Thursday, 25 April 2019

Santikhiri Sonata

Santikhiri Sonata
Thunska Pansittivorakul's Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา) was filmed in Thailand's northernmost province, Chiang Rai, in the villages of Mae Salong and Hin Taek, whose names were changed by the government to draw a line under their sinister legacies. Mae Salong was renamed Santikhiri ('hill of peace'), and Hin Taek became Thoet Thai ('honour Thailand'), though they were sites of anti-Communist violence during the Cold War. Santikhiri Sonata examines this violent heritage - "A lot of people were killed, including villagers" - and includes graphic photographs of victims caught in the crossfire of a 1982 military raid on Thoet Thai.

Similarly, Apichatpong Weerasethakul made several films in and around the village of Nabua, a location with an equally loaded history to that of Santikhiri, as its inhabitants were among the first victims of the anti-Communist purge. In his short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม), a narrator recalls the area's past: "Soldiers once occupied this place. They killed and tortured the villagers and forced them to flee to the jungle." The seemingly tranquil landscapes in Pachara Piyasongsoot's Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ) exhibition also represent politically charged locations. His Nabua (นาบัว) series includes 'No Happiness Other than Serenity', whose ironic title refers to a slogan painted on the gate of a temple used as a Communist detention centre.

Thailand's suppression of Communist insurgents was a guerrilla war lasting almost two decades. A character in Anocha Suwichakornpong's film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) describes how suspected Communists were "thrown out of helicopters or set on fire in oil barrels." Thunska alludes to these 'red barrel killings' in Santikhiri Sonata with a caption describing the elimination of subversives by "pushing them into a 'CXII Red Suitcase'". The Roman numerals refer to Thailand's notorious lèse-majesté law, article 112 of the criminal code, which Thunska addressed in Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล).

Santikhiri Sonata also comments on more recent cases of state violence. Military cadet Phakhapong Tanyakan died during a training exercise in 2017, and his internal organs were removed to prevent an autopsy determining his cause of death. The central characters in Santikhiri Sonata discuss a cadet "whose insides, heart, and brain were all taken out of his body". Similarly, a young human-rights activist, Chaiyaphum Pasae, was killed at a military checkpoint in 2017, and the film describes the circumstances of his death: "eyewitnesses say he was unarmed, and was beaten before being shot." More provocatively, a song composed by King Rama IX, Echo (แว่ว), is repurposed as an ode to Chaiyaphum's memory.

The director's trademark sexual content is also present. In fact, Santikhiri Sonata is his most explicit film since Reincarnate (จุติ). It includes a montage of clips from gay pornographic videos, progressing from 'solo' scenes to hardcore material, accompanied by Jaran Manopet's folk song บ้านบนดอย ('home on the hillside'). (The lyrics at first seem incongruous, though they end with the words "overflowing kindness" as a porn star reaches his climax.) This combination of homoerotic imagery and political critique is a consistent feature of Thunska's films, including This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), and Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ).

Another trait in Thunska's work is the blurring of boundaries between documentary, drama, and autobiography. His films are densely constructed, their fictional narratives accompanied by found footage, historical captions, and on-camera interventions by the director. Santikhiri Sonata is his most structurally complex film, alternating between contemporary naturalism and a dystopian future, with metatextual behind-the-scenes sequences.

Rap Against Dictatorship

Which Is My Country
In October 2018, with the junta still in power four years after the 2014 coup, Rap Against Dictatorship released their debut single, Which Is My Country (ประเทศกูมี), a song condemning political corruption, military impunity, and state violence. The song's black-and-white promo video, directed Teerawat Rujintham, ends with a battered mannequin hanging from a tree, a reference to the corpse in Neal Ulevich's infamous photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre. (Ing Kanjanavanit's film Shakespeare Must Die also recreates Ulevich's photo.)

Whereas anti-coup films and artworks disguise their messages with coded metaphors, Which Is My Country was uncompromising in its criticism of the junta. The lyrics included a litany of political scandals, and the rappers made no concessions to Thailand's culture of conformity, deference, and emotional restraint. This anthemic song succinctly and directly encapsulated the frustration of anti-coup protesters whose dissent was otherwise suppressed.

Comparable artistic expressions of anger towards the state - Thunska Pansittivorakul's documentaries and Vasan Sitthiket's paintings, for example - have not crossed over to mainstream audiences. Which Is My Country, on the other hand, benefitted from its popular modes of expression (rap) and distribution (online streaming): the song's YouTube video went viral, being viewed more than ten million times in its first week of release.

Two days before the 24th March election, Rap Against Dictatorship released their second single, 250 Bootlickers (250 สอพลอ), referring to the 250 senators appointed by the junta in what is destined to be a rubber-stamp Senate. The video for 250 Bootlickers was filmed at Headache Stencil's Thailand Casino exhibition, and the song and exhibition both show how the election was rigged in Prayut's favour. The exhibition's centrepiece, busts of Prayut Chan-o-cha and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra playing a high-stakes poker game for the future of Thailand, perfectly encapsulates the song's theme.

The election was one of the most dramatic, and contentious, in Thai history. Thai Raksa Chart's extraordinary decision to nominate Princess Ubolratana for PM was swiftly rejected by her brother, King Rama X, leading to the dissolution of the party. Since the election, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the progressive Future Forward party, has faced various trumped-up charges. A tentative anti-Prayut coalition led by Pheu Thai has a potential parliamentary majority based on unofficial results, though the Election Commission has not yet confirmed how it will allocate seats under an ambiguous system of proportional representation.

GoodFellas

GoodFellas
If you missed the rooftop screening of GoodFellas at Smalls earlier this year, you can catch it on the roof of The Hive tomorrow. The screening is organised by Bangkok Open Air Cinema Club.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Bangkok Screening Room

Star Wars IV
A Fistful of Dollars
Next month, Bangkok Screening Room will show the original Star Wars trilogy on three consecutive evenings, starting on 3rd May. The cinema will also be screening Sergio Leone's classic A Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari), on 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 12th, and 14th May.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Madame X

Madame X
Madame X
Madame X
Madame X, Madonna's fourteenth studio album, will be released on 14th June, more than four years after Rebel Heart. The album's lead single, Medellín, was released digitally this week, and its promo video will premiere on MTV on 24th April. Crave, Dark Ballet, and God Control will also be released as digital singles. (The Madame X persona recalls the Mistress Dita character Madonna adopted for Erotica.)

The MTV premiere is a throwback to the 1980s and 1990s, when music videos were a staple of MTV's schedule and each new Madonna video was a major event. Madame X also taps into this sense of nostalgia, as the album will be released on a variety of physical formats: vinyl, CD, and cassette. There will even be a 7" single, I Rise, as part of a deluxe box set.

As with Rebel Heart, there are multiple versions of the album, each with different track listings. The standard digital and CD releases have thirteen tracks: Medellín (a duet with Maluma), Dark Ballet, God Control, Future (featuring Quavo), Batuka, Killers Who Are Partying, Crave (featuring Swae Lee), Crazy, Come Alive, a cover version of Faz Gostoso (featuring Anitta), Bitch I'm Loca (featuring Maluma), I Don't Search I Find, and I Rise. The vinyl and cassette editions feature two additional tracks: Extreme Occident and Looking for Mercy. A double CD edition includes a further three bonus tracks: Funaná, Back That Up to the Beat, and Ciao Bella.

There are also three different album covers (again, as was the case with Rebel Heart). The most striking cover shows the album title sewn onto Madonna's lips, perhaps a reference to her mother's death. (The promo video for Oh Father dramatises a flashback to her mother's open-casket funeral, showing her mouth sewn shut.) This cover, which also evokes Frida Kahlo's self-portraits, features on the vinyl, cassette, and standard CD editions. On the double CD cover, Madonna poses with a guitar. The box set cover shows her with plaited blonde hair.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

"I consider the allegation...
implausible and improbable"

The Daily Telegraph
Geoffrey Rush has won his libel case against The Daily Telegraph, and has been awarded $850,000 in damages. The newspaper, published in Sydney, alleged in 2017 that Rush had been accused of "inappropriate behaviour" by a colleague at the Sydney Theatre Company. Rush's accuser was Eryn Jean Norvill, who appeared with him in a production of King Lear; she alleged that he had groped her during a preview performance.

In a written judgement issued on 11th April, Justice Michael Wigney concluded that Norvill's claims were baseless, and that Rush was beyond reproach: "I consider the allegation and Ms Novill's [sic.] evidence concerning it to be somewhat implausible and improbable. Mr Rush was a dedicated actor and consummate professional." (The judgement begins, somewhat pretentiously, by quoting several lines from the play.)

Friday, 5 April 2019

Bangkok Joyride IV

Bangkok Joyride IV
Ing Kanjananvanit's epic documentary Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์) continues with its fourth instalment, Becoming One (เป็นหนึ่งเดียว), playing now at Cinema Oasis in Bangkok. The series, shot on Ing's iPhone, is an exhaustive record of the PDRC campaign against Yingluck Shinawatra. In part four, a protester claims that Yingluck's brother, Thaksin, is "worse than Hitler", echoing an equally hyperbolic quote from Ing's earlier documentary, Citizen Juling (พลเมืองจูหลิง): "We talk of Hitler... But villagers, all citizens nowadays fear PM Thaksin 10 times more."

Bangkok Joyride covered the early stages of the PDRC's campaign in parts one and two, How We Became Superheroes (เมื่อเราเป็นยอดมนุษย์) and Shutdown Bangkok (ชัตดาวน์ประเทศไทย). Part three, Singing at Funerals (เพลงแห่ศพ), covered the buildup to the 2014 election. Part four covers the protests from 26th January to 8th February 2014, including the 2nd February election.

The PDRC sabotaged the election, blockading polling stations to prevent voting. (It was ultimately invalidated, and the military launched a coup before another poll could take place.) Despite this, Bangkok Joyride celebrates the protesters, and in parts three and four Ing herself appears on stage at PDRC rallies. She can also be heard from behind the camera, wishing the protesters luck; in part four, she tells a demonstrator: "We fight the exact same battle."

In part three, Ing accused the mainstream Western media of pro-Thaksin bias, and this conspiracy theory is expanded in part four when she harangues the BBC's Bangkok correspondent, Jonathan Head: "How do you sleep at night, Mr Head?" Bangkok Joyride's fetishisation of national symbols also continues in part four: protesters are filmed while standing for the national anthem, not once but five times.

Part five, Dancing with Death (รำวงพญายม), will be released later this year. Meanwhile, Neti Wichiansaen's documentary Democracy after Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย), which highlights the PDRC's anti-democratic agenda, provides an effective counterpoint to Bangkok Joyride. The short films This Film Has Been Invalid [sic.], Auntie Has Never Had a Passport (ดาวอินดี้), Shut Sound, Myth of Modernity, and Here Comes the Democrat Party (ประชาธิปัตย์มาแล้ว) also include footage of PDRC demonstrations.

Monday, 1 April 2019

"We apologise to Mr Poroshenko
for any distress caused..."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has received a financial settlement from the BBC, after he sued the broadcaster for defamation. In a report by Paul Wood broadcast on 23rd May 2018, BBC News alleged that Poroshenko had paid Michael Cohen $400,000 to secure a meeting with Donald Trump in 2017. (At the time, Cohen was Trump's personal lawyer, though he has since been convicted of election campaign violations and other offences.) In a statement, the BBC said: "We apologise to Mr Poroshenko for any distress caused and have agreed to pay him damages".

Psycho Legacy Collection
Deluxe Edition

The Psycho Legacy Collection Deluxe Edition was released in Germany earlier this year. It includes an uncut version of Psycho that has been broadcast on television in Europe but has never previously been available on any video format.