the studio, that celluloid prints have been struck in addition to the DCP version.

The distinction between 70mm IMAX and digital IMAX is significant, as digital IMAX uses smaller screens than 70mm IMAX and has a lower picture resolution. Digital IMAX and IMAX DMR are inferior to native 70mm IMAX, though IMAX cinemas are increasingly converting to digital and 70mm IMAX is in (terminal) decline. In Thailand, there are currently five IMAX-branded cinemas, though only the Krungsri IMAX at Siam Paragon (in Bangkok) has the capacity for original 70mm on a full-sized screen.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Love Letters To Dictators

Love Letters To Dictators
Love Letters To Dictators
In his ironically-titled Love Letters To Dictators, Sulak Sivaraksa gives his views on the aftermath of the 2014 coup, the NCPO's administration, and Prayuth's "bring back happiness" propaganda campaign. He praises the UDD: "Many Red Shirts are not pawns of Thaksin Shinawatra. They have bravely struggled for freedom", and he condemns the "corrupt policies of Thaksin and Yingluck". The limited edition book is published in both Thai and English.

Sulak quotes former Prime Minister Praya Pahon's letter of resignation: "I realized that I am army chief as well as prime minister, it appears improper and... will disgrace Your Majesty", and suggests that Prayuth should take heed. (However, Prayuth has since become Prime Minister.) He notes that there was a change in protocol following the coup, such as the ex post facto royal endorsement, "to show that there wasn't any connection between the monarchy and the coup". But then he adds provocatively: "Whether or not this is plausible is entirely a different matter."

Sulak is one of the few Thai intellectuals to speak openly and frankly in favour of democracy and freedom of speech, and against the lese majeste law. Sulak himself has faced several lese majeste charges over the years, and his book ค่อนศตวรรษ ประชาธิปไตยไทย was banned after the previous coup. When he was interviewed by Same Sky, the journal was banned, though the interview later appeared in his English-language book Rediscovering Spiritual Value. Another Sulak interview, in the documentary Paradoxocracy, was censored before the film's release.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films

The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter asked 2,120 members of the movie industry to nominate the best films of all time, and the results were published in its 4th July issue: "the greatest movies ever made, according to Hollywood". The magazine confidently declared that it had compiled "the No. 1 movie list of all time", as it surveyed Hollywood executives rather than readers, critics, or directors.

Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films are as follows:

100. Seven Samurai
99. Bonnie & Clyde
98. Reservoir Dogs
97. Airplane!
96. Pan's Labyrinth
95. Doctor Zhivago
94. The Deer Hunter
93. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
92. Up
91. Rocky
90. Memento
89. Braveheart
88. Slumdog Millionaire
87. The Lord Of The Rings III: The Return Of The King
86. Beauty & The Beast
85. Seven
84. Inception
83. Die Hard
82. The Lord Of The Rings I: The Fellowship Of The Ring
81. Amadeus
80. On The Waterfront
79. Wall-E
78. 12 Angry Men
77. Ghostbusters
76. Brokeback Mountain
75. The Bridge On The River Kwai
74. Blazing Saddles
73. All The President's Men
72. Young Frankenstein
71. Almost Famous
70. Vertigo
69. Gladiator
68. Monty Python & The Holy Grail
67. Avatar
66. The Lion King
65. Raging Bull
64. Mary Poppins
63. Groundhog Day
62. North By Northwest
61. West Side Story
60. Amelie
59. Thelma & Louise
58. Sunset Boulevard
57. The Dark Knight
56. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
55. Taxi Driver
54. Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
53. Good Will Hunting
52. All About Eve
51. The Big Lebowski
50. Jurassic Park
49. Rear Window
48. The Usual Suspects
47. Some Like It Hot
46. Saving Private Ryan
45. Titanic
44. The Matrix
43. Toy Story
42. Alien
41. Psycho
40. Fight Club
39. The Shining
38. When Harry Met Sally
37. Dr Strangelove
36. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
35. A Clockwork Orange
34. American Beauty
33. Fargo
32. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
31. The Princess Bride
30. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
29. Blade Runner
28. The Graduate
27. The Breakfast Club
26. Singin' In The Rain
25. The Sound Of Music
24. Jaws
23. Lawrence Of Arabia
22. The Silence Of The Lambs
21. Chinatown
20. It's A Wonderful Life
19. GoodFellas
18. Annie Hall
17. Apocalypse Now
16. To Kill A Mockingbird
15. Gone With The Wind
14. Forrest Gump
13. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
12. Back To The Future
11. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
10. Schindler’s List
9. 2001: A Space Odyssey
8. ET: The Extra Terrestrial
7. The Godfather II
6. Casablanca
5. Pulp Fiction
4. The Shawshank Redemption
3. Citizen Kane
2. The Wizard Of Oz
1. The Godfather

The list includes only two foreign-language films - Seven Samurai and Amelie - and there are no silent films at all. Therefore it's inadequate as a recommended-viewing guide, though it provides an insight into the films that influence Hollywood executives.

[Note that Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy. Also, Beauty & The Beast is the Disney animated version and Titanic is the James Cameron version.]