Thursday, 22 February 2018

Lahon W Bass

Lahon W Bass
Lebanese comedian Hicham Haddad has been charged with defamation of a foreign leader after he joked about Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. On his television show Lahon W Bass, broadcast by LBCI on 2nd January, Haddad mocked the Crown Prince's human rights record. The editor of ad-Diyar newspaper (الديار) is facing a similar charge: defamation of King Salman of Saudi Arabia, following an article he wrote last November.

After being charged with defamation on 26th January, Haddad appeared on his show four days later wearing a prison uniform. This led to further charges of mocking the judiciary. Marcel Ghanem, the presenter of another show on the same channel, is also facing criminal charges. An episode of Ghanem's Kalam Ennas (كلام الناس) programme, broadcast on 16th November last year, featured a guest who criticised Lebanese President Michel Aoun, amongst other government figures.

video video

Hard Mode

Hard Mode
Comedian Louise Reay is being sued for defamation by her former husband after she joked about him in her Edinburgh Festival Fringe show last year. She performed her stand-up show, Hard Mode, at the Stand Comedy Club from 3rd to 27th August 2017.

La grande illusion

La Grande Illusion
La grande illusion opens next week at Bangkok Screening Room. Jean Renoir's masterpiece will be shown on 27th and 28th February; and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 16th, 20th, 23rd, and 24th March.

Indie in Salaya

Indie in Salaya
Insects in the Backyard
The Thai Film Archive will be showing Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's film Insects in the Backyard (อินเซค อินเดอะ แบ็คยาร์ด) on 24th February, at an event called Indie in Salaya. The free screening will be followed by a Q&A with Tanwarin. The film was first shown at the World Film Festival of Bangkok in 2010, before being banned. It was finally given a theatrical release, albeit cut by three seconds, at House Rama last year. It was also shown last week at the Eat Play Love Film Festival.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Visual Vinyl

Visual Vinyl
In 1977, the exhibition The Record as Artwork: From Futurism to Conceptual Art featured Germano Celant's collection of vinyl records produced by artists. (Celant is more famous for coining the term Arte Povera.) The exhibition catalogue includes black-and-white photos of 100 artists' records, and notes that this is "a whole area of artistic exploration that has not yet been sufficiently documented."

The subject was finally "sufficiently documented" by Visual Vinyl, a 2015 exhibition of records from the collection of Jan van Toorn. The catalogue of that exhibition, published last year, explores the intersection of records and visual art: album covers designed by artists, and artists' records. It features examples from the 1950s onwards, including early Dada and Fluxus records.

The book claims that "Visual Vinyl provides the first comprehensive overview of so-called "artists' covers" - record jackets with ground-breaking designs by contemporary artists." That's not strictly true, because the more comprehensive Art Record Covers was published first, but Visual Vinyl is unique because it also includes images of the records themselves (pictures discs and illustrated labels), box sets, and inserts.

The first illustrated album covers were designed by Alex Steinweiss in the 1940s. Richard Evans' book The Art of the Album Cover covers sleeve design from Steinweiss onwards. Nick de Ville's Album: Classic Sleeve Designs is the most comprehensive guide to the history of album covers.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

One Stand-up Filmmaker

One Stand-up Filmmaker
The Thai Film Archive launched a series of pocketbooks about contemporary Thai directors in 2013. The first in this ชั้นครู series was a book about Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and the third focussed on Pen-ek Ratanaruang. เป็นเอก รัตนเรือง: One Stand-up Filmmaker, published in 2014, includes a filmography of Pen-ek's feature-length and short films.

ตัวตนโดยตัวงาน

Apichatpong Weerasethakul
In 2013, the Thai Film Archive launched a series of pocketbooks about contemporary Thai directors. The first in this ชั้นครู series was a book about Apichatpong Weerasethakul (ตัวตนโดยตัวงาน: อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล), which includes an interview partially translated into English.

Friday, 16 February 2018

เนื้อกับหนัง

Thong Lor Art Space
This month, Thong Lor Art Space in Bangkok is screening a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's new film, Samui Song (ไม่มีสมุยสำหรับเธอ), which is still on general release. เนื้อกับหนัง, directed by Santi Taepanich, opened on Sunday, and will be shown again on 17th, 18th, 24th, and 25th February.

Eat Play Love Film Festival

Eat Play Love Film Festival
Insects in the Backyard
Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's Insects in the Backyard (อินเซค อินเดอะ แบ็คยาร์ด) will be shown tomorrow as the opening film of the Eat Play Love Film Festival. The event, organised by Bioscope magazine, will close a week later.

Appropriately, the screenings will be at ChangChui in Bangkok, where a restaurant also called Insects in the Backyard opened last year. (It's more than just a name, as the restaurant specialises in fried insects. They also have a take-away service: giant water beetles preserved in jars of olive oil.)

Insects in the Backyard premiered at the World Film Festival of Bangkok in 2010, and was promptly banned. It was eventually released, with a single cut, late last year, and will be shown at the Thai Film Archive on 24th February.

My Story

My Story
The Terror of War
My Story
Allergic Realities
This Bloodless War
The Leica camera store at Gaysorn, a shopping mall in Bangkok, has opened a new photography gallery, and its inaugural exhibition is My Story. The exhibition features twenty-five Vietnam War images by photojournalist Nick Út, including his most famous work, The Terror of War, a photo of Kim Phúc, naked and screaming in pain after a napalm attack.

When The Terror of War was first published, on 9th June 1972, Phú personified the Vietnam War's thousands of civilian victims. Kevin Carter's photograph of a starving Sudanese child, and Nilufer Demir's picture of the Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, are among the very few images with a similar impact. (Famously, Carter did not provide any assistance to the child he photographed, whereas Út took Phúc to hospital immediately after taking her picture.)

Út's photograph has been painted in blood by Kosit Juntaratip for his Allergic Realities exhibition, and photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom created a consumerist parody of it, This Bloodless War. My Story opened at the Leica Gallery on 8th February, and will close on 30th April. The exhibition is also being shown simultaneously in Singapore.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

นโยบาย by ประชาชน

Thai PBS
Thai PBS
Internal Security Operations Command, a division of the Thai army, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Isma-ae Tae, a human rights activist. The charge relates to an episode of the Thai PBS television programme นโยบาย by ประชาชน, broadcast on 5th February. In the programme, Isma-ae alleged that he had suffered physical abuse while held in detention by the army.

Isma-ae was detained in 2008, along with five other students, and was released without charge after nine days (two days beyond the maximum legal limit). He filed a civil claim for compensation, and was awarded ฿255,000 in damages for unlawful detention in 2011. (This was increased on appeal by a further ฿50,000 in 2016.)

Defamation is a criminal offence in Thailand, and libel charges are sometimes used to silence whistle-blowers and investigative journalists. In another case involving Thai PBS, a mining company sued a high school student who claimed that a river had been polluted. (The case was later dismissed.) The Nation newspaper was sued for a similar reason. (That case was settled out of court.) Also, a BBC correspondent faced a lawsuit after accusing a lawyer of fraud. (The plaintiff later dropped the case.)

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Jan Dara: The Beginning (DVD)

Jan Dara: The Beginning
Jan Dara: The Beginning (จัน ดารา ปฐมบท), directed by Pundhevanop Dhewakul, is a prequel to Nonzee Nimibutr's original Jan Dara (จัน ดารา). It stars Mario Maurer, who later starred in Pundhevanop's At the Gate of the Ghost (อุโมงค์ผาเมือง). (Both films demonstrate why Mario, a former model, is more famous for his looks than his acting skills.)

For its theatrical release in 2012, Jan Dara: The Beginning was cut to obtain an '18' rating, though a Thai senator started a brief moral panic by complaining that it was still too sexually explicit. (The film has plenty of topless nudity, which is rare in mainstream Thai cinema.) The Ministry of Culture responded by requiring cinemas to check audience-members' ID cards at the box office.

According to the Film and Video Act, age verification is only required for films rated '20', while the lower ratings ('13,' '15', and '18') are purely advisory. The exceptional (and illegal) ID-check was not widely enforced by cinemas, and the film had already been playing for a fortnight before the policy was confirmed. The DVD is uncut (almost half an hour longer), and rated '20'.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Doc Club Theater

Paradoxocracy
Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) will be screened by Doc Club Theater at Warehouse 30 in Bangkok on 15th and 23rd February. It was last shown there a month ago, in the Cinema Journey 20 ปี ภาพยนตร์เป็นเอก season. It was also screened at Alliance Française last month as part of their Pen-Ek Retrospective.

When I interviewed Pen-ek in 2014, he emphasised how politically sensitive Paradoxocracy was: "half of the footage that we have, you can't show to people. You'll just have to bury it in the ground somewhere." His new film, Samui Song (ไม่มีสมุยสำหรับเธอ), is still on general release.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Peace TV

Democracy
Peace TV, a television station operated by the red-shirt UDD movement, has had its broadcasting licence suspended yet again. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission announced that Peace TV must cease broadcasting for fifteen days, from midnight tonight.

The NBTC's ruling relates to three episodes of Democracy (ทิศทางประชาธิปไตย), broadcast on 4th, 10th, and 11th October 2017. The channel's licence was suspended for thirty days last year and in 2016. Its licence was revoked in 2015, though that ruling was overturned by the Administrative Court.

Samui Song

Samui Song
Samui Song (ไม่มีสมุยสำหรับเธอ) is Pen-ek Ratanaruang's first film since his documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย). With Samui Song, he returns to his more familiar neo-noir territory: a lakorn (soap opera) actress hires a hitman to kill her husband, in a setup inspired by Double Indemnity. The film opened in Thailand last week, and Pen-ek took part in a Q&A at Paragon Cineplex in Bangkok on Sunday.

Vi, the actress, feels typecast in bitchy lakorn roles, and asks her agent for an audition with an (unnamed) arthouse director. The agent (echoing a civil servant's comment about Apichatpong Weerasethakul) dismisses his films as boring, and insists that Thai audiences prefer lakorn. In a metafictional twist, the 'boring' film the agent describes is Pen-ek's Invisible Waves (คำพิพากษาของมหาสมุทร), Vi is played by real-life soap star Chermarn Boonyasak, and Samui Song is as melodramatic as any lakorn series.

Vi's husband, Jerome, is rich and successful though sexually impotent. In one sequence, he tries to jerk off, though he remains flaccid. (Surprisingly, the film was released uncut with an '18' rating despite its male frontal nudity.) Jerome is a devotee of a cult-like Buddhist sect, and he even allows its leader to rape Vi. (The sect, whose members wear grey rather than saffron robes, is based partly on the corrupt Wat Dhammakaya.) Pen-ek appears in a TV interview with the cult leader, making merit in the vain hope that his film will be a box-office hit.

Engaging hitmen have featured in several of Pen-ek's films - Invisible Waves, Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), Fun Bar Karaoke (ฝันบ้าคาราโอเกะ) - and Guy, the hitman in Samui Song, is the film's only multidimensional character. (He's a contract killer, yet he also cares for his sick mother.) Guy bludgeons Jerome with a phallic sculpture (as in A Clockwork Orange), though things take a Hitchcockian turn when the murder goes wrong (shades of Dial M for Murder). There is also a Buñuelian influence, specifically from [possible spoiler alert] That Obscure Object of Desire (Cet obscur objet du désir).

At key points in the film, Pen-ek jumps forward in time elliptically, leaving gaps in the narrative. Vi and Guy eventually seem to disappear from the story altogether. In their place, three new characters are introduced: a lesbian couple and their young son. How much of what happens are we supposed to believe? It's possible that the entire plot is a film-within-the-film, the Pen-ek project that Vi initially wanted to audition for. The twist ending offers no resolution to this satisfyingly ambiguous film.

Friday, 2 February 2018

L'Inhumaine

L'Inhumaine
The silent classic L'Inhumaine will be shown at Alliance Française in Bangkok on 6th February. Marcel L'Herbier's film features rapid montage sequences (influenced by La Roue) and is also notable as an early work of science-fiction cinema (predating Metropolis). Most significantly, though, L'Inhumaine is a masterpiece of modernist production design, with Art Deco sets by Alberto Cavalcanti and Fernand Léger amongst others.

The restoration of L'Inhumaine, which includes its original colour tinting, is flawless. The film was restored by Lobster Films, who previously rediscovered the hand-coloured version of A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune) and produced a stunning restoration of Man with a Movie Camera (Человек с кино-аппаратом).