Sunday, 25 October 2020

1001 Movies
You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
The 2020 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was published earlier this month. Edited by Steven Jay Schneider, the first edition appeared in 2003, minor revisions were made in 2004, and it has been updated annually ever since (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019).

This year’s edition, revised by Ian Hayden Smith, features thirteen new titles. All of the new entries, with one exception, were released in 2019: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, Parasite (기생충), For Sama (من أجل سما‎), Little Women, The Farewell (别告诉她), Monos, Booksmart, The Lighthouse, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu), Joker, Avengers: Endgame, and Toy Story IV. The exception is Lamerica, from 1994.

Although thirteen films were added, only eleven were deleted, because Avengers: Endgame was combined with Avengers: Infinity War as a single entry, and Toy Story IV was added to the single entry for all of the Toy Story films. The eleven deletions are: A Star Is Born (the Bradley Cooper remake); Vice; The Greatest Showman; Crazy Rich Asians; Mother!; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Wadjda (وجدة‎); American Beauty; Gangs of New York; and The Blue Kite (藍風箏).

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Nang Nak

Nang Nak
Lido Connect, in downtown Bangkok, will celebrate Halloween with a screening of Nonzee Nimibutr’s classic horror film Nang Nak (นางนาก) on 31st October. Both a critical and commercial success, the film is one of the most famous adaptations of the Mae Nak ghost story, and one of the milestones of the Thai New Wave.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Rage

Rage
Bob Woodward’s Rage was released last month, making headlines with Donald Trump’s admission that he deliberately minimised the threat of coronavirus (“I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic”). Already, that seems like ancient history, given the variety of jaw-dropping Trump revelations over the past two months: The Atlantic’s story that he called America’s war dead “suckers and losers”, the report in The New York Times that he paid only $750 in income tax and has debts of $400 million; and, of course, his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Trump’s “playing it down” comment came in one of the seventeen interviews he gave to Woodward, an unprecedented level of cooperation. After an initial Oval Office interview with aides present, most of the subsequent conversations took place via a private telephone line, and Trump seemingly forgot that he was speaking on-the-record. He called George W. Bush “a stupid moron,” and dismissed his concessions to Kim Jong-un: “I met. Big fucking deal.”

Trump criticised Woodward’s previous book, Fear, as “a con on the public” in a 2018 tweet. Senator Lindsey Graham apparently convinced him to cooperate with Woodward for Rage, and Graham was one of many current and former Trump associates who spoke to Woodward. The book’s other major sources appear to be Rex Tillerson (former Secretary of State), James Mattis (former Secretary of Defense), Dan Coats (former Director of National Intelligence), and Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law).

In Fear, Woodward revealed that Trump had mocked his military top brass at a 2017 Pentagon meeting. Another Trump book, A Very Stable Genius, later confirmed that Trump had called his generals “a bunch of dopes and babies.” Now, in Rage, Woodward goes one further, reporting that Trump told one of his senior staff: “my fucking generals are a bunch of pussies.”

Fear reproduced a draft letter withdrawing from a trade agreement with South Korea. For Rage, Woodward obtained not just one document but twenty-five: the “almost romantic” letters exchanged between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Kim’s letters are absurdly sycophantic, in a calculated appeal to Trump’s love of flattery and sense of grandiosity: he tells Trump that “every minute that we shared... remains a precious memory.”

Woodward ends the book with his own opinion of the Trump presidency: “Trump is the wrong man for the job.” Given Trump’s 20,000 lies (as documented by The Washington Post) and his many deplorable statements (“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be”; “very fine people, on both sides”; “I would like you to do us a favour, though”), this is a vast understatement.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Same Sky Books

Same Sky
Nattapoll Chaiching
Nattapoll Chaiching
Thongchai Winichakul
Thongchai Winichakul
Anti-government rallies have been held in Bangkok on a daily basis since 14th October, when around 10,000 protesters marched from Democracy Monument to Government House. Around 20,000 people gathered at Ratchaprasong intersection on 15th October, and several thousand at Siam Square on 16th October. On 17th October, protests took place at Udom Suk, Lat Phrao, and Wong Wian Yai. Yesterday, there were rallies at Victory Monument and Asoke.

The protesters, led by two student groups (Free People, and the more radical United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration) are calling for a democratic political process: a new constitution and election, free from military interference. Protest slogans include “ai hia Tu” (‘ai hia is a strong insult, and Tu is Prayut Chan-o-cha’s nickname), though there is also increasingly open criticism of the monarchy. The protests began a few months ago in Bangkok, though there have been smaller rallies in many provinces since then.

The protest leaders were arrested on 15th October, though the rallies have continued regardless. Riot police used water cannon to disperse a rally at Siam Square on 16th October, though this heavy-handed approach brought more protesters onto the streets the following day. The government shut down the entire BTS SkyTrain and MRT subway networks on the weekend of 17th-18th October, in a disproportionate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent people from joining the rallies.

There has also been an increase in political censorship since the protests began. Today, police raided the offices of Same Sky Books. The publisher’s editor-in-chief, Thanapol Eawsakul, was taken in for questioning, and copies of four books were seized. The latest issue of the Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน) journal (volume 18, number 2) was also confiscated. The four books in question are: ขุนศึก ศักดินา และพญาอินทรี การเมืองไทยภายใต้ระเบียบโลกของสหรัฐอเมริกา 2491-2500 (‘feudal warlords and the eagle: Thai politics and the United States 1948-1957’) and อฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ ความเคลื่อนไหวของขบวนการปฏิปักษ์ปฏิวัติสยาม (พ.ศ. 2475-2500) (‘I dream an incredible dream: the anti-Siamese revolutionary movement 1932-1957’) by Nattapoll Chaiching; and ประชาธิปไตยที่มีกษัตริย์อยู่เหนือการเมือง (‘democracy with the King as head of state’) and โฉมหน้าราชาชาตินิยม (‘royalist-nationalism’) by Thongchai Winichakul.

Notoriously, an issue of the Same Sky journal was banned in 2006. Police also banned the sale of several Same Sky t-shirt designs in 2014. Thanapol was one of many anti-military intellectuals subjected to ‘attitude adjustment’ following the 2014 coup. He was also questioned the military in connection with the distribution of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra calendars in 2016.

Friday, 16 October 2020

841.594

841.594
Poster No. 12
Poster No. 9
Wittawat Tongkaew’s exhibition 841.594 opened on 7th October at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok, and runs until 30th October. The show’s title is taken from the metric measurements of an A1 poster (841x594mm) and, just as posters have historically been used as propaganda tools, Wittawat’s paintings highlight the propaganda value of everyday objects.

The gallery walls have been painted blue, and this colour also dominates several of the paintings. Poster No. 12 (โปสเตอร์แผ่นที่ ๑๒), for example, shows a television with a blue screen and a clock indicating 8 o’clock. (On the Thai flag, blue represents the monarchy, and a daily bulletin of royal news is broadcast on TV at 8pm.)

841.594 was shown earlier this year at the Many Cuts Art Space in Chachoengsao, and one painting from that exhibition—Poster No. 9 (โปสเตอร์แผ่นที่ ๙)—is not on show at Cartel. The missing work, now considered too sensitive, depicts the Thai flag dominated by a large blue panel, a smaller white space, and a tiny sliver of red. (On the flag, white symbolises the nation and red represents the people.) Omitting it is a surprising misjudgement of the mood of the times by an otherwise progressive gallery.

Uncensored 2

Uncensored 2
Spanky Studio
By the Time It Gets Dark
Horror in Pink
Kraipit Phanvut
Headache Stencil’s Uncensored, held last year in Bangkok, was a one-day exhibition of anti-government art and music. The sequel, Uncensored 2, opened on 14th October at the Number 1 Bistro in Chiang Mai.

14th October is a symbolic date for two reasons. On 14th October 1973, a student protest at Democracy Monument in Bangkok led to the resignation of the military government, and a period of democratic rule. On 14th October this year, another student protest, at the same historic location, called not only for a return to democracy but also for reform of the monarchy.

The protesters marched from Democracy Monument to Government House, and the government declared a state of emergency at 4am yesterday morning. Defying the declaration (which prohibits gatherings of more than four people), at least 20,000 protesters regrouped yesterday evening at the Ratchaprasong intersection in downtown Bangkok (the site of a violent military crackdown in 2010). Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, Anon Nampa, Parit Chirawak, and other protest leaders were arrested early yesterday morning and denied bail.

This evening, when the police preemptively sealed off Ratchaprasong, the protesters assembled in Siam Square. Downtown BTS and MRT stations (including BTS Siam) were closed to prevent people joining the rally, and riot police used water canon to disperse the protesters.

Uncensored 2 includes a collage by Spanky Studio featuring the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper masthead. (A Dao Siam headline, falsely accusing Thammasat University students of lèse-majesté, provoked paramilitary groups into storming the campus in 1976, with deadly consequences.) The collage also includes a photograph taken by Kraipit Phanvut during the Thammasat massacre, showing a police colonel (Salang Bunnag) aiming his gun while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. In the collage, a clown’s head has been superimposed over the officer’s face.

The film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) also recreated the photograph of the police colonel, and Manit Sriwanichpoom used it in his Horror in Pink collage series. (A more famous photograph from the Thammasat massacre, taken by Neal Ulevich, has also been appropriated by artists and filmmakers.) Uncensored 2 closes on 21st October.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

The Look of the Book

The Look of the Book
The Great Gatsby
The Look of the Book: Jackets, Covers and Art at the Edges of Literature is the first book to provide a history of book cover design. The authors stress that “this book is not a comprehensive account of cover design across the globe,” though they have produced an excellent account of American and British book design, with a few German, Russian, and French examples for good measure.

The book is by David J. Alworth and Peter Mendelsund, a literature professor and graphic designer, respectively. This collaboration, “combining the insights of literary theory and design,” resulted in a scholarly text complemented by plenty of well-chosen illustrations. One of these, from 1907, shows the origin of the term ‘blurb’: a caricature called Belinda Blurb who shouts praise for new books.

Martin Salisbury’s The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970 profiles individual book cover designers, whereas The Look of the Book gives a narrative history of the subject. There is surprisingly little overlap between the two, with The Look of the Book focusing on literary fiction covers such as The Great Gatsby (“one of the most striking covers ever created”) and a case study of Ulysses.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker

Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker
More than twenty years after Stanley Kubrick’s death, academic interest in his films is still increasing. The latest book on the director, Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker by David Mikics, could best be described as a beginner’s guide to Kubrick’s work. At a brisk 200 pages, this is certainly not an in-depth study, though it does include a potted production history of each Kubrick film.

Mikics, a professor of literature, makes insightful comparisons between the films and their source novels. He also identifies subtle physical nuances in actors’ performances. The book’s sources include letters from the Kubrick Archive (or, as the dust jacket puts it oxymoronically, “new archival material”).

His analysis is relatively interesting, though Mikics (again, a literary scholar rather than a film critic) makes some technical errors. A studio executive’s comment about “1.66 lenses” goes uncorrected; they should be 1.66 mattes. He also conflates two different quotes from Dr Strangelove: “I don’t avoid women, Mandrake, I just deny them my precious bodily fluids.”

Mikics makes a series of tenuous links between Kubrick’s life and his film plots. He claims, for example, that Lolita echoed the director’s relationship with his daughter (“The Lolita story oddly foreshadows the relation between Kubrick and Vivian”), and that Barry Lyndon represented Kubrick’s feelings towards his father (“Tension and disappointment animate father-son relations in Barry Lyndon as they did in the teenage Kubrick’s life”).

In the book’s final paragraphs, Mikics writes that “Kubrick’s appeal has outlasted his death, even extending to pop music of the 2010s.” It’s true, of course, that Kubrick remains influential, though simply citing two recent songs is hardly a sufficient discussion of his legacy. Then, Mikics considers Kubrick’s cinematic influence, though again he gives only a limited selection of recent examples: The Tree of Life, Arrival, and Zama.

Czech Film Weekend

Czech Film Weekend
Closely Observed Trains
The Czech New Wave classic Closely Observed Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky) will be shown on Saturday at the Goethe-Institut in Bangkok, as a tribute to director Jiří Menzel who died last month. It was previously screened at Jam Café in 2017, and Menzel himself introduced a World Film Festival of Bangkok screening in 2007. The Goethe-Institut’s Czech Film Weekend runs from 17th to 18th October, and tickets are free.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Glimpses of Freedom

Glimpses of Freedom
Glimpses of Freedom: Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia, edited by May Adadol Ingawanij and Benjamin McKay, was published in 2012. Co-editor May examines the precarious position of Thailand’s burgeoning independent film sector as it navigates its arms-length relationship with state institutions. The book also includes an expanded version of Benedict Anderson’s essay on Tropical Malady (สัตว์ประหลาด), previously published in an Apichatpong Weerasethakul anthology. The highlight is The Age of Thai Independence, by Chalida Uabumrungjit, a wide-ranging survey of Thai short films and indie directors.

Made Men

Made Men
Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas is the first book on the making of Martin Scorsese’s classic gangster film. Author Glenn Kenny covers the film’s casting (the studio “floated Tom Cruise and Madonna for the parts of Henry and Karen, a suggestion that was privately ridiculed by the filmkakers”), the soundtrack, and the editing, though the book is dominated by a descriptive scene-by-scene analysis in lieu of a full production history. A Scorsese interview (conducted just before the coronavirus lockdown) serves as an epilogue, and the director is characteristically voluble (his first answer is four pages long) and candid (“Goodfellas was a great experience but it was also terrible”).

Status in Statu

Status in Statu
A Massacre
Republic of Siam
The group exhibition Status in Statu opened at Bangkok’s WTF Gallery on 6th October, on the anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre. The timing was intentional, and the exhibition includes an installation that refers directly to the violence of that event.

For A Massacre, Nutdanai Jitbunjong has hung a wooden folding chair from the ceiling; the chair is an iconic signifier of the massacre, thanks to Neal Ulevich’s photograph of a vigilante preparing to hit a corpse with a folding chair. Nutdanai’s chair is made from tamarind wood, as the dead man in Ulevich’s photo was hanged from a tamarind tree.

Status in Statu was organised by a progressive art collective from Khon Kaen, and Nutdanai’s installation was previously shown at the Khonkaen Manifesto (ขอนแก่น แมนิเฟสโต้) exhibition in 2018. (Tawan Wattuya’s Red Faces portraits from that exhibition were also subsequently shown in Bangkok.)

Status in Statu runs at WTF until 30th October. It’s one of several recent exhibitions (the others being Act สสิ Art, Unmuted Project, and Do or Die) to feature previously-taboo references to the monarchy: Mit Jai Inn’s installation is a large roll of fabric with a pattern of red and white stripes. The hidden meaning of the piece comes from its title, Republic of Siam: it could be interpreted as an alternative Thai flag, with one colour missing (blue).

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Siamese Talk

Siamese Talk
Siamese Talk
Siamese Talk
Siamese Talk
Kritsana Chaikitwattana’s exhibition Siamese Talk opened at Bangkok’s Jam Café on 25th September. Kritsana has covered newspapers and news magazines with plain paper, strategically torn to reveal photographs of Thai government ministers. The artist applied gold leaf to the images, a gesture that mocks the politicians rather than venerates them.

Gold leaf is usually applied to Buddha statues as an act of worship, though Kritsana is using it satirically. The gold makes the newspaper clippings glint like illuminated manuscripts, and it obscures the faces of Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cronies. The exhibition also includes images of King Vajiralongkorn, though Kritsana has used gold leaf only on the backgrounds of these photographs, not on the King himself.

In one piece, only a fragment of a headline is visible: “6 ตุลา” (‘6 Oct.’), i.e. the 6th October 1976 massacre. Siamese Talk also features paintings by Kritsana, including an image of the Buddha as Ultraman (พระพุทธรูปอุลตร้าแมน), a reference to the controversy surrounding Suparat Chaijangrid’s similar portraits last year. The exhibition runs until 25th October.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Italian Film Festival 2020

Italian Film Festival 2020
8 1/2
La dolce vita
The Italian Film Festival returns to Bangkok this year, with screenings at House Samyan from 16th to 25th October. This year’s event features a mini retrospective of Federico Fellini classics, including on 20th October and La dolce vita on 21st October.

Friday, 2 October 2020

Tenet (IMAX 70mm)

Tenet
Christopher Nolan’s new film, Tenet, was shown in 70mm at Bangkok’s Paragon Cineplex IMAX cinema on its first two days of release (27th and 28th August), though the 70mm projector broke down on the third day, a few minutes after the film began. IMAX technicians tried for three weeks to repair it, though it broke again on 18th September, during the film’s opening sequence. Fortunately, the second repair attempt was successful, and the film was shown again in 70mm yesterday.

More 70mm screenings are planned, though they will be limited to one per day. Paragon Cineplex is Thailand’s only full-size IMAX screen, and the Tenet screenings there are the film’s only 70mm engagements in Asia. Nolan’s previous films The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Interstallar, and Dunkirk were also shown in IMAX 70mm at Paragon Cineplex.

Memento

Memento
Christopher Nolan’s Memento will be screened at the House Samyan cinema in Bangkok next week. The thriller, which has an innovative reverse-chronological structure, will be shown from 5th to 13th October.