30 January 2023

India:
The Modi Question


India: The Modi Question

Screenings of India: The Modi Question, a new BBC documentary that includes serious allegations against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been prevented at several Indian universities, and students have been arrested at one campus. The programme reveals that Rob Young, the UK’s High Commissioner to India in 2002, wrote a confidential report concluding that “Narendra Modi is directly responsible” for the deaths of more than 1,000 people at a mass riot in Gujarat earlier that year.

India: The Modi Question, directed by Richard Cookson, was broadcast in the UK on BBC2 in two parts, on 17th and 24th January. Students at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi were detained by police to prevent an outdoor screening of the documentary on 25th January.

The situation recalls that of another BBC documentary, India’s Daughter, which was also censored in India. In that case, however, the Indian government banned the programme from being broadcast on television, whereas India: The Modi Question was never scheduled for transmission in India.

Modi has been PM since 2014, and was Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the riot. (A cartoonist was arrested for caricaturing him in 2011, during his time as Chief Minister.)

27 January 2023

Future Fest 2023


Future Fest

Future Fest, the annual arts festival organised by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Progressive Movement Foundation, will take place next month at Sermsuk Warehouse in Bangkok. A weekend of film screenings includes four recent short films with political themes: Bangkok Dystopia (บางกอกดิสโทเปีย) and Pirab (พิราบ) on 11th February, followed on the next day by Nostalgia and Two Little Soldiers (สาวสะเมิน).

Patipol Teekayuwat’s Bangkok Dystopia was previously shown at Wildtype 2018 and at the 21st Short Film and Video Festival. Prasit Promnumpol’s Pirab was shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya in 2017. Weerapat Sakolvaree’s Nostalgia was shown last year at the 26th Thai Short Film and Video Festival and at Wildtype 2022. Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Two Little Soldiers was shown at the Bangkok Art Biennale in 2020, and last year at Gallery Seescape in Chiang Mai.

17 January 2023

Hero


Hero

To mark Chinese New Year, Zhang Yimou’s classic film Hero (英雄) returns to the big screen in Bangkok later this week. This wuxia (‘martial arts’) epic was one of China’s most expensive dapian (‘prestige’) productions—at least, until the release of Zhang’s even more lavish Curse of the Golden Flower (满城尽带黄金甲) a few years later. Hero will be screened at Doc Club and Pub on 19th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, 26th, and 29th January.

Hero features stunning cinematography, though its political subtext is more questionable, as it can be read as an endorsement of authoritarianism. Ideologically, it’s a far cry from Zhang’s early films, such as Raise the Red Lantern (大紅燈籠高高掛). In that respect, the trajectory of Zhang’s career echoes that of veteran Thai director Chatrichalerm Yukol, who made his name with socially conscious films like His Name Is Karn (เขาชื่อกานต์) but has more recently produced royalist-nationalist propaganda such as the Legend of King Naresuan series (ตำนานสมเด็จพระนเรศวรมหาราช).

16 January 2023

20 Essential Films


20 Essential Films 20 Essential Films

20 essential films: a crash course in cinema history.

13 January 2023

Jacinda Ardern:
I Know This to Be True
— On Kindness, Empathy and Strength


Jacinda Ardern: I Know This to Be True

Geoff Blackwell interviewed New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on 8th November 2019 as part of his I Know This to Be True project for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a series of interviews published in 2020 and intended to “inspire a new generation of leaders.” Video extracts from those interviews were then repurposed for Live to Lead, a Netflix series directed by Blackwell, which was released on New Year’s Eve 2022.

In his (short) Ardern interview book, Blackwell asks about her personal values, and she explains that she is “really driven by empathy... that’s probably the quality we need the most.” Similarly, in another 2019 interview, she told author Supriya Vani: “the world needs empathetic leadership now, perhaps more than ever.” (Vani’s Ardern biography is subtitled Leading with Empathy, and Blackwell’s subtitle has a similar theme: On Kindness, Empathy and Strength.)

Blackwell’s and Vani’s interviews are both rather soft and apolitical, focussing on Ardern as an inspirational leader. But Ardern does make a surprisingly candid admission in answer to Blackwell’s question about trusting her instincts: “All I could be was myself. And that’s all I’ve ever tried to be. And if that means I’m successful on behalf of New Zealand, that’s great, and if it means that I’m not, then I’ll still sleep at night.”

11 January 2023

Jacinda Ardern:
Leading with Empathy


Jacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy

Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s Prime Minister in 2017 on a wave of ‘Jacindamania’, and her relentless positivity boosted her reputation on the world stage. (She has been a guest on The Late Show, and Spitting Image caricatured her quite convincingly as Mary Poppins.) She passed gun-control laws with incredible speed, and was equally successful in minimising the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In recent months, rising inflation and a looming recession have sharply dented her domestic popularity, though this has not affected her international image.

She has consistently refused to cooperate with her biographers, though Jacinda Ardern: Leading with Empathy was promoted in 2021 as “[t]he first biography to be based on interviews with Ardern”. At a press conference on 21st July 2021, Ardern made clear that she was misled by the authors, who had not told her they were writing a biography: “certainly the claim that it was an exclusive interview for the purpose of writing a book of that nature is not true”. Co-author Supriya Vani interviewed Ardern in 2019, on the understanding that the book was about female leaders in general. Co-author Carl A. Harte claimed that coronavirus restrictions precluded interviews with other leaders, though Ardern was interviewed via Skype, which the pandemic would not have prevented.

More plausibly, the pandemic prevented the authors from visiting New Zealand while researching the book, though surprisingly this did not affect the amount of ‘colour’ and atmospheric detail they included. Ardern’s childhood home, Murupara, for example, is described as “a place that feels as if it is drifting, somehow behind in time... The town’s beauty is itself beguiling, but the land here has its dark secrets.” These lengthy descriptions, and others, are all examples of armchair tourism, and further padding is provided by extraneous career summaries of several former New Zealand politicians.

Vani wrote an online article for Writer’s Digest on 9th June 2021 titled How to Write a Biography of a World Leader. Her first tip was: “make sure you can resonate with the qualities of the leader to ensure you’re writing a positive biography.” Unfortunately, she followed her own advice, and her Ardern book borders on the hagiographic. (It often refers to Ardern by her first name, emphasises her “kindness” and “well-rounded humanity”, and even compares her to Churchill.) But on its own terms, as an inspirational account of empathetic leadership, the book is well written and researched. Perhaps Ardern’s relentless positivity rubbed off on Vani; if so, it was more appropriate to her first book, Battling Injustice.

10 January 2023

Out of the Blue:
The Inside Story of the Unexpected Rise and Rapid Fall of Liz Truss


Out of the Blue

“A book is being written about the Prime Minister’s time in office. Apparently, it’s going to be out by Christmas. Is that the release date or the title?”

Opposition leader Keir Starmer’s quip during Prime Minister’s Questions on 19th October last year was even more prescient than he imagined. Although Liz Truss assured him that she was “a fighter, not a quitter”, she resigned as PM the very next day. Truss channelled the defiant words of former politician Peter Mandelson, and Starmer copied his joke from Private Eye magazine (no. 1,584), which described the Truss book as “out on 8 December. (The book, that is, not its subject)”.

Like the PM, the book, Out of the Blue, was out sooner than expected, released last November. (The subtitle was also changed—from The Inside Story of Liz Truss and Her Astonishing Rise to Power to The Inside Story of the Unexpected Rise and Rapid Fall of Liz Truss—to reflect her sudden downfall.) Truss served just forty-four days in office, and the book was written almost as rapidly. Authors Harry Cole and James Healey make no bones about this: “We decided to write this book quickly, so those of you expecting Robert Caro will be disappointed.” But there’s nothing remotely rushed about this extremely well-sourced biography.

The most toxic element of the ‘mini budget’ that ultimately led to Truss’s resignation—the removal of the maximum 45p tax rate—was swiftly abandoned, and the book quotes Truss telling her Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng: “we need to rip off the plaster.” Similarly, in a Sunday Times article published online on Christmas Eve 2022, Tim Shipman quoted Truss as saying: “we’ve got to tear the plaster off.” These two accounts validate each other, though on 10th December last year the Financial Times implied that the decision was made by Chancellor himself: a FT Weekend Magazine article on Truss’s premiership by George Parker, Sebastian Payne, and Laura Hughes referred to “Kwarteng’s U-turn on the top rate of tax”.

Cole and Healey interviewed Truss twice for their book, the second session taking place shortly after the mini budget. In a Spectator article published on 29th October last year, Healey wrote that his abiding memory of that interview was “the unnerving calm of the Prime Minister even as the markets were in full panic mode.” They also spoke to Kwarteng and former PM Boris Johnson, amongst others. Although Truss cooperated with the writers to some extent, Out of the Blue is an objective portrait rather than an authorised biography. It’s the absolute ideal model for a biography of a living person: exclusive access (via multiple interviews with the subject), without sacrificing any editorial independence.

In fact, although both authors are right-of-centre journalists and Cole (political editor of The Sun) reportedly received regular off-the-record briefings from Truss, they are largely critical of her time in office. They describe the mini-budget, for example, as “one of the worst errors of the past 100 years in British policy making.” They even question her integrity, accusing her of a “fatal error—and one that involves a question of honesty”, namely the deliberate downplaying of her planned fiscal reforms.

07 January 2023

Mob 2020–2021


Mob 2020-2021

Supong Jitmuang’s film Mob 2020–2021 will be shown tomorrow at the Hom Theatre, a small corrugated-iron screening space in Uttaradit, one of Thailand’s northern provinces. The documentary was previously shown last year in Bangkok at the 2nd Anniversary of We Volunteer (งานครบรอบ 2 ปีกลุ่ม We Volunteer) exhibition, Moving Images Screening Night (คืนฉายภาพเคลื่อนไหว), and the Kinjai Contemporary gallery.

06 January 2023

Thai Cinema Uncensored


International Examiner

Thai Cinema Uncensored has been reviewed in the International Examiner, a fortnightly newspaper published in Seattle, Washington. A headline in the 21st September 2022 issue (vol. 49, no. 18) describes the book as “an illuminating work of resistance to censorship” (p. 6).

In her review, Elinor Serumgard says: “Matthew Hunt writes with a sense of urgency to legitimize these films and work towards a future where Thai filmmakers make the films they want without having to worry if people will be able to watch them. Readers will come away with a deeper understanding of Thai films and the history that has shaped them.”

The book has also been reviewed by the Bangkok Post newspaper, the academic journal Sojourn, and the magazines Art Review and The Big Chilli. An online review was published by the 101 World website.

05 January 2023

Un chien andalou


Arcadia Rooftop Cinema

The Rooftop Cinema programme of open-air movie screenings at Bangkok’s Arcadia bar continues on 8th and 15th January with the short Surrealist film Un chien andalou (‘an Andalusian dog’). Luis Buñuel’s silent classic was previously shown at the 2007 Bangkok International Film Festival, and six years ago it was the unexpected inspiration for a Thai public-information campaign about the dangers of mosquitos. The campaign—“ยุงลาย 1 ตัว ออกลูกได้ 500 ตัว”/‘1 mosquito can give birth to 500 offspring’—recreated the film’s famous shot of ants emerging from a man’s hand, replacing the ants with mosquitos.

Un chien andalou

Un chien andalou is the foundation stone of transgressive cinema. Despite being almost a hundred years old, it begins with one of the most shocking sequences in film history, and one shot in particular (featuring a dead cow’s eye) is still almost impossible to see without flinching. Buñuel deliberately avoided a chronological or otherwise conventional narrative structure, seeking to create a dream-logic that defied rational analysis. After its premiere in Paris in 1929, the film secured Buñuel and his co-director Salvador Dalí’s immediate membership of the French Surrealist group founded by André Breton.

04 January 2023

Bad Words and What They Say about Us


Bad Words and What They Say about Us

In Bad Words and What They Say about Us (published in 2019), Philip Gooden examines how tabooed language has shifted from religion to sex and bodily functions, and more recently to political correctness and identity politics. The book is bang up-to-date, exploring the linguistic legacies of Brexit and Donald Trump: Michael Gove’s cavalier dismissal of expert opinion during the Brexit referendum campaign (“the people of this country have had enough of experts”) prompts a wide-ranging discussion of ‘culture war’ issues, and Gooden draws a parallel—first noted in a blog post by Sonja Drimmer and Damian Fleming—between the Miller in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (“he caughte hire by the queynte”) and Trump’s Access Hollywood tape (“Grab ’em by the pussy”).

Bad Words includes quite thorough histories of the major four-letter words, each of which has its own chapter, though these sections are most notable for their debunking of the myths surrounding the words’ origins. These misconceptions are surprisingly persistent—upon learning that I wrote a thesis on the c-word, some people still tell me that the f-word is an acronym for ‘Fornicate Under Command of the King’—and Gooden provides a useful service in his mission “to unpick this folk etymology.”

The book’s scope also extends to racist and homophobic pejoratives, though there is little discussion of sexist terms, and Gooden tends to favour more recent citations over historical examples. For instance, he quotes a British backbench MP using the n-word in 2017, though he doesn’t mention that John Major used it when he was Prime Minister in 1993. Similarly, Gooden cites comedian Chris Rock’s positive uses of the n-word, though Richard Pryor’s earlier and more groundbreaking reappropriation of the word isn’t covered.

Peter Silverton’s Filthy English and Ruth Wajnryb’s Language Most Foul both cover similar ground to Bad Words, as does another book with the same title, edited by David Sosa. Geoffrey Hughes wrote An Encyclopedia of Swearing (expanded from his earlier book Swearing), and Hugh Rawson’s Dictionary of Invective is equally comprehensive. Forbidden Words, by Keith Allan and Kate Burridge, is the most authoritative guide to linguistic taboos, and Allen also recently edited The Oxford Handbook of Taboo Words and Language.

26 December 2022

The Trump Tapes:
Bob Woodward’s Twenty Interviews with President Donald Trump



Bob Woodward interviewed President Donald Trump an unprecedented nineteen times for his book Rage, published in 2020. Woodward has now released his recordings of eighteen of those interviews as an audiobook, The Trump Tapes: Bob Woodward's Twenty Interviews with President Donald Trump. (One of the Rage interviews was not recorded, though Woodward summarises it based on his contemporaneous notes. A 2016 interview with Trump before the presidential election is also included.)

Trump cooperated extensively with Rage in an attempt to avoid a repeat of Woodward’s previous book, Fear, which was written without his cooperation. (A recording of a phone call, in which Trump blamed his advisor Kellyanne Conway for not passing on Woodward’s initial interview request, was released by The Washington Post in 2018.) In his spoken epilogue, Woodward says: “It is still somewhat of a puzzle to me why he talked to me, and at such length. I think he honestly believed he could talk me into telling the story of his presidency as he would like it to be seen and remembered in history.”

As was the case with Woodward’s Fear, Trump likewise didn’t cooperate with Woodward’s Washington Post colleagues Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig for their book A Very Stable Genius. (He describes them to Woodward as “two sleazebags”, adding for good measure: “Rucker, he’s a sleazebucket. I know him well. He never writes good.”) Yet he did speak to Rucker and Leonnig for their next book, I Alone Can Fix It, just as he spoke to Woodward for Rage. Interestingly, Woodward repeatedly asks Trump, in vain, for a transcript of his February 2020 phone call with Chinese President Xi, though Rucker and Leonnig were seemingly able to obtain it.

Trump’s astonishing indiscretion is immediately apparent from the recordings. As Woodward says at the beginning of his spoken introduction, Trump is “staggeringly incautious,” and this is evident throughout the eleven hours of audio. The interviews were mostly conducted over the phone, often in the evenings when Trump was in his private quarters at the White House, which presumably contributed to the informal nature of the conversations. (There are echoes of the “unsolicited phone calls without presumption of confidentiality” that Trump made to Michael Wolff during the writing of Fire and Fury, though in Woodward’s case he always reminds Trump that he’s recording the calls.)

In his commentary, Woodward also decribes Trump as “at times staggeringly repetitive, as if saying something often and loud enough will make something true.” Maggie Haberman also mentions this tendency—which is a deliberate rhetorical device—in her recent Trump biography, Confidence Man: “He started to explain why he doesn’t like when audiotapes of his interviews are released. Being on camera was “much different,” he said. “Whereas,” he said, in a “written interview, I’ll repeat it twenty times, because I want to drum it into your beautiful brain. Do you understand that?” He repeated himself again.”

Rage was originally intended as a study of Trump’s foreign policy. (Woodward had previously written a similar book on Obama.) But after the coronavirus epidemic began in early 2020, Woodward shifted the focus to Trump’s covid response. Throughout February and March 2020, Trump had publicly insisted that the virus would spontaneously disappear, though on 20th March 2020 he confirmed to Woodward: “This thing is vicious, the most contagious virus anyone’s ever seen.” Even allowing for Trump’s usual exaggerations, that’s a dangerous discrepancy between his public and private statements, and he didn’t publicly admit the severity of the situation until eleven days later.

In Rage, Woodward concluded that President Trump was “the wrong man for the job.” In his epilogue to The Trump Tapes, he acknowledges that that was an understatement: “I realise that I didn’t go far enough. Trump is an unparalleled danger.” The Trump Tapes was released on ten CDs last month, and a book of transcripts, The Trump Tapes: The Historical Record, will be published early next year.

23 December 2022

500 Must-See Movies


500 Must-See Movies

Total Film magazine published a special issue in 2017 listing 500 Must-See Movies. This year, they have released a second edition with an updated list. There are only minor changes to the original edition, with the addition of recent films such as Get Out, 1917, A Quiet Place, Avengers: Infinity War, and Parasite (기생충). As in the first edition, only five genres are included: horror, science-fiction, thrillers, action movies, and comedies.

Empire and Us Weekly magazines have also published top-500 film lists, as did the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph newspapers. Empire later revised its list for its Australian edition, and published a collection of 500 five-star reviews. Dateline Bangkok also has its own list of 500 classic films.

Total Film’s previous greatest-film lists are: The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time from 2005, The Top 100 Movies of All Time from 2006, and 100 Greatest Movies from 2010. It also compiled a list of The Sixty-Seven Most Influential Films Ever Made in 2009.

22 December 2022

The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time


Variety

This week’s issue of Variety (vol. 358, no. 12), published yesterday, features The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, as selected by thirty-two of the magazine’s writers. This is one of the very best greatest-film polls: an ideal combination of arthouse titles, classic Hollywood, world cinema, and popular movies.

Variety’s 100 greatest movies are as follows:

100. The Graduate
99. Twelve Angry Men
98. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
97. Alien
96. A Hard Day’s Night
95. Toy Story
94. Bridesmaids
93. Le samuraï
92. Pink Flamingos
91. Scenes from a Marriage
90. The Shining
89. Belle de jour
88. Malcolm X
87. The Sound of Music
86. Close-Up
85. Natural Born Killers
84. Pan’s Labyrinth
83. Kramer vs. Kramer
82. Parasite
81. The Dark Knight
80. Pixote
79. Waiting for Guffman
78. Jeanne Dielman
77. Goldfinger
76. The Tree of Life
75. Boogie Nights
74. My Neighbour Totoro
73. Intolerance
72. Breaking the Waves
71. My Best Friend’s Wedding
70. Twelve Years a Slave
69. Beau travail
68. King Kong
67. Bicycle Thieves
66. Paris Is Burning
65. A Man Escaped
64. Carrie
63. Bambi
62. Dazed and Confused
61. The Passion of Joan of Arc
60. Moulin Rouge!
59. Vagabond
58. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
57. Brokeback Mountain
56. Rosemary’s Baby
55. Pather Panchali
54. Mad Max II
53. In the Mood for Love
52. The General
51. Apocalypse Now
50. Breathless
49. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
48. The Piano
47. Mean Streets
46. Notorious
45. Titanic
44. L’avventura
43. Shoah
42. Moonlight
41. The Wild Bunch
40. Fargo
39. Some Like It Hot
38. Lawrence of Arabia
37. Annie Hall
36. On the Waterfront
35. The Silence of the Lambs
34. Stagecoach
33.
32. Vertigo
31. Network
30. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
29. Double Indemnity
28. City Lights
27. Bonnie and Clyde
26. The 400 Blows
25. Bringing up Baby
24. Tokyo Story
23. The Apartment
22. Chinatown
21. Gone with the Wind
20. Blue Velvet
19. The Godfather II
18. Persona
17. Nashville
16. Casablanca
15. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
14. Do the Right Thing
13. The Rules of the Game
12. GoodFellas
11. Singin’ in the Rain
10. Saving Private Ryan
9. All about Eve
8. It’s a Wonderful Life
7. 2001: A Space Odyssey
6. Seven Samurai
5. Pulp Fiction
4. Citizen Kane
3. The Godfather
2. The Wizard of Oz
1. Psycho

(Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comedy, and Titanic is the 1997 blockbuster. Breathless, King Kong, and Psycho are the original versions rather than the remakes.)

A third of Variety’s choices are also included in Dateline Bangkok’s 100 greatest films list. (That list is not ranked, though if it were, Psycho would also be at no. 1, as it is in Variety.)

21 December 2022

500 Best Movies of All Time



In 2018, Us Weekly magazine published a special 500 Best Movies of All Time issue (vol. 18, no. 47). The top twenty-five titles are listed first, and the others are classified by genre. The films are organised alphabetically within these categories, and are not ranked. The list features more than 500 titles, as some series—the Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises; The Naked Gun and Kill Bill and their sequels—are counted as single entries.

Us Weekly is a mainstream entertainment magazine, so the selection is weighted in favour of popular Hollywood movies; as the editors wrote in their introduction: “we tried to pay attention not just to what critics like, but to what audiences like as well.” There are a handful of foreign-language titles, including Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette, classified rather literally as a crime film), and just one silent film (Metropolis, listed under drama rather than science-fiction).

Us Weekly’s top twenty-five films are as follows:
  • Avatar
  • Black Panther
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Casablanca
  • Chinatown
  • Citizen Kane
  • E.T. the Extra-terrestrial
  • Get Out
  • The Godfather
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Harry Potter
  • Inception
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • National Lampoon’s Animal House
  • Psycho
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Raging Bull
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Rocky
  • Scarface
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • Titanic
  • Toy Story
  • The Wizard of Oz
(Titanic is the 1997 blockbuster, Psycho is the 1960 masterpiece, and Scarface is the 1983 remake. Harry Potter refers to all eight films in the series.)

Empire and Total Film magazines have also published top-500 film lists, as did the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph newspapers. Empire later revised its list for its Australian edition, and also published a collection of 500 five-star reviews. Not to be outdone, Dateline Bangkok has its own list of 500 classic films.

19 December 2022

Ali:
Fear Eats the Soul


Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf), arguably Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s greatest film, is showing at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok from this week. Alongside Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog, Fassbinder was one of the leading figures of the 1970s German new wave (das neue Kino), and his death from a drug overdose effectively marked the end of the movement.

Ali was heavily influenced by Douglas Sirk’s Hollywood melodrama All That Heaven Allows (which also inspired the Todd Haynes film Far from Heaven). It will be screened at Doc Club on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, 27th, 28th, 29th, and 30th December this year; and 2nd, 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 17th, 18th, 23rd, 24th and 30th January, and 1st February next year. It will also be shown at Bookhemian in Phuket on 14th January 2022. (It was previously shown at the Thai Film Archive earlier this year.) Doc Club is also currently showing two other classics: The Passion of Joan of Arc (La passion de Jeanne d’Arc) and Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un été).

18 December 2022

Kongkraphan


Kongkraphan

Kongkraphan, the new album by artist and musician Pisitakun Kuantalaeng, commemorates the military’s violent suppression of red-shirt demonstrators in 2010. The titles of each of the eight tracks refer to dates on which protesters were shot by the army, and they include samples of audio recorded during the protests. The album title translates as ‘invulnerable’, a reference to the military’s impunity.

The opening track, 10/04/2010, begins with the sound of a protester on 10th April 2010 imploring the soldiers: “Why are you shooting?” The remaining seven tracks cover the final week of the conflict, from 13th to 19th May 2010, with each song representing a different day (13/5/2010, 14/05/2010, 15/05/2010, 16/05/2010, 17/05/2010, 18/05/2010, and 19/05/2010). 13/5/2010 revisits the death of Khattiya Sawasdipol, a former army officer who was shot by a sniper after he joined the red-shirts. A prolonged car horn can be heard in 15/05/2010; the driver was shot, and his head slumped onto the steering wheel, setting off the horn.

Pisitakun previously documented the final week of the massacre in a series of posters and stickers, released as a box set titled Ten Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic] marking the tenth anniversary of the events. His album Absolute Coup was equally political, with each track named after the various institutions that he deemed responsible for laying the groundwork for Thailand’s numerous military coups.

13 December 2022

Arcadia Rooftop Cinema


Arcadia Rooftop Cinema

Bangkok’s new Arcadia bar is launching a weekly Rooftop Cinema programme of open-air film screenings. One of the first films will be Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, showing on 18th December, followed by the classic action movie Die Hard on Christmas Day.

2001 has previously been shown at the Scala cinema in 2017 and at the Thai Film Archive in 2013. Die Hard was screened at Cinema Winehouse in 2019 and at Bangkok Screening Room in 2019. Both titles are included in Dateline Bangkok’s list of 100 greatest films.

12 December 2022

On Going / Going On


On Going / Going On

Director Pen-ek Ratanaruang, documentarian and producer Santi Taepanich, and theatrical troupe Theatre to Go have collaborated on On Going / Going On, which opened on 9th December. The group exhibition runs until 28th February next year.

The exhibition is being held at Noble Play, which is appropriate as the show is a tactile experience that encourages participation: while many exhibitions place lines on the floor, preventing visitors from approaching the artworks, in On Going / Going On the lines are marked “PLEASE CROSS”. There’s also a table with eccletic objects to rummage through, from preserved animals (a frog and cockroach) to vintage gadgets.

Pleasure and Pain On Going / Going On

Pen-ek’s graphic novel Trouble in Paradise is on display, as are plenty of his drawings (collectively titled Pleasure and Pain) and the entire text of his new script, Storm (ครัวแม่สะอิ้ง). Another series of his drawings was previously shown at the Bangkok Art Biennale (บางกอก อาร์ต เบียนนาเล่) in 2020. Pen-ek’s most recent film was Samui Song (ไม่มีสมุยสำหรับเธอ); I interviewed him about his earlier work, such as Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย), Headshot (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), and Nymph (นางไม้), for Thai Cinema Uncensored.

In addition to his table of objets trouvés, Santi has created a collage that resembles a mood board, including a poster of the classic film A Man Called Tone (โทน). Santi is the brother of comedian Udom Taephanich, and he produced many of Udom’s stand-up shows. He has also directed several documentaries—including เนื้อกับหนัง (‘flesh and skin’)—about the making of Pen-ek’s films, and a segment of the portmanteau film Sawasdee Bangkok (สวัสดีบางกอก).

15th World Film Festival of Bangkok


15th World Film Festival of Bangkok

The 15th World Film Festival of Bangkok (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์โลกแห่งกรุงเทพฯ ครั้งที่ 15) opened on 2nd December, and closed yesterday with an award for veteran Thai New Wave director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and the Thai premiere of Sorayos Prapapan’s Arnold Is a Model Student (อานนเป็นนักเรียนตัวอย่าง). There had been a five-year hiatus since the 14th festival, which was held in 2017.

In his acceptance speech, Apichatpong recalled the Ministry of Culture’s dismissal of his work, and told young directors, in both Thai and English, “don’t give a damn” about such attitudes. Phantoms of Nabua (ผีนาบัว), perhaps Apichatpong’s greatest short film, will be shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on 23rd December as part of the 26th Thai Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 26).

Kriengsak Silakong, the World Film Festival’s founder and organiser, sadly died earlier this year, and the Lotus award for lifetime achievement has been renamed in his honour. (Kriengsak’s final public appearance was in February this year, when he interviewed Apichatpong at the Thai premiere of Memoria.) Like the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th festivals, this year’s event was held at CentralWorld’s SF World cinema. (The 6th, 7th, and 8th festivals were held at Paragon Cineplex; the 5th, 9th, and 10th took place at Esplanade Cineplex.)

Arnold Is a Model Student

Over the past decade, Sorayos has made witty, satirical short films such as Dossier of the Dossier (เอกสารประกอบการตัดสินใจ), Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport (ดาวอินดี้), and New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่). He has also dabbled in documentary filmmaking, with Prelude of the Moving Zoo and Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship. His debut feature Arnold Is a Model Student combines both of these elements, sharp satire mixed with found footage. The film was conceived in the aftermath of the 2014 coup, when the military’s authority was accepted unquestioningly by large swathes of the population. Eight years later, the film is complete and the junta leader remains in power.

The eponymous Arnold coasts through his final school year, while his classmates rebel against institutional authoritarianism, personified by the matronly teacher Ms Wanee, who tells them: “Know your place and you will be successful.” This somewhat feudalistic attitude persists in wider Thai society, and is inculcated by an education system that encourages conformity. The film’s parody of a traditional instructional video—“How to Behave Elegantly Like a Thai”, in which Ms Wanee teaches students to prostrate before their elders—seems absurd, though it’s based on a real video made by the Ministry of Culture (as seen in the documentary Censor Must Die/เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย).

The film’s high school is a microcosm of Thailand—as in the recent music videos อีกไม่นาน นานแค่ไหน (‘how long is ‘soon’?’) and อนาคตคือ (‘the future is...’)—and the connection to contemporary politics is clear. Arnold attends a REDEM rally, and symbols of state authority are visible throughout the school, from a large portrait of Rama X in the headmaster’s office to the number 112 on a table in the computer lab. (The lèse-majesté law is article 112 of the criminal code.) When the fictional high school students organise a protest, their headmaster orders them back to class. Cut to: documentary footage of water cannon being deployed against anti-government protesters, with riot police shouting “Disperse now!”