Sunday, 30 September 2018

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide:
The Modern Era

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide: The Modern Era
Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide was first published in the US in 1969, and its final edition appeared forty-five years later. That edition was reprinted last year, with a new subtitle (The Modern Era). Misleadingly, the cover claims "300+ NEW ENTRIES", though as Maltin makes clear in his introduction, there are "no new reviews in this volume."

The book includes capsule reviews of films released since 1965, along with selected older classics. Most pre-1965 reviews were moved to a different book, the Classic Movie Guide, though this resulted in some duplication and inconsistency. Many pre-1965 films are reviewed in both The Modern Era and the Classic Movie Guide, and The Modern Era's cross-referencing to the Classic Movie Guide seems arbitrary. Also, foreign-language films are listed only by their English titles, with no alternative title index.

The annual film guide is now a thing of the past, as the last remaining example, the Radio Times Guide to Films 2019, had its publication cancelled this week. (The Guide to Films 2018, published last year, is now the final edition.) Maltin's closest UK equivalent, Leslie Halliwell's phone-directory-sized Film Guide, ended ingnominiously in 2008 as The Movies that Matter. The superb Time Out Film Guide ceased publication in 2012. The Virgin Film Guide and Empire Film Guide, both offering longer reviews of fewer films, ended in 2005 and 2007, respectively.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Democracy after Death

Democracy after Death
Democracy after Death
Neti Wichiansaen's documentary Democracy after Death: The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย เรื่องเศร้าของลุงนวมทอง) is an account of Thailand's recent political history, bookended by the coups of 2006 and 2014. These events are narrated in a voiceover addressed to Nuamthong Praiwan, a pro-democracy protester who committed suicide in 2006. Nuamthong was also the subject of Prap Boonpan's short film Letter from the Silence (จดหมายจากความเงียบ).

The film covers Thailand's polarisation between the PAD and UDD protesters, culminating in the military crackdown of 2010, "the most brutal political massacre in Thai history." As in Thunska Pansittivorakul's The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), former prime minister Abhisit is blamed for the massacre: "Directly responsible, Abhisit Vejjajiva holds Thailand's new record of the number of people shot by the military."

Democracy after Death is significant for its inclusion of sensitive political events excluded from Pen-ek Ratanaruang's documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย). It's also a refreshing counterpoint to Ing Kanjanavanit's Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์), as it highlights the underhand tactics of the PDRC movement (extorting money and sabotaging the 2014 election). Whereas Bangkok Joyride is pro-PDRC, Democracy after Death is biased in favour of Thaksin Shinawatra, noting sympathetically that he "was forced to leave and has had to remain outside Thailand" though ignoring his corruption conviction.

The film's director is also living in exile, due to a previous lèse-majesté prosecution, and Democracy after Death has been self-censored to avoid further charges. A photograph of the junta and Rama IX on the night of the 2006 coup has been pixelated, and a soldier's pledge of loyalty to the king has been bleeped out. Like the short film Narayana's Arrow Spaceship: Between the Orbits of Mars and Jupiter (ยานศรนารายณ์ ระหว่างวงโคจรดาวอังคารและดาวพฤหัสฯ), the credits are also self-censored.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

BNK44

BNK44
A punk concert was cancelled last night after its venue, the Overstay hostel in Bangkok, was raided by the police. The event was titled BNK44, a reference to the sweeping powers granted to the junta under article 44 of the constitution, and a pun on the Thai pop group BNK48. The planned concert was organised by the team behind จะ4ปีแล้วนะ, which was raided by police earlier this year.

"Attacked by Freddy Krueger..."

The Sun
Elton John accepted damages from The Sun yesterday, after suing the newspaper for libel. In a front-page story published on 11th February, The Sun on Sunday alleged that one of John's dogs had savagely attacked a toddler, and that he was not concerned about the victim's injuries. A double-page spread described the victim as "looking like she was attacked by Freddy Krueger" and claimed that she was "yet to receive a phone call from Sir Elton," though his solicitor argued that "the injuries were not serious" and that John had "made several inquiries about the girl's welfare".

The Sun has a history of libellous articles about John, including a previous story that also involved his dogs. On 28th September 1987, the newspaper falsely claimed that he had arranged for his dogs' vocal chords to be removed, in a front-page story headlined "MYSTERY OF ELTON'S SILENT DOGS". On the first day of that libel trial, 12th December 1988, The Sun agreed to a record £1 million damages payment and apologised with the front-page headline "SORRY ELTON". (It was also an injunction against The Sun on Sunday by John and his husband that led to the "PJS" privacy case.)

PDF

Whitewash

Whitewash
Harit Srikhao's first photobook, Whitewash, was published last year. The book (with a die-cut cover) includes images from his exhibition of the same name, which was censored by the military. As the book is spiral-bound, double-page spreads are bisected by the plastic binding. Images from Whitewash are currently on show in Germany, as part of the group exhibition Absurdity in Paradise. Harit also co-directed sPACEtIME and Homogeneous, Empty Time.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Modernist Design Complete

Modernist Design Complete
Dominic Bradbury's Modernist Design Complete (which will be published next month) is the fourth in a series of comprehensive design surveys from Thames & Hudson. Like its predecessors - Mid-Century Modern Complete (also edited by Bradbury), Art Deco Complete, and Postmodern Design Complete - it includes profiles of major designers alongside essays on furniture, lighting, graphics, ceramics, and industrial design.

There is some overlap with Art Deco Complete, as Bradbury recognises in his introduction: both books discuss the Streamline Moderne style, "which crossed the boundaries of both Art Deco and modernist design". Christopher Wilk's Modernism explores the cultural impact of Modernism, and the second volume of Victor Margolin's World History of Design is the definitive global history of Modernist design, though Modernist Design Complete is a (primarily) visual survey of the movement, with hundreds of colour photographs.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Fear

Fear
Bob Woodward's Fear: Trump in the White House is the latest book on the Trump presidency, after Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury. Whereas Wolff's book was a gossipy account of palace intrigue, Woodward focuses on policymaking (and unmaking), though both writers portray a chaotic White House led by a president unfit for office. Both books were also instant bestsellers; Fear has already sold over a million copies, only a few days after publication.

Fear begins with Trump's former chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, taking a draft letter from the Oval Office, to stop Trump withdrawing from a bilateral trade agreement with South Korea: "I stole it off his desk... He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country." In case this seems far-fetched, Woodward reproduces the actual document, and adds that Cohn, and former staff secretary Rob Porter, also removed similar letters that would have pulled the US out of NAFTA and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

These incidents confirm the gist of the anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times on 6th September, which revealed an internal Trump resistance campaign: "many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations." (Although, despite the efforts of Cohn, Porter, and the "senior official" who wrote the op-ed, Trump's nationalist instincts ultimately prevailed, and he withdrew from NAFTA and the climate accord.)

Such attempts to subvert a president's agenda are not completely unprecedented. Ron Suskind's book Confidence Men claims that President Obama's Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ignored Obama's directive to restructure Citibank after the 2008 financial crisis, and that Obama's authority was "systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers." Suskind's book has been criticised for its errors and exaggerations, though whatever the truth about the Obama administration, the West Wing's challenging of Trump's decision-making is much more blatant.

Unlike Suskind (and Wolff, whose book also contained mistakes), Woodward's journalistic reputation is second to none. He investigated Watergate with Carl Bernstein, and has covered Washington politics for almost fifty years; his previous books include two studies of the Obama administration (Obama's Wars and The Price of Politics).

Woodward also relies on contemporaneous documents, such as the South Korea letter, adding even more credibility to his account. Another document obtained by Woodward, the minutes of a security meeting, is an official summary of the West Wing's concerns about Trump (and it reads like a preview of the op-ed): "many of the president's senior advisers... are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views."

Fear quotes senior staffers expressing these feelings more directly: former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (as previously reported) calls Trump "a fucking moron," and according to Chief of Staff John Kelly, "He's an idiot... He's gone off the rails. We're in crazytown." The book ends with Trump's former lawyer John Dowd calling him "a fucking liar" though the quote's impact is slightly diluted because it also appears a few pages previously. ("He could not say what he knew was true: "You're a fucking liar." That was the problem.")

Woodward conducted interviews on 'deep background', though his key sources are fairly identifiable. White House meetings and conversations are transcribed at length, in quotation marks, though the dialogue is presumably reconstructed rather than verbatim. (This is problematic, though it's become standard practice in memoirs.) Dowd, for example, provides extensive quotes, most notably from his meetings with Robert Mueller. These are the first insights yet into the leak-proof Mueller investigation, and Dowd quotes Mueller twice asking about any "corrupt intent" on Trump's part.

Trump declined to be interviewed for the book. Woodward released a recording of a phone call with Trump last month, in which Trump initially denied, then admitted, being asked to participate. Wolff did interview Trump, though he overstated his access. Trump also spoke to Ronald Kessler, for his hagiographic The Trump White House, in what Kessler claimed was "the only interview for a book Trump said he has given or will give as president".

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Someone from Nowhere

Someone from Nowhere
[Spoiler alert: this review reveals the film's ending.] Prabda Yoon's directorial debut, Motel Mist (โรงแรมต่างดาว) was a study of sexual politics and power dynamics, though it also had a political subtext, signalled by a shot of Bangkok's Democracy Monument in the wing mirror as a car drives away. In Prabda's more compelling second film Someone from Nowhere (มา ณ ที่นี้), the entire plot, location, and characters are all political metaphors.

The film takes place in a condo called Liberty Land, which becomes a microcosm for the country (as 'Thai' means 'liberated'). The condo's apparent owner, a young woman, goes about her morning routine: swimming, greeting various neighbours, and taking a shower. But then she discovers an injured man outside her front door, and phones the condominium staff and the police for help. Meanwhile, the man claims to be the condo's rightful owner, demanding: "The only thing I want is to have this place back." She insists that he's lying, and replies: "I won't let you people get away with this atrocity."

To all intents and purposes, the condo is hers, though her deeds of ownership are blank pages, and the assistance she called for never arrives. The analogy to the 2014 coup is clear: like Yingluck Shinawatra, the woman is intimidated by a powerful intruder (the man, representing the military reclaiming its traditional rights); she has no legal defence (her deeds were erased, just as the constitution was abrogated); and she receives no external support (Thailand's judicial system and police force didn't intervene to prevent the coup). The film's political subtext becomes increasingly direct, culminating with the national anthem playing as the man and woman stab each other.

Like Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก), the film's repetitive structure highlights the cyclical nature of the military's interventions. The man places the woman's unconscious body outside, and assumes occupancy of the condo, going through the same morning routine as she did. He then discovers her outside the door, whereupon she claims to be the rightful owner and he insists that she's mistaken. By implication, the two protagonists have relived the same debate, with alternating roles, many times over (symbolising Thailand's transitions between military and civilian rule). Their apparent amnesia echoes the national tendency to gloss over repeated acts of political violence (as the title of Napat Treepalawisetkun's short film We Will Forget It Again also implies).

Someone from Nowhere's title ostensibly refers to the injured man, as the woman occupies the condo when the film begins and the audience's sympathies initially lie with her. But there are also suggestions that the woman is the interloper: the neighbours didn't acknowledge her during her morning routine, for example, while they readily converse with the man. One neighbour tells him that there's been no good news for eighty years, suggesting that the condo's residents harken back to the pre-democratic era before the 1932 revolution, and therefore that they accept him (the symbol of authoritarianism) rather than her (a disruption of the status quo).

Motel Mist

Motel Mist
Motel Mist (โรงแรมต่างดาว), the directorial debut of writer Prabda Yoon, was dropped by its distributor, TrueVisions, the day before its scheduled release date. Apparently, the studio hadn't anticipated such a risqué drama, and Prabda organised an independent release a month later. The studio's name was removed from the credits, though the film still includes plenty of product placement for the company, as an entire subplot is told via TNN, the TrueVisions news channel.

The title refers to Motel Mistress, the 'love motel' where the majority of the film is set, and there are knowing references to Psycho, with the motel clerk's peephole hidden behind a painting. The standout scene, though, is the journey to the motel (driving symbolically away from Bangkok's Democracy Monument): a middle-aged man picks up a teenage prostitute, and their awkward fumble is choreographed to Bizet's Carmen.

After more kinkiness at the motel, the revenge plot kicks in, as the young woman humiliates the man who exploited her. But this is the film's least effective sequence, as it's tacky (with slow-motion shots of wobbly dildos) and lacks any suspense.

Thai Politics VII

Thai Politics VII
Thai Politics VII
Artist Miti Ruangkritya published Thai Politics VII last year in an edition of 500 numbered copies (of which mine is number 174), as part of his Thai Politics series of works inspired by Thailand's recent political polarisation. The booklet consists entirely of photographs (sourced from social media) of televisions showing NCPO announcements after the 2014 coup, indicating the omnipresence of military propaganda. (Danaya Chulphuthiphong's short film Night Watch made a similar point, showing a television with the NCPO logo on almost every channel.)

Storytellers of the Town

Storytellers of the Town
Storytellers of the Town, edited by John Clark, was published to accompany a 2014 exhibition by Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook in Australia. The catalogue includes stills from videos in which Araya addresses female corpses (Conversation I, I'm Living, and The Class), though it also features images of her more recent work, The Treachery of the Moon. For this twelve-minute video, Araya projected footage of the 2010 UDD protests onto her surroundings as she sat watching a lakorn (soap opera) on television. Araya's work was also included in Art and Words (ศิลปะกับถ้อยความ), though Storytellers of the Town has a more comprehensive bibliography.

Khaki Capital

Khaki Capital
Khaki Capital: The Political Economy of the Military in Southeast Asia, published last year, examines the military's tendency to exert its influence beyond the barracks, into national economics and politics. The book includes chapters on Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Editors Paul Chambers and Napisa Waitoolkiat chart the history of the Thai military's state interventions, and the reasons behind its impunity: "The symbiosis of monarchy and military has created a sense of entitlement among the armed forces, especially to its right to influence decision-making regarding national security and national development." They also provide a detailed analysis of the 2014 coup.

Although the book is available in Thailand, some of its contents (such as its assessment of "the most remarkable instance of military corruption under the NCPO junta") cannot be cited online. Its editors also contributed to Military, Monarchy and Repression, an anthology of essays on Thailand's judicial, military, and political tensions.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Chronicle of a Summer

Chronicle of a Summer
Bangkok's Doc Club Theater will be showing the classic Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d'un été) this month at Warehouse 30. This self-reflexive documentary is an experiment in filming truth, which director Jean Rouch readily acknowledges is a contradiction in terms. It is also the first example of cinéma vérité, a style that developed in parallel with the non-participatory 'direct cinema' movement pioneered in the US with documentaries such as Primary and Dont Look Back. Chronicle of a Summer will be shown on 14th, 20th, 22nd, 24th, and 30th September.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

J-Anime Movie

J-Anime Movie
Spirited Away
Bangkok's TK Park will host a weekend of Japanese animation at the end of this month. The event, J-Anime Movie (อนิเมะ...อันนี้มันส์) will take place on 29th and 30th September, and will open with Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し).

Monday, 3 September 2018

Bangkok Screening Room

Tokyo Story
Suspiria
Bangkok Screening Room will shortly be showing two polar opposite classics of world cinema. Yasujirō Ozu's Tokyo Story (東京物語) is a masterpiece of visual restraint, with its measured pace and stationary camera, and it appeared on Sight and Sound's decennial film poll in 1992, 2002, and 2012. Dario Argento's horror film Suspiria, on the other hand, is an exercise in Baroque excess, with stylised violence and Expressionist set designs.

Tokyo Story will be shown on 14th, 15th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 23rd, 25th, and 29th September. Suspiria is screening on 18th, 19th, 21st, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 30th, and 31st October; and 3rd, 4th, and 6th November. There will also be a screening of Suspiria on 20th October, with a live soundtrack performed by Pakorn Musikaboonlert.