21 June 2024

House 20th


House 20th

House Rama, Bangkok’s first arthouse cinema, opened at Royal City Avenue in July 2004. (I became a member later that year.) It showed Thai films, including the director’s cut of Love of Siam (รักแห่งสยาม), and foreign titles such as Taxidermia (in an uncut screening under the censor’s radar). In addition to the cinema, House had a shop selling DVDs and posters, and even a small library.

House celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2014, at which point it was still Bangkok’s only independent cinema. RCA was once a popular nightlife destination, but it became increasingly neglected, and House relocated to the Samyan Mitrtown mall in 2019.

Next month is House’s twentieth anniversary, and there will be a season of classic films—all previous box-office hits at House—to mark the occasion. Highlights include Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver on 5th, 14th, and 21st July; Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction on 13th and 20th July; and the key New Queer Cinema film My Own Private Idaho on 12th July.

Pulp Fiction was previously screened at Neighbourhood last year, at House and Bangkok Screening Room in 2019, and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018 and 2015. Taxi Driver was shown at House last year, at BKKSR in 2019, and at Scala in 2018. My Own Private Idaho was shown at House in 2022, and at BKKSR in 2019.

Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards 2023


Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards 2023
A Love Letter to My Sister

The short films on the shortlist for the Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards 2023 (รางวัลภาพยนตร์ไทยยอดเยี่ยม ชมรมวิจารณ์บันเทิง ครั้งที่ 32 ประจําปี 2566) will be screened at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok next month. Napasin Samkaewcham’s A Love Letter to My Sister, a deeply moving film about the volatile relationship between his parents, is one of the nominees for best documentary short, and will be shown on 6th and 7th July.

A Love Letter to My Sister was previously screened at this year’s Doc Club Festival, and as part of their Selections series. It was also shown in last year’s Short Film Marathon 27 (หนังสั้นมาราธอน 27), and at the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27).

Pup


Pup

Sarawut Intaraprom is a director with a particularly niche claim to fame: he has made the only two films featuring erections that have been passed by Thai censors. Don’t blink during his science-fiction film Father and Son (พ่อและลูกชาย), or you’ll miss an explicit shot lasting only four frames. And in his new film Pup (สุนัข และ เจ้านาย), two characters are seen baring all, in a way that would probably fail the ‘Mull of Kintyre test’ (an unofficial rule applied by the UK film censors, based on a map of the flaccid-looking peninsula).

Pup, rated ‘20’, is being shown at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok. At its first screening yesterday, three staff from the Ministry of Culture were present to ensure that the cinema was rigourous in verifying patrons’ ages. (Viewers are required to show their ID cards before watching films rated ‘20’, though it’s unusual for the Ministry to supervise this process.) Thai Cinema Uncensored discusses these rules, and the history of Thai film censorship, in more detail.

Other Thai directors have included equally graphic images in their films, those these have always been censored: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours (สุดเสน่หา) and Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s Insects in the Backyard (อินเซคอินเดอะแบ็คยาร์ด) were both cut for this reason by the Thai censorship board. (Apichatpong and Tanwarin were interviewed about this in Thai Cinema Uncensored.) Similarly, Ekachai Uekrongtham’s Pleasure Factory (快乐工厂), made in Singapore, was cut for its Thai and Singaporean theatrical releases.

18 June 2024

A Sleepless Entity
(or The Thai’s Prometheus)


A Sleepless Entity Watcharin Niamvanichkul
BangLee Everything Everywhere Horror in Pink No. 2
Hidden Agenda No. 5 Spanky Studio
Sun Rises When Day Breaks By the Time It Gets Dark
Deja vu Selfie Series

Naphat Khunlam’s short film A Sleepless Entity (or The Thai’s Prometheus) is a dystopian fantasy about a student filmmaker who dreams of expressing her creative freedom but is oppressed by the conformist education system. The film is notable for its references to photographs of war and political conflict, in both Thailand and Vietnam: the gunman who hid his weapon in a Kolk popcorn bag, army snipers shooting people sheltering at Wat Pathum Wanaram, and the famous Eddie Adams photograph of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing the Viet Cong soldier Nguyễn Văn Lém.

A Sleepless Entity

A Sleepless Entity is the latest of several films, videos, and artworks to recreate Kraipit Phanvut’s photograph from 6th October 1976 of police colonel Watcharin Niamvanichkul aiming his pistol while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Manit Sriwanichpoom inserted his Pink Man character into the image for Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู), a technique parodied by Anuwat Apimukmongkon. Spanky Studio superimposed a clown’s head over Watcharin’s face. In Déjà vu (เดจาวู), Headache Stencil replaced the pistol with a futuristic ray gun. For his Selfie Series (เซลฟี่ ซีรีย์), Chumpol Kamwanna depicted himself taking a selfie while adopting the same pose as Watcharin. The pose was also restaged in Anocha Suwichakornpong’s film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and View from the Bus Tour’s music video Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ). Pornpimon Pokha’s Hidden Agenda No. 5 (วาระซ่อนเร้น หมายเลข 5) recreated the image in watercolour.

15 June 2024

Yesterday Is Another Day


Yesterday Is Another Day

Koraphat Cheeradit’s short film Yesterday Is Another Day will be shown at this year’s Isan Creative Festival (เทศกาลอีสานสร้างสรรค์), being held at Khon Kaen between 29th June and 7th July. The festival’s theme is Proud of Isan (สะออนเด้).

Yesterday Is Another Day is part of the Short Film Short Cut programme, taking place from 24th to 30th June as a prelude to the main festival. The films will be shown on a bus travelling around the city, and Yesterday Is Another Day is being screened on 27th June.

Yesterday Is Another Day

In Yesterday Is Another Day, a high school student plays hooky and meets his girlfriend in a woodland. They take a walk, and joke about their future together, seemingly without a care in the world. But there are ominous signs of impending threats: they find a discarded handgun, and Koraphat inserts shots of a JCB digging up the forest.

Eventually, we learn that the student is being charged with lèse-majesté, merely for sharing Facebook posts. His court hearing is the following day, and he is likely to be jailed. (The film doesn’t state directly that he’s facing royal defamation charges, though it’s clear from the couple’s conversation: he explains that the sentence is three years per offence, which is the minimum jail term for lèse-majesté.)

The prospect of criminal charges for posting on social media is a reality for hundreds of people in Thailand today, many of whom are students. As the boy in Koraphat’s film says to his girlfriend, he has to face changing from “being a teenager to being a prisoner.” The film is a powerful and moving reminder of the severe consequences of lèse-majesté, and what it must feel like to be criminalised at a young age for expressing opinions online.

Yesterday Is Another Day was previously shown at the Chiang Mai Film Festival (twice), and in the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน). It was first screened in Silpakorn University’s programme The Political Wanderer.

From the Moment They Met It Was Murder:
Double Indemnity and the Rise of Film Noir



Alain Silver and James Ursini have dominated film noir scholarship with their Film Noir Reader series and three different books titled Film Noir: an encyclopedia (co-edited with Elizabeth Ward and Robert Porfirio), a recent anthology, and a Taschen guide. They have also written The Noir Style and American Neo-Noir, among other books on the subject.

It’s fitting that the leading experts on film noir should write a book on Billy Wilder’s classic thriller Double Indemnity, which is the quintessential noir film. Their new book From the Moment They Met It Was Murder: Double Indemnity and the Rise of Film Noir, released this year to mark the film’s eightieth anniversary, highlights its unmatched influence on noir cinema: “We cannot overstate the influence of Double Indemnity on the film noir movement. Before 1944 there was a trickle of titles. After there was a flood.”

The book (dedicated to Richard Schickel, who wrote a BFI Film Classics study of the film) also covers the true-crime origins of Double Indemnity’s plot (including the famous Daily News photograph of Ruth Snyder in the electric chair), Wilder’s reluctant co-writer Raymond Chandler, and the film’s production history. Silver and Ursini provide plenty of new analysis, though they also recycle some material from the Double Indemnity entry in their film noir encyclopedia.

Photography Never Lies


Photography Never Lies
Macht

Photography Never Lies (ภาพถ่ายไม่โกหก) opened on 30th May at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, and runs until 8th September. The exhibition explores the impact of technology on the authenticity of images.

Photography Never Lies features a selection of works from one of the biggest names in AI photography, Boris Eldagsen. Eldagsen coined the term ‘promptography’ to describe the results produced by generative AI software based on prompts typed by the artist.

The Macht (‘power’) series, by Patrik Budenz and Birte Zellentin, is another highlight. Photographs of each country’s heads of state are superimposed over each other, with the longest-serving leaders dominating each composite portrait.

A set of postcards is available, featuring some of the key photographs from the exhibition. The set’s stylish packaging reproduces the camera aperture motif of the exhibition logo.

Orbiting Body


Orbiting Body

Orbiting Body (รูปโคจร) opened at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on 13th June, and runs until 8th September. The centrepiece of this sparse exhibition is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blue Encore (ออกแบบในใจ), large-scale landscape paintings by Noppanan Thannaree and Amnart Kankunthod suspended on motorised rails, opening and closing like theatrical backdrops or curtains. Blue Encore was previously shown at the Thailand Biennale in Chiang Rai.

13 June 2024

Breaking the Cycle


Breaking the Cycle

In Breaking the Cycle (อำนาจ ศรัทธา อนาคต), the new documentary charting the rise and fall of Future Forward, party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit complains that one of the party’s campaign leaflets focuses too much on him personally. The same could be said for Aekaphong Saransate and Thanakrit Duangmaneeporn’s film, as Thanathorn is on camera almost all of the time.

Future Forward was a progressive alternative to the military establishment that had entrenched itself following the 2014 coup. Only a year after its launch, the party came third in the 2019 election, after a wave of support for its charismatic leader. Just a few months later, Thanathorn was disqualified as an MP by the Constitutional Court, due to his ownership of shares in a media company. In 2020, the court dissolved Future Forward, ruling that it had violated party funding rules by accepting a ฿191 million loan from Thanathorn.

The documentary follows Thanathorn throughout all of these events, though it begins in 2014 with his determination to end the vicious cycle of military coups that has characterised Thailand’s modern political history. This mission gives the film its title, and party co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul asks: “Why is Thailand stuck in this cycle of coups?” Like Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), Breaking the Cycle features stunning drone shots of Democracy Monument to symbolise the country’s fragile democratic status.

Breaking the Cycle
Homogeneous, Empty Time

The film ends with the caption “THE CYCLE CONTINUES”, which is sadly accurate. History looks likely to repeat itself this year, as Future Forward’s successor, Move Forward, is facing almost certain dissolution. Move Forward won the 2023 election, though it was excluded from the governing coalition by Pheu Thai. The Constitutional Court has already ruled that Move Forward’s manifesto pledge to amend the lèse-majesté law constituted an attempt to overthrow the monarchy.

Breaking the Cycle is a complete record of the Future Forward movement. But the events of 2019 and early 2020 have already been overtaken by the even greater election result achieved by Move Forward last year. The sustained opposition to Move Forward and its idealistic leader, Pita Limjaroenrat—from Pheu Thai, the military, the Senate, and the Constitutional Court—is arguably a more significant subject than that of Future Forward, though Move Forward is mentioned only in the film’s final few minutes.

As one of the documentary’s interviewees says: “This is the beginning of the next chapter.” If Breaking the Cycle is a prologue to the story of Move Forward, hopefully its eventual sequel will feature a new iteration of the party gaining power after the 2027 election. That’s something Thanathorn half-jokingly predicts in the film: “In three elections we’ll be the government.”

Breaking the Cycle was commissioned by Future Forward, so it’s not an objective portrait of the party. Thanathorn is interviewed, but he’s not asked about either his media shares or his party loan. Internal party disagreements, such as that between Thanathorn and Piyabutr, aren’t mentioned. Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich does admit that the party was politically naive, a description that arguably applies even more to Pita’s Move Forward.

Breaking the Cycle is one of the very few feature-length political documentaries to go on general theatrical release in Thailand. Like Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย), Breaking the Cycle has been a box-office hit with politically engaged young people, which is hardly surprising given the unprecedented support that Future Forward (and Move Forward) received from Millenials and Gen Z. (There will be a Q&A with Aekaphong and Thanakrit at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 30th June.)

Yesterday, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon filed a complaint at the Central Investigation Bureau in Bangkok, calling for a police investigation into Breaking the Cycle on charges of sedition (article 116 of the Thai criminal code). Mongkolkit, former leader of the Thai Civilized Party (a right-wing microparty), accused the film of presenting a one-sided account of Future Forward. (This is true, but of course it isn’t a crime.)

Mongkolkit also complained that the film discussed the 2014 coup without explaining the reasons why the junta seized power, as if any explanation could justify the military’s power grab. It’s deeply ironic that film directors are facing potential charges for discussing the coup, while the generals who orchestrated the coup have avoided prosecution.

08 June 2024

Gallery Movie Night:
A Night of Cinematic Exploration


Gallery Movie Night

A retrospective of short films by Taiki Sakpisit took place this evening at SAC Gallery in Bangkok, followed by a Q&A with the artist. Gallery Movie Night: A Night of Cinematic Exploration featured four of Taiki’s previous films—Shadow and Act, A Ripe Volcano, Seeing in the Dark, and The Age of Anxiety—and one new production, The Spirit Level. Like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย), The Spirit Level tackles the tragic discoveries of the bodies of murdered political dissidents in the Mekong river.

Shadow and Act


Shadow and Act—like Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo and Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Come Here (ใจจำลอง)—features sequences shot at Dusit Zoo, which was closed by royal decree in 2018. Shadow and Act also includes shots filmed at another prestigious institution from a bygone age, the Chaya Jitrakorn photography studio, panning slowly around the studio’s fixtures and fittings, settling upon dusty portraits of Cold War dictator Phibun Songkhram and other kharatchakan (‘civil servants’).

A Ripe Volcano


Similarly, in A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ), the camera prowls elegiacally through the empty corridors of the Royal Hotel, another example of Bangkok’s faded glory. The hotel became a makeshift field hospital in 1992 during ‘Black May’, and its lobby was stormed by the military. A Ripe Volcano evokes the violence of the event through indirect signifiers, such as a fire engine (several of which were set ablaze in 1992), creating an uncanny sense of foreboding. Weerapat Sakolvaree’s Zombie Citizens and Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล) also evoke Black May with shots of the hotel.

Seeing in the Dark


Seeing in the Dark opens with contemplative, static images of Khao Kho, a mountainous region in northern Thailand with a potent political legacy: Phibun hid the country’s gold reserve—and the Emerald Buddha statue—from the Japanese there during World War II, and the area was a base for Communist insurgents throughout the 1970s. There are shots of the Sacrificial Monument compound, which memorialises the ‘sacrifices’ of the soldiers who fought the Communists, rather than the thousands of insurgents who were killed.

Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism website notes that Khao Kho was once “a red area smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies. Khao Kho was considered a forbidden land that ordinary people should not get too close to because it was considered extremely dangerous. But as time passed, the conflict ended and Khao Kho transformed into one of Phetchabun’s most striking and beautiful tourist areas.”

A similar reputational whitewashing took place at other sites of anti-Communist violence, such as Santikhiri and Nabua, a process examined in Thunska’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), Apichatpong’s A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม), and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ). Khao Kho, Santikhiri, and Nabua are, to use Dutch artist Armando’s term, ‘guilty landscapes’: tranquil spaces that bear silent witness to historical violence.

In Seeing in the Dark, an ominous rumble on the soundtrack hints at the continued presence of this past menace. The film ends with footage of anti-government protests from October 2020, a reminder—to quote the Ministry of Tourism again—that Thailand is still “smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies.”

The Age of Anxiety


The retrospective concluded with The Age of Anxiety which, with its rapid-fire editing and screeching soundtrack, captured the anxious atmosphere during the twilight of King Rama IX’s reign. The film’s English title reflects the national mood while Rama IX was hospitalised, though its Thai title (รอ ๑๐) has an additional resonance, with a reference to his successor.

Dark Was the Night

Dark Was the Night


Yesterday’s event was part of Taiki’s Dark Was the Night (ผีพุ่งไต้) exhibition, which opened on 9th May and runs until 6th July. The exhibition features a two-channel video installation, also titled Dark Was the Night, projected at opposite ends of the gallery. On one side are shots of the Thammasat University campus, which initially seem to contrast with the theme of the exhibition. But these images are metaphorically rather than literally dark, reminders of the 6th October 1976 massacre that took place at Thammasat, making the campus another ‘guilty landscape’. The exhibition also includes three photographs from Taiki’s Thammasat University series.

07 June 2024

Baby Reindeer



Fiona Harvey is suing Netflix for defamation, and seeking $170 million in damages, after its drama series Baby Reindeer portrayed her as a convicted stalker. Netflix claims that the show, released on 11th April, is a true story, which Harvey’s lawsuit describes as “the biggest lie in television history.”

Baby Reindeer is based on writer Richard Gadd’s experiences of being harassed by Harvey. Her name was changed—to Martha Scott—and her character is eventually convicted of stalking Gadd amongst others, though Harvey insists that, in real life, she has not been found guilty of a criminal offence. In a statement, she said: “I have never been charged with any crime, let alone been convicted, still less pleaded guilty and of course I have never been to prison for anything.”

05 June 2024

No Way Out —
Brexit:
From the Backstop to Boris


All Out War / Fall Out / No Way Out

Tim Shipman’s weekly ‘long reads’ in The Sunday Times have, for the past decade, provided the most incisive running commentary on British politics. His first book, All Out War, was the definitive account of the Brexit referendum. Its sequel, Fall Out, covered the aftermath of the Brexit vote and the 2017 general election. His new book, No Way Out—“the third in what is now a four-part sequence of books designed to tell the full story of the most explosive period of domestic British politics since the Second World War”—is an exhaustive record of Theresa May’s ill-fated efforts to negotiate a Brexit deal.

Shipman characterises the five most recent Conservative prime ministers (David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and Rishi Sunak) respectively as “a blasé public schoolboy, an indecisive introvert, a self-centred extrovert, an untrammelled ideologue, and the school swot with little feel for politics.” He interviewed three of them for No Way Out, along with an incredible thirty-nine cabinet ministers. The book has taken six years to finish, as he explained in a Sunday Times article published on 21st April: “Every time I thought the end was in sight, Westminster erupted into a fresh round of psychodrama.”

No Way Out (subtitled Brexit: From the Backstop to Boris) shows once again that Shipman has the best sources of any current political journalist. (For a 24th March 2019 Sunday Times story, he spoke off-the-record to eleven serving cabinet ministers who all called for May to resign as PM.) The book includes a minute-by-minute reconstruction of the decisive Chequers cabinet meeting that led to Boris Johnson resigning as Foreign Secretary in 2018, and another ministerial resignation that year provides one of No Way Out’s most memorable quotes: after Phillip Lee defected to the Liberal Democrats, a “mild-mannered aide branded him ‘the Godzilla of cunts’.”

The book’s conclusion is titled Theresa May: A Study in Failure, and Shipman leaves no doubt that May’s uncommunicative leadership style led directly to the Brexit stalemate that defined her time in office. (She admits as much in The Abuse of Power: “I know in my heart of hearts that the political reality is that my premiership will always be seen in the context of Brexit and my failure to get a deal through the House of Commons.”) His next book, Out, will tell the full story of the last five tumultuous years of Conservative government.

02 June 2024

Shakespeare Must Die


Shakespeare Must Die

Ing K.’s Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) will finally be released in Thai cinemas on 20th June, after more than a decade in legal limbo. The film was banned by the Ministry of Culture in 2012, and the ban was upheld by the Administrative Court in 2017. Ing’s battle with the censors, documented in her film Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย), went all the way to the Supreme Court, which lifted the ban in February following the liberalised censorship policy announced by the National Soft Power Strategy Committee (คณะกรรมการยุทธศาสตร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ) at the start of this year.

Shakespeare Must Die is a Thai adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with Pisarn Pattanapeeradej in the lead role. The play is presented in two parallel versions: a production in period costume, and a contemporary political interpretation. The period version is faithful to Shakespeare’s original, though it also breaks the fourth wall, with cutaways to the audience and an interval outside the theatre (featuring a cameo by the director).

In the contemporary sequences, Macbeth is reimagined as Mekhdeth, a prime minister facing a crisis. Street protesters shout “ok pbai!” (‘get out!’), and the protests are infiltrated by assassins listed in the credits as ‘men in black’. Ing has downplayed any direct link to Thai politics, though “Thaksin ok pbai!” was the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s rallying cry against Thaksin Shinawatra, and ‘men in black’ were blamed for instigating violence in 2010. Another satirical line in the script—“Dear Leader brings happy-ocracy!”—predicts Prayut Chan-o-cha’s propaganda song Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย).

The parallels between Mekhdeth and Thaksin highlight the politically-motivated nature of the ban imposed on the film. Ironically, the project was initially funded by the Ministry of Culture, during Abhisit Vejjajiva’s premiership: it received a grant from the ไทยเข้มแข็ง (‘strong Thailand’) stimulus package. The Abhisit government was only too happy to greenlight a script criticising Thaksin, though by the time the film was finished, Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was in power, and her administration was somewhat less disposed to this anti-Thaksin satire, hence the ban.

Although the film was made twelve years ago, its message is arguably more timely than ever, as Thaksin’s influence over Thai politics continues. He returned to Thailand last year, and his Pheu Thai party is now leading a coalition with the political wing of the military junta.

The film’s climax, a recreation of the 6th October 1976 massacre, is its most controversial sequence. A photograph by Neal Ulevich, taken during the massacre, shows a vigilante preparing to hit a corpse with a chair, and Shakespeare Must Die restages the incident. A hanging body (symbolising Shakespeare himself) is repeatedly hit with a chair, though rather than dwelling on the violence, Ing cuts to reaction shots of the crowd, which (as in 1976) resembles a baying mob.

Ing was interviewed in Thai Cinema Uncensored, and the book details the full story behind the ban. Ing doesn’t mince her words in the interview, describing the censors as “a bunch of trembling morons with the power of life and death over our films.” Thai Cinema Uncensored also includes an insider’s account from a member of the appeals committee, who said he was obliged by his department head to vote against releasing the film: “I had to vote no, because it was an instruction from my director. But if I could have voted freely, I would have voted yes.”

Ing’s film My Teacher Eats Biscuits (คนกราบหมา) was also subject to a long-lasting ban, which was overturned last year. Shakespeare Must Die will be screened at Cinema Oasis, where My Teacher Eats Biscuits and Censor Must Die were both shown last month. There will also be an exhibition of costumes and props from Shakespeare Must Die and My Teacher Eats BiscuitsHow to Make a Cheap Movie Look Good (ทำอย่างไรให้ / หนังทุนต่ำ / ดูดี?)—at Galerie Oasis from 20th June.

01 June 2024

My Favourite Movies


My Favourite Movies

No, not my favourite movies. Veteran Australian film critic David Stratton’s book My Favourite Movies, published in 2021, lists his 111 favourites in chronological order.

Stratton’s “personal pantheon” is restricted to a single film per director. It’s an excellent list, with a few pleasant surprises (including The Awful Truth, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and The Incredible Shrinking Man).

Stratton’s 111 favourite movies are as follows:
  • Metropolis
  • The General
  • Wings
  • The Last Command
  • City Lights
  • Love Me Tonight
  • Trouble in Paradise
  • It’s a Gift
  • A Night at the Opera
  • The Awful Truth
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • The Rules of the Game
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Public Enemy
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Lady Eve
  • Casablance
  • Went the Day Well?
  • Meet Me in St. Louis
  • Les enfants du paradis
  • The Best Years of Our Lives
  • The Big Sleep
  • Duel in the Sun
  • Great Expectations
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • A Matter of Life and Death
  • The Big Clock
  • Letter from an Unknown Woman
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets
  • All About Eve
  • In a Lonely Place
  • The African Queen
  • Bend of the River
  • The Man in the White Suit
  • High Noon
  • Shane
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • M. Hulot’s Holiday
  • I vitelloni
  • Bad Day at Black Rock
  • Les diaboliques
  • On the Waterfront
  • Seven Samurai
  • A Star Is Born
  • The Night of the Hunter
  • Attack
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • The Brothers Rico
  • The Incredible Shrinking Man
  • 3:10 to Yuma
  • Twelve Angry Men
  • Wild Strawberries
  • Breathless
  • The 400 Blows
  • North by Northwest
  • The Apartment
  • Cléo from 5 to 7
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire
  • Viridiana
  • Advise and Consent
  • A Kind of Loving
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • The Leopard
  • Charulata
  • The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
  • Andrei Rublev
  • Accident
  • The Unfaithful Wife
  • Z
  • Alice’s Restaurant
  • The Wild Bunch
  • The Conformist
  • The Last Picture Show
  • Taking Off
  • W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism
  • Don’t Look Now
  • Chinatown
  • The Conversation
  • Jaws
  • Nashville
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • Cría cuervos
  • Kings of the Road
  • Annie Hall
  • The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
  • Coming Home
  • Newsfront
  • Farewell My Concubine
  • Alien
  • Breaker Morant
  • Manhunter
  • High Tide
  • Where Is the Friend’s House?
  • Distant Voices, Still Lives
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Sweetie
  • Lorenzo’s Oil
  • The Age of Innocence
  • Fargo
  • Drifting Clouds
  • Love Serenade
  • Jackie Brown
  • All About My Mother
  • Lantana
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • The Host
  • Animal Kingdom
  • Samson and Delilah
  • Nebraska
  • I, Daniel Blake
  • Roma
Dateline Bangkok has covered every ‘greatest film’ list published in the last two decades. But the book that My Favourite Movies most resembles is Barry Norman’s 100 Best Films of the Century from 1993.

29 May 2024

“The attorney general has decided to indict Thaksin on all charges...”


Chosun Media

The Office of the Attorney General confirmed today that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be indicted for lèse-majesté and violation of the Computer Crime Act, in relation to an interview he gave in South Korea almost a decade ago. An OAG spokesman said this morning: “The attorney general has decided to indict Thaksin on all charges”. Thaksin was not present to answer those charges, as he tested positive for coronavirus yesterday. His hearing has been postponed until 18th June.

The charges relate to a short video clip from The Chosun Daily (조선일보), recorded on 21st May 2015, in which Thaksin implied that privy councillors were behind the 2014 coup. Thaksin has made similar claims in previous interviews, without being indicted for lèse-majesté: on 20th April 2009, he told the Financial Times that the Privy Council plotted the 2006 coup, and he made the same allegation to Tom Plate in Conversations with Thaksin. Likewise, on 27th March 2008, he publicly accused Prem Tinsulanonda, Privy Council leader at the time, of masterminding the 2006 coup.

Thaksin’s passports were revoked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 27th May 2015, in a preemptive decision pending a police investigation into the Chosun Daily video. Two days later, lèse-majesté charges were filed against Thaksin on behalf of Udomdej Sitabutr, army chief at the time (raising questions about the politicisation of the military). After Thaksin was indicted today, his lawyer Winyat Chartmontri said: “Thaksin is ready to prove his innocence in the justice system.” That stance may change if the case goes to trial, as those accused of lèse-majesté almost always enter guilty pleas. (Defendants pleading guilty often receive reduced sentences.)

When Thaksin returned from self-imposed exile on 22nd August 2023, it seemed that he and the military had reached a mutually beneficial truce. However, the military giveth and taketh away: Thaksin has been wrong-footed several times, and every act of leniency granted to him has come with strings attached. He was released on parole on 18th February, yet the very next day he appeared at the OAG (in a wheelchair) after the Chosun Daily case was suddenly revived. His application for a royal pardon was accepted, though it only partially commuted his prison sentence. Senators endorsed Srettha Thavisin, the leader of his proxy party, as Prime Minister, though a group of forty senators has now petitioned the Constitutional Court to investigate Srettha.

Srettha is accused of violating article 160 of the constitution by appointing Pichit Chuenban, Thaksin’s disgraced former lawyer, as Prime Minister’s Office Minister. Pichit was jailed for six months in 2008 after blatantly attempting to bribe a judge on Thaksin’s behalf with ฿2 million in cash. Article 160 states that government ministers must “not have behaviour which is a serious violation of or failure to comply with ethical standards”, which would seem to apply in Pichit’s case. (It’s worth noting, though, that exceptions can be made: the court ruled that Thammanat Prompao was qualified as a minister in the 2019 military-backed government despite his criminal record for heroin smuggling, as he was convicted outside Thailand.)

The court accepted the petition against Srettha on 23rd May. With both Thaksin and Srettha now under investigation, it seems clear that a warning message (at the very least) is being sent, reminding Thaksin that his deal with the military was not made on equal terms. Thaksin upheld his side of the Faustian pact when his proxy party Pheu Thai prevented the anti-military Move Forward Party from forming a government, but Move Forward is now facing the prospect of dissolution by the Constitutional Court. This would be a more effective neutralisation of MFP, and could be achieved without Thaksin, who may therefore become surplus to the military’s requirements.

26 May 2024

Comics and the Origins of Manga:
A Revisionist History


Comics and the Origins of Manga

Many Western readers were first introduced to Japanese manga by Frederik L. Schodt’s seminal book Manga! Manga! in 1983. One of Schodt’s chapters was titled A Thousand Years of Manga, situating manga within the entire tradition of Japanese visual culture. This approach is also adopted by Japanese manga scholars, and by the country’s cultural institutions, as it establishes manga as both artistically significant and inherently Japanese. Similarly, recent books such as Eric P. Nash’s Manga Kamishibai and Adam L. Kern’s Manga from the Floating World link manga to earlier, largely unrelated forms of Japanese art for commercial reasons: putting manga in the title sells more copies.

In his book Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History, published in 2022, Eike Exner challenges this concept of an apparently unbroken line from ancient scrolls to modern manga, debunking the “tradition of historiography that for nearly a century has sought to establish a continuity between present-day narrative Japanese comics and centuries of domestic visual art preceding them.” Exner argues that manga represents a break from traditional Japanese art, and that it developed instead as a result of innovations adopted from American comics. He shows how early US comic strips utilised new devices such as speech bubbles, which were later employed by Japanese mangaka: “Japanese and American comics came to rely on transdiegetic content like speech balloons instead of external narration to tell stories. Such audiovisual comics first developed in the United States and from there moved to Japan.”

Specifically, he cites the Bringing Up Father comic strip, which was first serialised in Japan in 1923. This American comic was popular in Japanese translation, and the following year it inspired the Japanese strip フキダシ (‘easygoing father’) by Yutaka Asō, which shared Bringing Up Father’s use of transdiegetic devices. Schodt also identified the link between these two strips, noting that フキダシ was “a direct spin-off of Bringing up Father, but its everyday-life situations and the self-effacing character of its hero had a quality Japanese readers naturally warmed to. Initially, the American influence was obvious”. But Schodt saw this as a fad rather than a paradigm shift: “Japanese newspapers realized the power of comic strips to attract readers and began hiring Japanese artists who used American styles. Foreign comics were exotic but, in the end, alien. Japanese comics were a smash hit.”

Exner is careful to avoid accusations that manga is a mere imitation of American comic style: “It would be simplistic to say that modern comics were “invented” in America and “copied” by the Japanese.” Instead, he argues that the relationship between the two cultures is one of cross-fertilisation, as the creator of Bringing Up Father was himself inspired by Japan’s ‘floating world’ woodblock prints: “The influence of Japanese ukiyo-e prints on George McManus, whose Bringing Up Father in turn became the most influential and longest-running graphic narrative in prewar Japan, exemplifies the complexity of transnational cultural influence.”

Exner’s research represents a ground-breaking approach to manga studies. Rather than “portraying manga as something both older and more specifically Japanese than it really is”, he demonstrates that manga as a Japanese multipanel comic format has its roots in the 1890s, and that manga in the modern sense—with its transdiegetic speech bubbles—is exactly 100 years old. He suggests that the impact of American comics on manga has previously been downplayed as it “complicates the popular account of contemporary manga as the culmination of domestic popular art, which may explain why few have been interested in the recovery of this foreign influence.”

High Bias:
The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape


High Bias

High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape, by Marc Masters, was published last year, the sixtieth anniversary of the compact cassette. The first in-depth history of the subject, the book shows “how the cassette tape emerged—as a technological development, a marketed product, a cultural icon—and how things have changed because of the cassette tape.”

Masters covers the invention of the cassette by Lou Ottens for Philips in 1963, and the introduction of the Sony Walkman personal stereo in 1979. Ottens appeared in the documentary Cassette (directed by Zack Taylor, Georg Petzold, and Seth Smoot), and Masters draws on unused extracts from that film’s interviews with Ottens. The book also looks at the recent cassette comeback, a resurgence in sales similar to the vinyl revival, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Miniaturisation led to even smaller analogue cassette formats, the tiniest being the picocassette developed by Dictaphone. Compact cassettes were the highest-selling physical music format between 1984 and 1990, though they were overtaken by CDs in 1991. Two books, The Art of Sound by Terry Burrows and Analogue by Deyan Sudjic, are devoted to cassette decks, boomboxes, and other vintage audio equipment.

A History of Advertising:
The First 300,000 Years


A History of Advertising

A History of Advertising, the first comprehensive history of advertising, was published in 2022. While the original edition was illustrated in colour throughout, the paperback edition published this year has greyscale illustrations. The book, by Jef I. Richards, is subtitled The First 300,000 Years, but that vast timespan is not meant to be taken literally. As Richards acknowledges, “there are many possible starting points for advertising history,” but they are all less than ten thousand years old. In fact, more than half of the book is devoted to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

A History of Advertising is deeply researched and unprecedented in scope, and Richards has written the first complete narrative history of advertising. Previous books on the subject have all been limited in various ways: Mark Tungate’s Adland covers the ad industry rather than the ads themselves, Stephane Pincas and Marc Loiseau’s A History of Advertising has plenty of images but very little text, and Peter Russell and Senta Slingerland’s Game Changers covers only the last sixty years. The nearest equivalent is Simon Veksner’s less comprehensive 100 Ideas That Changed Advertising.

22 May 2024

Murdered Justice


Murdered Justice Ten Years Ago

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the 2014 coup. Just two days after the military takeover, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights was established to provide pro bono legal support for activists detained by the junta (what was euphemistically described as ‘attitude adjustment’) or prosecuted for lèse-majesté.

The Murdered Justice (วิสามัญยุติธรรม) exhibition at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre marks ten years of both the coup and TLHR. It includes casings from rubber bullets fired by riot police, the bloodied shirt worn by New Democracy Movement member Sirawith Seritiwat when he was attacked by thugs in 2019—previously shown at the Never Again (หยุด ย่ำ ซ้ำ เดิน) exhibition—and a 2016 leaflet campaigning against the constitution drafted by the junta.

Land of Compromise

The first section of the exhibition is headed “Land of Compromise”, in reference to a quote from an impromptu interview during a royal walkabout. The wall text describes the phrase as “the expression that, at least after the 2014 coup d’état, beneath the “smile” lies the enforcement of laws and violence to thwart change.” (This is also quoted in the PDF exhibition catalogue, p. 87.) At the exhibition, and in the catalogue, “Land of Compromise” is juxtaposed with a large portrait of Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a pro-democracy protester who died in prison this month after going on hunger strike.

‘Land of compromise’ has previously been quoted by several artists to make the same point as the Murdered Justice exhibition. Videos by Elevenfinger and Petchnin Sukjan both flash the words “LAND OF COMPROMISE” on screen accompanied by the sound of rubber bullets being fired. The phrase also appears in Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s exhibition A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise, and in the lyrics to songs by Paeng Surachet and Speech Odd.

Murdered Justice opened yesterday, and runs until 26th May. The exhibition coincides with the launch of a new book, Ten Years Ago (ผู้ต้องหาเสรีภาพ 1 ทศวรรษ รัฐประหาร 2557 กับการต่อสู้ของผู้ต้องคดีการเมือง), edited by Veerapong Soontornchattrawat and Noppon Archamas, which profiles some of the political prisoners assisted by TLHR. Noppon is also the editor of Dissident Citizen (ราษฎรกำแหง)

18 May 2024

Tawee Ratchaneekorn:
A Retrospective Exhibition 1960–2022


Tawee Ratchaneekorn

Tawee Ratchaneekorn: A Retrospective Exhibition 1960–2022 (ทวี รัชนีกร: ปรากฏการณ์แห่งอุดมการณ์) was held at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in 2022, accompanied by a lavish exhibition catalogue signed by the artist. The catalogue includes an interview with Tawee, and essays (in Thai and English) on his art and its political context.

Throughout his sixty-year artistic career, Tawee’s work has consistently drawn attention to socio-economic inequality. Walking around the exhibition, a surprising motif became apparent: many paintings, none of which were flattering portraits, featured golden crowns. Other paintings satirise self-serving Thai politicians and military generals.

Tawee Ratchaneekorn

The catalogue includes an erratum slip correcting a mistake in one of its essays: both the Thai and English versions mention the ‘14th and 16th October incidents’. As the erratum slip makes clear, this should refer to 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976, the dates of two historical massacres. Another essay in the catalogue makes a similar error—citing the ‘16th and 19th October incidents’—though this has not been corrected.

Highlighting these errors might seem like nitpicking, but they are not mere typos. Although the two massacres are among the most notorious events in modern Thai history, they have been whitewashed to such an extent that many people cannot tell them apart. The title of Aomtip Kerdplanant’s short film 16 ตุลา (‘16th Oct.’) comments on this by conflating the two dates. Similarly, the book Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย) describes “accounts which confuse the two events, often fusing them into one”.

17 May 2024

Red Poetry


Wildtype Middle Class 2024

Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will be shown at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok, Lorem Ipsum in Hat Yai, and Alien Artspace in Khon Kaen on 26th May, as part of the Wildtype Middle Class 2024 season. It will also be screened at Chiang Mai University on 4th June, at dot.b in Songkhla on 6th June, at Vongchavalitkul University in Korat on 7th June, at the University of Phayao on 13th June, and at Bookhemian in Phuket on 23rd June. The documentary is a profile of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who co-founded the group Artn’t. A shorter version of the film—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—had its premiere at Wildtype 2022.

Red Poetry shows the intense endurance and commitment Vitthaya invests in his protest art. A durational performance—sitting near Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate for nine full days—led to his collapse from exhaustion. In another action, he climbed onto Chiang Mai University’s main entrance, repeatedly slapped himself in the face, and jumped into a pond. Before reporting to the police to answer charges of sedition, he vomited blue paint outside the police station.

The film ends with Vitthaya’s most extreme action: he carved “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges he faced after exhibiting a modified version of the Thai flag in 2021. He was convicted of lèse-majesté last year, and received a suspended sentence.

Supamok’s film was screened three times as part of the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27): in the online Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน), at the main festival itself, and in the Short 27 Awarded Film Screening programme. It has previously been shown in Chiang Mai (most recently in February), Salaya, and Phatthalung.

Strangers on a Train


Strangers on a Train

The House Samyan cinema in Bangkok will show Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Strangers on a Train next month, with screenings on 14th, 15th, 16th, 22nd, and 23rd June. The film begins with two men, Bruno and Guy, meeting by chance in a train carriage. Guy (played by Farley Granger) is a famous tennis player, and Bruno (Robert Walker) recognises him and starts a seemingly innocent conversation.

Very quickly, Bruno’s questions exposes Guy’s private insecurities, and Bruno makes a theoretical proposal: that he will kill Guy’s unfaithful wife if Guy kills his father. Guy laughs dismissively at the idea, and leaves the train. But after Bruno carries out his end of the arrangement, he pressures Guy to do likewise. Guy is trapped: he can’t go to the police, because Bruno would claim that they had plotted the scheme together.

The plot is from Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name, which Hitchcock adapted with Czenzi Ormonde and Barbara Keon. Novelist Raymond Chandler had been originally contracted to write the script, though Chandler disliked collaborating with Hitchcock. He regarded Hitchcock’s contributions as interferences whereas, for Hitchcock, collaborating on a script was the most enjoyable part of the creative process.

The novel’s central premise remains unchanged in the film, as it’s such a perfect Hitchcockian scenario. But there was a major structural alteration: in the book, Guy does indeed kill Bruno’s father, whereas in the film he doesn’t. Highsmith’s book is about the corruption of innocence: Bruno’s pervasive persistence ultimately drives Guy to murder, much as Iago poisons the mind of Shakespeare’s Othello.

Hitchcock’s film, on the other hand, explores the persecution of innocence, with a framed man under constant suspicion, a theme he dealt with equally directly in The 39 Steps, North by Northwest, and The Wrong Man. Other Hitchcock preoccupations are present too: the idea of the perfect murder is a conversation topic in both this film and Shadow of a Doubt, and there are Oedipal overtones to the mother-son relationships in Strangers on a Train, Psycho, and Notorious.

Walker’s performance is outstanding, and he perfectly captures the character’s decadence and obsession. In fact, Bruno is the most engaging character in the film, and the audience is manipulated into sympathising with him. Hitchcock’s villains were often more charming than his heroes: Uncle Charlie, for instance, in Shadow of a Doubt, Norman in Psycho, and Tony in Dial M for Murder. Bruno is also another in a line of Hitchcock’s implicitly gay characters, like Brandon and Phillip in Rope, Leonard in North by Northwest, and Mrs Danvers in Rebecca.

The theme of doubling is a significant aspect of the film, recalling the doppelgänger in The Case of Mr. Pelham and the two Charlies of Shadow of a Doubt: two leading men (gay/straight; guilty/innocent), two archetypal love interests (Madonna/whore), and two detectives (good cop/bad cop). The standout sequence comes before Guy’s tennis match, when the spectators’ heads turn like metronomes, following each volley of the ball, while Bruno stares conspicuously ahead. Despite a melodramatic ending, this is one of Hitchcock’s greatest films.

15 May 2024

The Politics of Nordsploitation:
History, Industry, Audiences


The Politics of Nordsploitation Let the Right One In

The Politics of Nordsploitation: History, Industry, Audiences, published in 2021, is the fourth volume in the Global Exploitation Cinemas series. Pietari Kääpä and Tommy Gustafsson coined ‘Nordsploitation’ as an umbrella term referring to the exploitation cinema of the Nordic region (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). The book offers an alternative history of Nordic cinema, focussing on marginalised and censored films: “The Politics of Nordsploitation is primarily interested in ‘forgotten’ films that are typically categorized as cheap and irrelevant by cultural authorities”.

The authors discuss the excesses of 1970s exploitation movies, and the moral panic over VHS horror films in Sweden, which predated the UK ‘video nasties’ controversy. Gustafsson even consulted a doctor to verify a notorious moment of eyeball violence in Thriller (En Grym Film) that was rumoured to utilise a real human body. (The GP “leaned towards it being fake”.) But, surprisingly, it’s the austere Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) that they cite as “in many ways the quintessential Nordic exploitation film”.

11 May 2024

The Magic Eye:
The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick


The Magic Eye

Banned by Stanley Kubrick! Finally released after more than fifty years! In this case, the hyperbole is true: Kubrick blocked the publication of Neil Hornick’s The Magic Eye: The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick in 1969, and it was published for the first time last month.

Hornick was commissioned by Peter Cowie’s Tantivy Press to write the first book on Kubrick’s films, and Kubrick agreed to cooperate, though he drew up a prohibitive contract giving him the right to veto anything in the manuscript that he disliked. Famously, Kubrick was a control freak, and he was demanding final cut on Hornick’s book.

Cowie had planned to release a series of books on major filmmakers, modelled on A Ribbon of Dreams, his own monograph on Orson Welles. He would eventually commission and publish works on a handful of (mostly European) directors, though Kubrick would not be among them.

Once Hornick had finished his manuscript and submitted it to Kubrick, he received a lawyer’s letter informing him that the director “does not approve” of its contents. Months went by, with Kubrick declining to clarify his objections, and refusing to return the manuscript. As Cowie was bound by the contract, Hornick was forced to abandon the project.

At the same time that Kubrick was stalling over Hornick’s manuscript, film critic Alexander Walker was also writing a book about the director. Unlike Hornick’s, Walker’s work—Stanley Kubrick Directs—was just the puff piece Kubrick was looking for, and he cooperated extensively with Walker. Stanley Kubrick Directs was published with Kubrick’s endorsement, while The Magic Eye was shelved until this year.

Kubrick’s decision to abruptly turn his back on one author (Hornick) and switch his attention to a rival (Walker) would be repeated years later during the preproduction for AI. Kubrick worked with several collaborators on the AI script, one after the other, cutting off contact with each in turn. Ian Watson, Brian Aldiss, and Sara Maitland have all subsequently revealed how Kubrick summarily dispensed with their services once he had found a replacement writer.

The Magic Eye now includes a timeline of the protracted legal case, and a foreword by Filippo Ulivieri, author of 2001 Between Kubrick and Clarke (2001 tra Kubrick e Clarke) and Stanley Kubrick and Me (Stanley Kubrick e me). Ulivieri notes that Kubrick’s delaying tactics were similar to his treatment of Arthur C. Clarke: he refused to approve the manuscript for Clarke’s novel 2001 until after the film was released, keeping Clarke and his publisher in limbo.

10 May 2024

Mango Art Festival 2024


Mango Art Festival 2024

The Mango Art Festival 2024 at River City in Bangkok (running from 7th to 12th May) includes a new series of paintings by Wittawat Tongkeaw. As in his exhibition 841.594, the colour blue dominates his recent work. (On Thailand’s tricolour flag, blue symbolises the monarchy.) His paintings are for sale, and each price ends with 112. (Lèse-majesté is article 112 of the criminal code.)

In Wittawat’s exhibtion The L/Royal Monument (นิ/ราษฎร์), paintings of sunsets represented a desire for transition. Displayed at the Mango Art Festival are paintings of sunrises, with orange skies signifying the rising popularity of the progressive Move Forward Party (whose logo is orange). Titles include Blue vs. Orange (showing the sky split between the two colours), Blue to Orange (in which the sun is rising over the sea, implying that the almost entirely blue sky will become orange), and Hope (a sky filled with blazing orange light).

Blue vs. Orange / It's Just the Sky, Nothing More / Hope / Orange to Blue

Wittawat’s work over the last decade has been dominated by political symbolism, which has the potential to arouse scrutiny from the authorities. But another painting at the Mango Art Festival gives the artist some plausible deniability: depicting clouds in a blue sky, it’s wittily titled It’s Just the Sky, Nothing More. Wittawat used a similar painting of a sky in his provocative installation Creation-Conclusion (เริ่ม-จบ) at The L/Royal Monument.

Fiction/Nonfiction



Next month, the Thai Film Archive at Salaya will show a season of films that blur the lines between documentary and fiction. The Fiction/Nonfiction season begins on 1st June with Robert Flaherty’s classic Nanook of the North, regarded as the first documentary feature despite its staged sequences and anachronisms.

Later screenings include the docudrama Tongpan (ทองปาน) also on 1st June, Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Come Here (ใจจำลอง) on 5th and 18th June, Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s Railway Sleepers (หมอนรถไฟ) on 6th and 18th June, and the compilation film Lumiére! on 9th and 19th June. (Lumiére! will also be screened at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 10th June. Tongpan has previously been shown at Noir Row Art Space, Cinema Oasis, and Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.)

09 May 2024

Super Soft Power



Thai police are investigating a Netflix special hosted by the popular stand-up comedian Udom Taephanich, following complaints about his show Super Soft Power (ซูเปอร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์), which was released on 1st May. Udom is accused of mocking King Rama IX’s notion of ‘sufficiency economy’, and charges against him have been filed by Sonthiya Sawasdee and disgraced former MP Parina Kraikupt (both of whom were previously members of the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party).

The ‘sufficiency economy’ concept simply encourages people to live within their means. In his show, Udom doesn’t challenge the notion of ‘sufficiency economy’ itself; instead, he criticises the hypocrisy of influencers who falsely claim to adhere to ‘sufficiency economy’ principles. Sonthiya has accused Udom of spreading misinformation about ‘sufficiency economy’, while Parina has filed lèse-majesté charges against him.

Sonthiya has previously filed charges against four singers for mild political satire, and against a former Miss Thailand Universe for disrespecting the national flag. Two years ago, Udom was investigated after complaints about the political content of his previous Netflix special, Deaw 13 (เดี่ยว 13).

05 May 2024

Country Home Sheriff



Oat Montien’s exhibition Country Home Sheriff opened at JWD Art Space in Bangkok on 2nd May, and runs until 14th July. Country Home Sheriff both celebrates and questions the cowboy as a male role model in Thai culture, examining its influence on both gay and straight ideas of masculinity.

For Oat, this subject is deeply personal, as his late father styled himself as a cowboy, and was the landlord of the Country Home pub, from which the exhibition takes its name. When his father died, Oat inherited his cowboy accoutrements, which he wears in videos shot for the exhibition. This raises Freudian issues, hinted at in the triptych video installation The Exquisite Fall (อัสดง), which is the exhibition’s centrepiece.

In another video—Oasis (โอเอซิส), from his Desert Lasso series (บ่วงบาศก์ทะเลทราย)—Oat stars as a gay cowboy having a tryst with his lover in the middle of the desert. Very few Thai films or videos are as explicit as Oasis, the others being Vichai Imsuksom’s The Secret Room, Ohm Phanphiroj’s The Meaning of It All, and Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์).

What these works of queer video art have in common, apart from their transgressive content, is their participatory nature: in each case, the artist appears on camera. Oat’s appearance is more performative, as he is playing a character (the cowboy), though it’s also more multi-layered, as he is representing his late father, and both personifying and subverting an archetype of masculine identity.

01 May 2024

Nang Nak


Nang Nak

Nonzee Nimibutr’s classic horror movie Nang Nak (นางนาก) will be shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya this month (on 4th and 24th May), as part of a season paying tribute to actor Winai Kraibutr, who died earlier this year. Winai played the male lead in Nang Nak, which was his breakthrough role.

Nang Nak was most recently shown at the Archive in 2021, to celebrate Halloween. It was also screened during Halloween in 2020, at Lido Connect. Bangkok Screening Room included it in their Halloween season in 2019. It had an outdoor screening in 2018. It was shown at the Archive in 2013, and at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in 2010.

30 April 2024

Cannibal Error:
Anti-Film Propaganda and the ‘Video Nasties’ Panic of the 1980s


Cannibal Error

David Kerekes and David Slater followed Killing for Culture, their definitive history of real death on screen, with See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy, a comprehensive account of the ‘video nasty’ phenomenon, published in 2000. Both books have since been expanded and updated, more than twenty years later: a new edition of Killing for Culture appeared in 2016, and a second edition of See No Evil was released last month, retitled Cannibal Error: Anti-Film Propaganda and the ‘Video Nasties’ Panic of the 1980s.

‘Video nasty’ was a pejorative coined by the UK press in the early 1980s, when violent horror movies like Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust were released uncensored due to a lack of regulation over the emerging videocassette industry. After a campaign by the tabloids, police began charging video distributors under the Obscene Publications Act, and a list of thirty-nine actionable films was compiled by the Director of Public Prosecutions. In 1984, legislation was introduced requiring certification of all videos by the British Board of Film Classification.

See No Evil was the only book to cover every aspect of the ‘video nasties’ controversy: the films themselves, the moral panic whipped up by the media, the police prosecutions, the debate surrounding the influence of film violence, and state censorship of films on videotape. There have been other books on the subject—notably the academic study The Video Nasties, edited by Martin Barker; and John Martin’s chronology of press coverage, The Seduction of the Gullible—but See No Evil told the full story for the first time.

The second edition, Cannibal Error, is almost 200 pages longer than See No Evil. The main text has not been updated, but there are some new appendices, including a guide to the current availability of the original ‘video nasty’ films (by David Hinds) and interviews with senior BBFC staff. The new title—which will take some getting used to—is a pun on the film Cannibal Terror (Terreur cannibale), and a reference to the misinformation surrounding the ‘video nasties’.

Kerekes also edited the influential counter-culture journal Headpress, and his other books include Sex, Murder, Art (a monograph on director Jörg Buttgereit). Jake West (Video Nasties) and David Gregory (Ban the Sadist Videos!) have both made ‘video nasty’ documentaries, the Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 51, no. 610) published an analysis of the DPP’s list by Julian Petley and Kim Newman, and Newman wrote a concise history of the ‘video nasties’ in Sight and Sound (vol. 31, no. 5).