05 July 2022

Thai Cinema Uncensored


Sojourn

My book Thai Cinema Uncensored is reviewed in the new issue of Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia (volume 37, number 2), on pages 374-377. In her review, Annette Hamilton writes: “This is a great read not just for those interested in film, but for anyone trying to understand the nexus between culture and politics in Thailand in recent times.” She concludes: “This book is a valuable addition to Thai cinema studies. It is well-written and instructive.” (The book has previously been reviewed by the Bangkok Post newspaper, Art Review and The Big Chilli magazines, and the 101 World website.)

Thai Cinema Uncensored


The 101 World

The Thai news website The 101 World reviewed my book Thai Cinema Uncensored on 21st January 2021. (The book has also been reviewed by the Bangkok Post newspaper, and Art Review and The Big Chilli magazines.)

In his 101 World review, headlined ภาพยนตร์ไทยไม่ต้องห้าม (‘Thai movies are not forbidden’), Matt Changsupan writes: “สิ่งที่ทำให้ Thai Cinema Uncensored แข็งแรงขึ้นในการนำเสนอเรื่องของการเซนเซอร์ในภาพยนตร์ไทย นอกจากข้อมูลที่อัปเดตมากๆ... ได้ให้ภาพของการตั้งคำถามเกี่ยวกับการเมืองการปกครองร่วมสมัยผ่านภาพยนตร์ได้อย่างค่อนข้างครบถ้วน” (‘what makes Thai Cinema Uncensored superior in its discussion of Thai film censorship? In addition to its very up-to-date content... it provides a rather complete picture of the questioning of contemporary politics through film’).

02 July 2022

Mob 2020-2021


Moving Images Screening Night

Mob 2020-2021

The third Moving Images Screening Night (คืนฉายภาพเคลื่อนไหว) took place at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 30th June. (The first Moving Images Screening Night, on 28th April, featured Jittarin Wuthiphan’s powerful short film Still on My Mind, his record of a mob in Phuket attacking a man they accused of disrespecting King Rama IX. The second event, on 25th May, included Suwaporn Worrasit’s Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+.) Each screening is divided into two themed programmes, which for the third event were Eclipse and Lucid Memory.

The highlight of the evening was Supong Jitmuang’s Mob 2020-2021, a chronicle of the current student protest movement. Supong told me that the film is “handmade”, emphasising the intricate nature of this two-hour documentary. Audience members received a Moving Images Screening Night brochure (Phase 01: Program Book), which the organisers also describe as “handmade”: a zine-style publication with a limited print run. Mob 2020-2021 postcards were also available.

Mob 2020-2021 covers the first twelve months of the anti-government protest movement. Supong and his camera were at Thammasat University on 19th September 2020, for the overnight rally that later occupied Sanam Luang. On 14th October 2020, he filmed the march to Government House, after which a state of emergency was declared. On 17th November 2020, he was on the front line when protesters used inflatable ducks to protect themselves from water cannon fired by riot police. (Sorayos Prapapan’s short film Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship documents the same event.)

The protests intensified last summer, and Mob 2020-2021 shows the rally at Democracy Monument on 18th July 2021 marking the first anniversary of the anti-government campaign. Last August, there were almost daily confrontations between riot police and protesters, but rather than filming each event, Supong summarises them in a general written caption noting the “multiple continuous clashes that lasted many weeks” (Hopefully, the ongoing Sound of ‘Din’ Daeng documentary series will cover this period, and the violent tactics employed by the riot police, in more detail.)

The closest equivalent to Mob 2020-2021 is probably Ing Kanjanavanit’s Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์) though, of course, the two directors are from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Two renditions of Do You Hear the People Sing? in Mob 2020-2021, for example, serve as a counterpoint to Bangkok Joyride’s fetishisation of the national anthem. Bangkok Joyride and Mob 2020-2021 both provide an exhaustive record of street politics, though Mob 2020-2021 is a more objective account.

Mob 2020-2021 is the first feature-length documentary covering the recent protest movement. (The only other example, The Evil of Time’s Growth, focuses solely on the Thalufah group.) It’s an invaluable record of a profound social and political change in Thailand. Supong’s film also includes a written timeline of the protests, and its matter-of-fact neutrality is maintained throughout, except for a single reference to the “parasitic” government.

01 July 2022

กรุงเทพฯ กลางแปลง



A three-week festival of open-air film screenings will take place around Bangkok later this month. The event, กรุงเทพฯ กลางแปลง (‘Bangkok open air’), is the brainchild of the city’s popular new governor, Chardchart Sittipunt, who was elected last month. (His unelected predecessor, appointed by the 2014 junta, had been in office for the past six years.)

The festival includes recent and classic films, all screening at outdoor venues between 7th and 31st July. Highlights include Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง) on 7th July at Lan Khon Mueang Square; and Monrak Transistor (มนต์รักทรานซิสเตอร์) on 7th July at True Digital Park, and 15th July at Khlong Toei Youth Center. (Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters was previously shown at an outdoor screening in 2010. Monrak Transistor had previous outdoor screenings in 2011 and 2018.)

29 June 2022

Boiled Angels:
The Trial of Mike Diana


Boiled Angels

In 1994, cartoonist Mike Diana was convicted of producing and distributing obscene material, after Florida police obtained copies of his zine Boiled Angel (issues 7 and 8). The zine’s twisted humour was certainly provocative, which was precisely Diana’s intention. As he says in the excellent documentary Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana: “My goal was to make the most offensive zine ever made.”

Following the guilty verdict, Diana was denied bail. After four days in custody, he was fined $3,000 and sentenced to 1,248 hours of community service. The documentary, by horror director Frank Henenlotter, features interviews with Diana, his family, and the defence and prosecution attorneys. It’s a thorough recounting of Diana’s trial, and it also gives plenty of historical background on the Comics Code and the underground comix movement.

Diana’s case was very similar to that of Mark Laliberté, whose comic zine Headtrip (issues 1 and 2) was accused of obscenity in Canada. Laliberté and Diana had traded zines, and Laliberté’s copies of Boiled Angel were also cited in the Headtrip obscenity trial. The failure to secure a conviction in Canada perhaps made the US authorities all the more eager to prosecute Diana in Florida. (At least, that’s what Laliberté alleges in the documentary.)

Boiled Angels

Although Diana is the only artist ever convicted of obscenity in the US, there have been other prosecutions of comic art. Booksellers in New York were fined for stocking Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix (specifically the ‘family values’ parody Joe Blow in issue 4; charges against Zap’s publishers, the Print Mint, were later dropped). In a similar case in the State of Washington, booksellers were prosecuted in relation to Jim Goad’s zine Answer Me! (issue 4), though they were eventually acquitted.

There have also been a handful of obscenity cases against comics in the UK. Charges against Oz magazine (issue 28) and the Nasty Tales comic (issue 1) were both related to Robert Crumb cartoons, and Crumb’s book My Troubles with Women was seized by customs in 1996. (In all three cases, the charges were eventually dropped or overturned.) David Britton was found guilty on obscenity charges relating to his novel Lord Horror and his comic Meng and Ecker (issue 1); the charge against the novel was overturned on appeal, though the conviction of the comic was upheld.

Ulysses


Ulysses

This year marks the centenary of James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses, which was first published in Paris in 1922. The book was officially banned in the UK and the US for more than a decade, declared obscene by customs officers on both sides of the Atlantic. (The US ban even predated the novel’s Paris publication, as the editors of the literary magazine The Little Review were convicted of obscenity in 1921 after serialising it.)

Random House sought to publish an American edition, and imported a copy from Paris to test the waters in 1932. The following year, New York City District Court judge John M. Woolsey ruled that the book was not obscene, leaving Random House free to publish it in the US. In his summing up, the judge argued that the novel was disgusting rather than titillating: “whilst in many places the effect of Ulysses on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac.”

Despite having read only forty-two pages of the novel, the UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Archibald Bodkin, dismissed it as “a great deal of unmitigated filth and obscenity.” All copies brought into the UK were therefore confiscated by customs, until Bodley Head—encouraged by the US verdict—released a British edition in 1936. No longer imported from overseas and seized under the Customs Consolidation Act, the book was henceforth subject to the Obscene Publications Act, which has a higher burden of proof. The Attorney-General, David Somervell, advised that such a conviction would be unlikely, and the Bodley Head edition faced no legal challenge from the government.

24 June 2022

Keep ’em in the East:
Kazan, Kubrick, and the Postwar New York Film Renaissance


Keep 'em in the East

Ironically, some of the greatest films from the so-called New Hollywood era (The Godfather, The French Connection, Annie Hall) were made on location in New York rather than in Los Angeles. New York City established a film commission in 1966 (the first in the country), leading to an immediate and dramatic increase in film production, which has since become known as the New York film renaissance. Richard Koszarski’s Keep ’em in the East: Kazan, Kubrick, and the Postwar New York Film Renaissance offers a revisionist history of the 1940s and ’50s New York film scene, arguing that the roots of the renaissance stretch back long before 1966.

Koszarski discusses the documentary-like police procedural thrillers filmed on the streets of New York (The House on 92nd Street, The Naked City, Boomerang!), demonstrating that, although this style evolved alongside Neo-Realism, it was not directly influenced by Italian cinema. Only one Neo-Realist film, Rome, Open City (Roma cittá aperta), had been released in the US during the peak period of the New York docu-dramas, thus their similar modes of production were largely coincidental.

The book’s final chapters alternate between the production histories of Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront and Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss, which (incredibly) were among only three films made in New York in the winter of 1953 (the other being Hansel and Gretel). Interestingly, he reveals that Killer’s Kiss (under its original title, Kiss Me, Kill Me) was censored by four minutes by the MPAA, and that a further three minutes were cut by either Kubrick or the film’s distributor, United Artists, before its theatrical release.

21 June 2022

ลุกไหม้สิ! ซิการ์



ลุกไหม้สิ! ซิการ์ (‘burning cigar!’), a short collection of poems written anonymously by ‘Chatchon’ in 2010 and 2020, offers a literary commentary on Thailand’s political protests. The bulk of the poems are reflections on the red-shirt rallies that culminated in the May 2010 military massacre. Uneducated People! highlights the condescension aimed at the pro-democracy movement by the rival yellow-shirts. ความสงสัย (‘doubtfulness’) addresses the killing of protesters on 10th April 2010 (an event also memorialised by Tawan Wattuya’s Amnesia and Parinot Kunakornwong’s 10th April). เด็กหนุ่มในบทกวี (‘the boy in the poem’) is a remembrance of the final week of the 2010 massacre (as was Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s installation Ten Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic]).

Similarly, the poems written in 2020 address the student-led protest groups that have formed over the last two years. One poem is dedicated to Arnon Nampa, one of the protest leaders, who is himself a poet. Another is titled เก่งมาก กล้ามาก ขอบใจ (‘very good, very brave, thank you’), clearly evoking a comment made by the King to one of his supporters during a walkabout on 23rd October 2020—“กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” (‘very brave, very good, thank you’)—which is also the title of a song by Paeng Surachet. This poem also quotes the protest chant “1 2 3 4 5 I Hear Too”, a pun on the Bottom Blues single 12345 I Love You. (“I Hear Too” is a homophone for ‘ai hia Tu’, an insult directed at Prayut Chan-o-cha.)

18 June 2022

Pääministerin morsian




Matti Vanhanen, Prime Minister of Finland from 2003 to 2010, was largely seen as rather bland during his two terms in office. That reputation was briefly tested when a book by his former girlfriend, a caterer called Susan Kuronen, was published in 2007.

There was nothing scandalous about Vanhanen’s relationship with Kuronen—he and his wife were already divorced—so her somewhat tawdry kiss-and-tell book, Pääministerin morsian (‘the Prime Minister’s bride’), had no real public-interest defence. In fact, more than 50,000 Finns signed a petition calling on bookshops to refuse to stock it.

Vanhanen sued the publisher for invasion of privacy, as the book included personal text messages he had sent to Kuronen during their relationship. He sought $1,450 in damages (plus $83,200 in royalties and profits), and initially lost the case, though he won on appeal, a decision upheld by Finland’s Supreme Court in 2010. Kuronen lost her appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in 2014, seven years after Vanhanen’s lawsuit was first filed.

The case has interesting parallels with former UK prime minister John Major. Like Vanhanen, Major was perceived as grey and dull (a reputation caricatured by Spitting Image), and he also sued over reports of an alleged affair with a caterer.

15 June 2022

My Own Private Idaho


My Own Private Idaho

Gus van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho opens at House Samyan in Bangkok this week. The film is an essential example of New Queer Cinema, the term coined by B. Ruby Rich to describe a wave of independent gay filmmakers in the early 1990s. It was previously shown at the (much missed) Bangkok Screening Room in 2019, as part of their LGBT+ Film Festival, and the upcoming screenings coincide with Pride Month. My Own Private Idaho will be shown at House on 17th, 18th, and 19th June, with further dates to be announced.

12 June 2022

เดินไล่ตู่


Voice TV

Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at anti-government protesters in Bangkok yesterday, in the first clashes between police and protesters this year. A few hundred people marched from Democracy Monument to Victory Monument yesterday afternoon, in an event promoted online as เดินไล่ตู่ (‘march to remove Tu’, a reference to Prime Minister and coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha).

Most of the protesters had dispersed by the early evening, though some stragglers (a hard core of around fifty people) attempted to make their way to the PM’s residence at the military barracks on Viphavadi Rangsit Road. They threw fireworks and other projectiles at riot police, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A police pickup truck was also set alight.

Last night’s events were an echo of similar clashes that took place on multiple occasions last year, including almost daily street battles at Viphavadi Rangsit Road last August. Police fired rubber bullets against anti-Prayut protesters on 28th February; 20th March; 2nd May; 18th July; 7th, 10th, 11th, 13th, and 15th August; and 14th November 2021.

10 June 2022

A Conversation with the Sun


A Conversation with the Sun
A Conversation with the Sun

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new exhibition A Conversation with the Sun opened at Bangkok CityCity Gallery on 28th May. The centrepiece is a two-channel video installation, with a smaller image projected onto the center of another. The footage, which the gallery calls “a personal memory archive,” was filmed by Apichatpong over the course of several years. A white scrim on motorised rails glides slowly up to and away from the screen, partially obscuring the image. A Conversation with the Sun runs until 10th July.

09 June 2022

“A young man 23 years old by the name of Stanley Kubrick...”


Stanley Kubrick

The story behind the premiere of Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire has been published by the organiser of the Venice Film Festival, La Biennale di Venezia. Kubrick’s first feature was shown out of competition in Venice in 1952, after Joseph Burstyn recommended it in a letter to the event’s director, Antonio Petrucci. Burstyn assured him that the film, “made by a young man 23 years old by the name of Stanley Kubrick... could be the great surprise of your Festival.” (He neglected to mention that he was the film’s US distributor: he was lobbying Petrucci, under the guise of a friendly recommendation.)

Petrucci cabled Kubrick, declining to show the film in competition due to its “LENGTH AND CHARACTER”. (Fear and Desire is barely an hour long, and Petrucci may have felt that it didn’t qualify as feature-length.) Instead, he agreed to screen it as part of a sidebar programme, though this prompted a surprisingly indignant reply from Kubrick, who asked for further clarification: “you can well understand the state of confusion I am presently in. Is there anything you can do to shed some light on my problem?”

The correspondence between Burstyn, Petrucci, and Kubrick—posted on La Biennale di Venezia’s website yesterday—was unearthed during research for a new book by Gian Piero Brunetta (author of The History of Italian Cinema), the foremost historian of Italian film. The Venice screening of Fear and Desire, under the working title Shape of Fear, was first reported by James Fenwick in Stanley Kubrick Produces.

08 June 2022

No Love Deep Web


No Love Deep Web

No Love Deep Web has one of the most provocative covers of any album: an uncensored photograph of an aroused phallus. Specifically, the organ belongs to Zach Hill, the drummer from the band Death Grips, and the record was released in 2013. (The album was rereleased in 2020 with a plain slipcase.) Frontal nudity on record sleeves is very rare, and this is the first and only erection on an album cover.

Perhaps the closest equivalent is the explicit H.R. Giger painting Landscape XX, which was issued as a poster with the Dead Kennedys’ LP Frankenchrist. After a fourteen-year-old girl bought the album in California, her mother made a police complaint, and the record label was charged with distributing harmful material to minors. (Coincidentally, another music-related obscenity case was also unwittingly instigated by a fourteen-year-old girl: the daughter of a Canadian police officer bought the Dayglo Abortions albums Here Today Guano Tomorrow and Feed Us a Fetus, and her father filed an obscenity charge.)

Home


Home

Canadian band Numenorean caused controversy in 2016 by using a post-mortem photograph of a two-year-old girl as the cover for their debut album Home. (On the CD version, the exploitative cover is inside a slipcase.) Kristen MacDonald was killed by her father in 1970, in a well-documented murder case, and the band explained their use of her image in the album’s liner notes: “Perhaps what we are really searching for is the innocence that we once had as a child. However, since we are incapable of ever getting that back, the only place we can perhaps find this comfort once more is in death.”

The first photograph of a dead body on a record cover was perhaps the Dead Kennedys’ single Holiday in Cambodia, released in 1980. The 12" single appropriated Neal Ulevich’s image of a public lynching after the 6th October 1976 massacre. Another notorious lynching appeared on the cover of the Public Enemy single Hazy Shade of Criminal in 1992: Lawrence Beitler’s 1930 photograph of the hangings of J. Thomas Shipp and Abraham S. Smith in Indiana. (This photo also inspired the writing of Strange Fruit, one of the most powerful protest songs in popular music history.)

There have also been two examples of severed heads on album covers. Pungent Stench’s 1991 album Been Caught Buttering used Joel-Peter Witkin’s photograph Le baiser (‘the kiss’)—a decapitated head sawn in half, appearing to kiss itself—as its cover image. Then, in 1993, Brujeria bought the reproduction rights to a photo of the head of a murder victim from the Mexican tabloid magazine ¡Alarma! (‘warning!’), for the cover of their album Matando Güeros (‘killing whiteys’).

UK goregrind band Carcass used montages of autopsy photographs as the covers for their albums Reek of Putrefaction in 1988 and Symphonies of Sickness a year later. Both albums were seized when police raided Earache Records in 1991, though no charges were filed. The raid was prompted by the earlier seizure of cover art for the Pain Killer album Guts of a Virgin. That image—an autopsy photo of a woman with her intestines exposed, in a tasteless pun on the album title—was destroyed by customs as potentially obscene, and the album was released with a modified cover. (The uncensored photo was used for the Japanese CD release.) Clearly, goregrind record sleeves are as gross as their titles, and Last Days of Humanity’s albums, such as Hymns of Indigestible Suppuration from 2000, are particularly nauseating examples.

02 June 2022

“It sets back the clock...”


Fairfax County Circuit Court

Johnny Depp has won his defamation case against his ex-wife Amber Heard, after the trial concluded yesterday. Depp had sued Heard for libel in relation to three sentences in an op-ed she wrote, and Heard counter-sued Depp over three quotes attributed to his lawyer. Although Heard won in one of those instances, the trial was a victory for Depp, who won in all three of his cases and was awarded the maximum legal entitlement of $10 million in damages.

Depp’s lawsuit related to a Washington Post op-ed published in 2018, in which Heard described her personal connection to domestic violence: “I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” She also wrote: “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.” The jury determined that both statements defamed Depp, even though he was not named in the article. They also concluded that the op-ed’s online headline (“I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change”) was defamatory, and that Heard was liable for this even though she had not written it. (Like other headlines, it was written by a subeditor.)

Heard counter-sued for $100 million over three statements issued by Depp’s lawyer, Adam Waldman, to the Daily Mail. Waldman was first quoted in the Mail on 7th April 2020 (on page 38), and on the newspaper’s website the following day: “Amber Heard and her friends in the media use fake sexual violence allegations as both a sword and shield, depending on their needs. They have selected some of her sexual violence hoax ‘facts’ as the sword, inflicting them on the public and Mr Depp.” He was quoted again online on 27th April 2020: “we have reached the beginning of the end of Ms Heard’s abuse hoax against Johnny Depp.” Those statements were not regarded as defamatory by the jury.

A third quote from Waldman, which also appeared online on 27th April 2020, was deemed defamatory, for which Heard was awarded $2 million in damages. Waldman said: “They set Mr Depp up by calling the cops, but the first attempt didn’t do the trick. The officers came to the penthouses, thoroughly searched and interviewed, and left after seeing no damage to face or property. So Amber and her friends spilled a little wine and roughed the place up, got their stories straight under the direction of a lawyer and publicist, and then placed a second call to 911.” (The Mail has deleted each of these Waldman quotes from its website, though the Washington Post has not deleted Heard’s op-ed.)

The verdict was in stark contrast to the outcome of Depp’s libel case in the UK two years earlier. He had sued The Sun after it referred to him by name as a “WIFE-BEATER” in a headline, though he lost the case and the judge described the allegation as “substantially true”. US defamation law is much stricter than that of the UK, with a requirement to prove ‘actual malice’ in cases involving public figures, making the outcome all the more surprising. The jury’s verdict seemingly reflects their belief that Heard deliberately falsified her abuse claims in a vendetta against Depp.

Perhaps the key difference between the UK and US cases is that the former was decided by a judge whereas the latter was a jury trial. The US trial was televised, and Heard had been convicted in the court of public opinion long before the jury’s verdict was announced. It’s possible that the (unsequestered) jury was influenced by the extensive coverage the trial received on social media, which was overwhelmingly negative towards Heard, or that the jurors themselves formed the same opinion of her as the armchair pundits.

After the verdict, Heard described it as a retrograde decision: “It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated.” Depp, on the other hand, welcomed the apparent vindication of his “quest to have the truth be told”. (Heard and Depp were photographed in Fairfax County Circuit Court by Jim Lo Scalzo.)

30 May 2022

Bai Pid


Bai Pid Tears of the Black Tiger

Bai Pid (ใบปิด), an exhibition of Thai film posters, opened at the Woof Pack building in Bangkok last week. Organised by Doc Club and Pub (the boutique cinema and bar at Woof Pack) and the Thai Film Archive (the film museum at Salaya, near Bangkok), the exhibition features more than fifty vintage Thai posters, and some of the original paintings that they were based on. Most of the works are included in a large, glossy catalogue, Thai Cinema Poster Exhibition, edited by Chonnatee Pimnam and Suparp Rimtheparthip.

Bai Pid opened on 25th May, and runs until 17th July. It includes painted reproductions of posters for classic Thai films—notably A Man Called Tone (โทน) and Monrak Lukthung (มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง)—and Thai releases of American movies, such as จอว์ส (the Thai-language title of Jaws). A painting by Banhan Thaitanaboon based on his Tropical Malady: The Book poster (unveiled at the 2018 Bangkok Art Book Fair) is also on show, and Banhan designed the Bai Pid exhibition poster.

Tone

The highlight of the exhibition is surely Somboonsuk Niyomsiri’s original painting for his Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร) poster, previously on display at the Film Archive’s Wisit Sasanatieng retrospective. Somboonsuk (also known as Piak Poster) directed more than two dozen films, including a A Man Called Tone, though he also had a prolific career as a poster artist. (A Man Called Tone will be screened at Doc Club and Pub on 5th June.) Wisit, director of Tears of the Black Tiger, created the posters for the 2008 and 2009 Bangkok International Film Festival.

There have only been two previous exhibitions of Thai poster art: Thai Film Posters (ใบปิดหนังไทย, 1984) in Bangok, and Eyegasm: The Art of Thai Movie Posters (2012) in Palm Springs, California. Gilbert Brownstone’s Affiches de cinéma thaï (‘Thai film posters’), published in three languages (French, English, and Thai) in 1974, was the first book on the subject. There’s a short essay on Thai film posters in Thai Cinema, and vintage posters are illustrated in Dome Sukwong’s A Century of Thai Cinema and Philip Jablon’s Thailand’s Movie Theatres.

26 May 2022

สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว



Kanokrat Lertchoosakul’s book สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว (‘the Cold War (in)between the white bow’), published last year, examines the roles of successive generations in the current Thai political protest movement. Kanokrat argues that the present government, which came to power in a military coup, is a remnant of the Cold War era, when authoritarianism was accepted by society at large. (Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul discusses this older generation’s submissive attitude in Thai Cinema Uncensored: “disruption of the flow and unity is a really big deal. Like my Mum... she is in the generation of Sarit [Thanarat], all these people who were very powerful.”) On the other hand, today’s students are much less tolerant of Thailand’s top-down culture, and in 2020 the Free Youth anti-government group encouraged high school students to wear white ribbons as a symbol of resistance.

What’s most remarkable about the book is its inclusion (on page 57) of the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page that sparked the 6th October 1976 massacre. (The newspaper falsely accused Thammasat University students of lèse-majesté, and vigilantes stormed the campus.) For more than thirty years, there was an unspoken prohibition against reproducing Dao Siam’s incendiary headline and photo. Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine broke the taboo in its June 2012 issue, though other publications have only recently followed suit. The front page has appeared in only three other books, all published within the last three years: 45 ปี 6 (‘45 years of 6th Oct.’), Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย), and Moments of Silence. Heavily obscured by overpainting, it’s also part of Thasnai Sethaseree’s new Cold War exhibition at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai.

22 May 2022

Lost, and Life Goes On


Lost, and Life Goes On
Lost, and Life Goes On

Amnesty International Thailand has organised a new exhibition commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of ‘Black May’, the massacre of anti-coup protesters that took place in Bangkok in 1992. Chamlong Srimuang led a crowd of more than 200,000 protesters at Sanam Luang on 17th May 1992, and the following morning the army fired live rounds into the crowd. The protest spread to Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, and the nearby Royal Hotel became a field hospital for the injured. After two more days of clashes, King Rama IX held a televised meeting with Chamlong and coup leader Suchinda Kraprayoon, after which Suchinda resigned as Prime Minister. This was the King’s most direct public intervention in politics, and footage of the two men kneeling in front of him created the impression that royal authority superseded political leadership.

The official death toll from ‘Black May’ was fifty-two, though there were persistent rumours of dozens more bodies piled into military trucks in the dead of night. (Such accounts are at the heart of Emma Larkin’s novel Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok.) The exhibition Lost, and Life Goes On (เลือนแต่ไม่ลืม), which opened yesterday at Palette Artspace in Bangkok, focuses on these missing victims who remain unaccounted for. In a video installation by Setthasiri Chanjaradpong, สุดปลายสาย (‘the end of the line’), a woman phones a suspected victim who never answers the call. The video periodically shows a live feed from a camera in the gallery, as if to say that anyone could disappear, as Thailand is still ruled by a coup leader.

Remember
Unexpected, Unfound, Unclear

The exhibition, which runs until 29th May, also includes a series of three Risograph prints by Thisismjtp: Unexpected (a reference to the violence of ‘Black May’), Unfound (referring to the missing victims), and Unclear (the state of limbo that still exists thirty years later). There are also portraits of eighteen victims by Thai Political Tarot (collectively titled Remember), newspapers from the period, and paintings based on news photographs. The opening day saw the premiere of a new half-hour documentary directed by Sumeth Suwanneth (also titled Lost, and Life Goes On), featuring interviews with relatives of victims of the massacre.

The only previous exhibition on ‘Black May’, Ratchadamnoen Memory (organised by the Campaign for Popular Democracy, and held at the Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel), took place a few months after the event. Audio recordings of the massacre were played during the recent Traces of Ratchadamnoen (ล่องรอยราชดำเนิน) exhibition. Vasan Sitthiket’s painting Death for Democracy 1992 (ตายเพื่อประชาธิปไตย 2535) was included in his BACC retrospective, and สร้างสาน ตำนานศิลป์ 20 ปี (‘creating a chronicle of 20 years of Thai art’) features other paintings inspired by the massacre. The best books on the incident are Alan Klima’s The Funeral Casino, William A. Callhan’s Imagining Democracy, and Charnvit Kasetsiri’s พฤษภา-พฤษภา (‘May-May’). I discussed the cinematic representation of ‘Black May’, from documentaries to short films and feature films, in Thai Cinema Uncensored.

08 May 2022

The Evil of Time's Growth


The Evil of Time's Growth

The Evil of Time’s Growth, a feature-length documentary marking the first anniversary of the Thalufah anti-government protest group, was screened at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok yesterday. It’s now available on the group’s Facebook and YouTube channels. The documentary, which is more than 2½ hours long, includes footage of Thalufah marches and demonstrations filmed throughout last year, and interviews with group members and supporters. The most violent incidents from the protests—rubber bullets fired by riot police, and arson by demonstrators—are not included.

Thalufah was founded by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, and his interview was filmed in front of a large painting by Lucky Leg, which the artist donated to the group. The film was shown as part of The Battle Wound of Thalufah, an exhibition organised by the group, which opened on 31st March. Thalufah previously organised the Specter exhibition, which was later expanded. Rap Against Dictatorship’s single Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า) was a tribute to the group, as was the zine Break Through published last year.

[The Evil of Time’s Growth’s Thai title, การเติบโตของปีศาจแห่งการเวลา, is the direct equivalent of the English version, and includes the Thai word ปีศาจ (‘evil spirit’). But when promoting the film, Cartel Artspace replaced the letter with , a typo that changed the word’s meaning to ‘court’. In the English title, Growth is stylised as “GROIIITH”, a reference to the three-finger salute adopted by the protest movement.]

05 May 2022

“The world’s smallest...”


Thumby

Earlier this year, TinyCircuits launched the Thumby, the smallest games console in the world, which has a ridiculously tiny ½" black-and-white OLED screen. Designed and manufactured in Ohio, the Thumby was inspired by the Nintendo Game Boy (model DMG-01) from 1989, though it’s a fraction of the size. The Game Boy Camera accessory was the world’s smallest digital camera in 1998, and NHJ’s Snap camera was advertised as such in 2004, though later microSD cameras such as JTT’s Chobi range (2011) and MellowCase’s model RX420 (2018) are even smaller. (Chinese copies of the Japanese Chobi cameras have model numbers Y2000 and Y3000; the MellowCase camera is also branded as MHDYT and NIYPS.) The smallest digital pico projector, Orimag’s model P6, was released in 2017.

The smallest digital cassette formats were both developed by Sony: the NT (audio) in 1992, and the MicroMV (video) in 2001. In digital audio, the smallest MP3 players are those produced by Samsung (model YP-T5 from 2004), Apple (the iPod Shuffle from 2005), and MobiBLU (model DAH-1500i from 2005), though they lack in-built speakers. The Russian Edic-mini’s premium Tiny range of digital audio recorders—notably the A31 (2009) and B22 (2012) models—are the snallest in the world. The UK tech company Zini produced a range of Zanco miniature cellphones, including the world’s smallest, the Tiny T1 (2018).

Miniaturisation was a key selling point for consumer technology long before the digital era, and there have also been similar trends in other fields, such as transport, though for very different reasons. There was a mid-century vogue for microcars and ‘bubble cars’, for example: the Messerschmitt KR200, BMW Isetta, and Austin Mini were popular following the 1956 Suez crisis, due to their fuel efficiency. The tiny Peel P50 was the smallest production car ever made, and at more than 100 miles per gallon, Peel claimed that it was almost cheaper than walking.

But technological miniaturisation isn’t primarily driven by economic factors. Instead, smaller gadgets are created because they’re more convenient, and because innovation makes them possible. Cameras, audio player/recorders, televisions, radios, and other analogue devices have been shrunk to pocket size thanks to the development of ever more complex transistors and integrated circuits, a trend that Gordon Moore noted in 1965. (‘Moore’s law’ states that processing power doubles every two years.)

Sony Ruvi

The most famous subminiature cameras, and those with the highest optical quality, were produced by Minox in Germany. Their first model, from 1936, had a stainless steel body. After World War II, Minox released the model A, with the same design as the original in a lighter aluminium body. This was followed by the slightly larger model B, with an in-built light meter. At the other end of the quality spectrum, in the UK, Corona’s Midget camera (1935) was given away with breakfast cereal. The world’s smallest camera, the Petal, was released in Japan in 1947. This minuscule camera, made from chrome-plated brass, is barely larger than a coin. The original circular model was followed by the Everax A (engraved with a floral motif) and the octagonal Sakura Petal. In the 1950s, Tougodo’s Hit range became a generic term for all Japanese subminiature cameras (known in Japan as mame kamera or ‘bean cameras’), though the Hit and its imitators were all inferior copies of more advanced cameras produced by Jilona (the 1937 Midget), Akita (the 1939 Mycro), and Toyo (the 1948 Tone).

The world’s smallest movie camera, the Bolsey 8, was released in 1956. With its stainless steel body, this is a beautiful machine, and it’s smaller than any subsequent movie camera or camcorder. Sony’s Ruvi (model CCD-CR1), from 1998, is the smallest camcorder in the world. It used Hi8 videotape, in a reusable cartridge that also contained the tape mechanism. The smallest movie projectors were manufactured by Kern of Switzerland in 1926—the Micro-Ciné and Presenta Pocket Ciné—both of which projected 9.5mm film cartridges using a bulb powered by an external battery pack.

The Sony M-909 microcassette unit (1991) is often said to be the world’s smallest tape player/recorder, though Dictaphone’s picocassette Exec (model 4250) from 1985 was even smaller. Unlike the M-909, the Exec also has a built-in speaker. The picocassette is the smallest cassette ever made, and in 1987 Bandai produced the smallest tape cartridge, played in a Leadworks miniature Wurlitzer jukebox replica (model 1015). Prior to audio cassettes and cartridges, in 1962 the Lincoln Memocord was advertised as the smallest reel-to-reel recorder.

Bolex 8 Petal

When it comes to handheld televisions, two manufacturers dominated the market: Sony and Casio. The Sony Watchman (model FD-210) was launched in 1982, with a black-and-white CRT screen, and Casio introduced the first LCD screen only a year later (model TV-10). In 1992, Casio’s CV-1 model was the smallest TV thus far, though it needed an external battery and an earpiece antenna. Seiko released its TV watch in 1982, a breakthrough in wearable technology with a tiny 1¼" screen, though it required a separate tuner unit and an earpiece antenna. (Model numbers—DXA-001 and DXA-002 in Japan; T001-5000 and T001-5019 elsewhere—varied according to which accessories were included.) Another TV watch, NHJ’s VTV-101 (and its European model, VTV-201) from 2004, also needed an earpiece antenna. The world’s smallest self-contained TV was released in China less than a decade ago, branded as both MyTech (model MT-101) and Leadstar (model LD-777).

The first transistor radio, Regency’s TR-1, was launched in the US in 1954, but Japanese radios quickly dominated the market after the release of Sony’s TR-63 in 1957 (and the model TH-666 from Hitachi in 1959, which was briefly the world’s smallest). The TR-63 sold millions of units, and miniature Japanese transistor radios were hugely popular in the 1960s, a trend initiated by Standard’s Micronic Ruby (model SR-G430) in 1962. Various companies have staked their claim to ‘the smallest radio in the world’. In 1953, in the immediate pre-transistor era, the Emerson model 747 tube set was accurately advertised as the smallest radio. The same claim was made for two crystal sets—Midway’s Tinytone (1955) and Planatair’s model 76404 (circa 1960)—and Sinclair’s Micromatic transistor unit (1967), though all lacked in-built speakers. (The Micromatic design was copied by the Canadian firm Clairtone in 1968.) The Motz (2010) range of tiny wooden radios and MP3 players made in Korea by Pyramid are smaller than all of these, and they include speakers.

Minox A

The smallest record players were sold as toys. The Poynter toy company released its Mighty Tiny children’s record player in 1967, promoted as the world’s smallest. Then, in 1987, the same company beat its own record, with a miniature plastic replica Victrola gramophone. The Soundwagon, made in Japan by Tamco (based on a 1976 Sony design), was sold as a toy, though the packaging for its 2018 relaunch—Stokyo’s Record Runner, also made in Japan—states that it’s not suitable for children. (It also includes a disclaimer that the product may scratch records—these devices were nicknamed ‘vinyl killers’, with good reason.) The Record Runner was promoted as the world’s smallest record player, though it’s bigger than Poynter’s Victrola. The smallest records in the world were produced almost a century ago, in 1924, for Queen Mary’s doll’s house. These 1⅓" shellac discs were played on a unique 1:12 replica HMV gramophone.

04 May 2022

Shadow Dancing:
Where Can We Find a Silver Lining in Challenging Times?


Shadow Dancing

The group exhibition Shadow Dancing: Where Can We Find a Silver Lining in Challenging Times? opened on 17th March at the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok. It’s the second in a series of exhibitions that explore the aftermath of the Cold War, after last year’s Future Tense. This time, the emphasis is on Taiwan and Thailand, and the highlights are two video installations: Paths to Utopia by Ting-Ting Chen and ANG48 by Chulayarnnon Siriphol.

Ting-Ting Chen is Taiwanese, though the various elements of her Paths to Utopia installation have a global and specifically Thai focus. The video was inspired by the movie The Beach, which portrayed Thailand as both a tropical paradise and as the centre of a violent drug trade. (When The Beach was released in Thailand, a group of MPs called for it to be banned, and there were protests at its Thai premiere.) The artist juxtaposes idyllic shots of Phi Phi island (where The Beach was filmed) with a collage of news footage of anti-government protests, showing that achieving utopia is a contested process and that picture-postcard scenery doesn’t reveal the whole truth.

Chulayarnnon’s ANG48 is a two-channel video installation whose full title is ANGSUMALIN48 / ANG48 / Alliance of Nippon Girls 48 (อังศุมาลิน 48 หรือ เอเอ็นจี 48 หรือ พันธมิตรสตรีนิปปอง 48). Like Paths to Utopia, it was also inspired by an existing movie—Sunset at Chaophraya (คู่กรรม)—and clips from that film are repurposed to create a new narrative. (Sunset at Chaophraya, based on a classic Thai novel, has been remade numerous times, though ANG48 uses footage from the original 1988 film version. On the Art Center’s website, one letter—อ—is missing from the full title of Chulayarnnon’s video.)

Chulayarnnon often creates fictional characters, or appropriates them from existing sources, giving them new biographies—most elaborately in his Museum of Kirati exhibition and the accompanying book Kirati Memorial (หนังสืออนุสรณ์กีรติ). In ANG48, he conjures up a new science-fiction backstory for Angsumalin, the heroine of Sunset at Chaophraya, which he combines with his short film Birth of Golden Snail (กำเนิดหอยทากทอง). That film was banned from the Thailand Biennale, and ANG48 includes clips from it alongside a new voice-over by the female protagonist, who explains that Thai soldiers forbade her from making Japanese desserts: “from now on the mochi I made would be a forbidden sweet. No consumption, production, or sale... I was very sad but had to keep my feelings inside.” This metaphor for the censorship of Birth of Golden Snail is followed by a shot of the rejection letter from the Biennale.

Like Planetarium, his segment of 10 Years Thailand, ANG48 is a summation of Chulayarnnon’s recent video works. Along with clips from Birth of Golden Snail, it also incorporates footage from his music video The Internationale, his short film Golden Spiral, and his Parade of Golden Snail (ขบวนแห่หอยทากทอง) performance. Birth of Golden Snail will be available to stream from 4th to 6th May, and ANG48 on 6th May, both as part of the online event Re/enacting History and Decolonizing Genteel Romance in Thailand and Asia. Shadow Dancing closes on 5th June.

27 April 2022

“Conspiracy to corrupt public morals...”


Ladies Directory Classified

Alfred Barrett’s lonely hearts magazine The Link, founded in 1915, was certainly ahead of its time. It published personal ads, though as its masthead proudly proclaimed, they were “NOT MATRIMONIAL” in nature. So if people weren’t looking for a spouse, what could they be looking for...? The Metropolitan Police pondered that very question, after R.A. Bennett—editor of another magazine, the moralistic Truth—sent copies of The Link to Scotland Yard.

Bennett suspected that some of The Link’s classified ads were coded messages written by gay men. One example, which he underlined with a literal blue pencil, was by someone “anxious to correspond with friend. Must be same sex, affectionate, and amiable”. Homosexuality was illegal in Britain at the time, and the police seized not only copies of The Link but also letters sent to the box numbers advertised. Barrett was convicted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1921, and sentenced to two years’ hard labour.

Forty years later, in 1961, another publisher was convicted of the same offence. Frederick Shaw’s Ladies Directory, founded in 1959, was a catalogue of ads placed by prostitutes (the equivalent of the ‘tart cards’ left in phone boxes). Shaw himself had sent his publication to the Director of Public Prosecutions, seeking guidance on its legality. He got his answer when the DPP charged him with conspiracy to corrupt public morals, and after his conviction he served nine months in prison. The charge—which set a legal precedent—related specifically to issues 7-10 of the Ladies Directory. (My copy of number 8 is an undated and unpaginated A5 booklet.)

In 1965, Way Out led a revival of the lonely hearts magazine, and soon inspired imitators such as Exit and numerous others. In his authoritative Encyclopedia of Censorship, Jonathon Green noted that these titles “were not prosecuted, and more respectable magazines began to run lonely hearts columns that might have been indictable in earlier years.” H.G. Cocks, however, in his book Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column, demonstrates that these titles were indeed prosecuted for conspiracy to corrupt public morals: “The way the police in Britain investigated smalltime magazines like Exit and Way Out while their American counterparts merely shrugged as their own swinging industry exploded, tells us everything about the differences between the two countries.” (Classified’s coverage of the investigation into Exit and Way Out sets it apart from other books on censorship in Britain.)

The last major conviction for consiracy to corrupt public morals came in 1970, when three publishers of the underground magazine International Times received suspended sentences. In 1969 (issues 51-56), IT published a column of gay personal ads (Males), and this gave the Metropolitan Police the excuse they needed to prosecute the magazine, after several previous speculative raids on its offices. In an echo of the investigation into The Link fifty years earlier, and notwithstanding the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967, the police seized hundreds of letters sent in reply to the ads. The editors of a more famous underground title, Oz, were acquitted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals in 1971, though after a prolonged trial they were found guilty of obscenity (a verdict later overturned on appeal).

23 April 2022

Deep South


Deep SouthDeep South Deep South

The group exhibition Deep South (ลึกลงไป ใต้ชายแดน) opened at VS Gallery in Bangkok on 31st March, and runs until 11th June. Like the landmark Patani Semasa (ปาตานี ร่วมสมัย) exhibition and catalogue, Deep South aims to destigmatise Thailand’s southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat: in the exhibition brochure, curator Anuwat Apimukmongkon notes that many Bangkokians “dare not visit these cursed areas,” due to the ongoing separatist insurgency. In addition to paintings and installations by seven artists, the exhibition also features five news photographs of the 2004 Tak Bai incident, tinted red and displayed on the walls, floor, and ceiling.

Deep SouthDeep South Deep SouthDeep South

More than eighty protesters were killed at Tak Bai, most of whom died of suffocation after being crammed into military trucks. Video footage of the massacre was banned from television by Thaksin Shinawatra, who was Prime Minister at the time. Defying the ban, the journal Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน) distributed a VCD of Tak Bai footage, and this inspired Thunska Pansittivorakul to direct his political documentary This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน). As he told me in an interview for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored: “Something happened in that VCD that touched me, the first time that I watched it. It’s something that I never knew from other media.”

Deep SouthDeep South Deep SouthDeep South

Other artists have also created works commemorating the events of Tak Bai. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Photophobia incorporates press photographs of the incident, as does Black Air by Pimpaka Towira, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr, Koichi Shimizu, and Jakrawal Nilthamrong. In Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh’s Violence in Tak Bai (ความรุนแรงที่ตากใบ), white tombstones mark the graves of each victim. Jakkhai Siributr’s 78 and Zakariya Amataya’s Report from a Partitioned Village (รายงานจากหมู่บ้านที่ถูกปิดล้อม) both include lists of the victims’ names.

Golem 2022:
Uncanny


Uncanny
Uncanny

Uncanny, the companion exhibition to Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s Embodying the Monster, opened today in Bangkok. Both are part of his ongoing Golem 2022 project, for which he is gradually creating the bones and organs of a mythical golem figure, constructed from the ashes of dead animals and plants. The species he has cremated have all been affected by human behaviour, and his golem therefore literally and figuratively embodies the relationship between humanity and nature.

Uncanny reveals the process by which the golem is being brought to life. The gallery has become a contemporary Frankenstein’s laboratory, with a 3D printer manufacturing body parts from ashes. Specimens of endangered animals, the raw materials for Ruangsak’s monster, are displayed in jars. The finished products are carefully catalogued, ready to be assembled.

Uncanny Uncanny

The assembly and articulation of the skeleton will take place in four stages, as performance art, on 27th April and 6th, 27th, and 28th May. Uncanny runs at Gallery VER until 19th May. Embodying the Monster is at SAC Gallery, also in Bangkok, until 5th June. Ruangsak has previously created heart sculptures—Transformations and the Ash Heart Project—from the ashes of various species, including humans.

19 April 2022

Golem 2022:
Embodying the Monster


Embodying the Monster
Embodying the Monster

Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s new exhibition Embodying the Monster opened in Bangkok last month. The show is part of his ongoing Golem 2022 project, for which he is gradually creating the bones and organs of a mythical golem figure, constructed from the ashes of dead animals and plants. The species whose specimens he has cremated have all been affected by human behaviour, and his monstrous golem therefore literally and figuratively embodies the relationship between humanity and nature.

The sculpted body parts on display include the sixth cervical vertebra (from the base of the neck), made from the ashes of a Yorkshire pig; a nose, from the ashes of a brown rat; and a vitreous humour (the clear gel that the eyeball is mostly comprised of), from the ashes of a golden coin turtle. The centrepiece is a mandible (lower jaw), made from the ashes of five species: a dog, a suckermouth catfish, an American cockroach, a brown rat, and a hemlock plant.

Embodying the Monster Embodying the Monster

Embodying the Monster opened on 17th March (slightly delayed from 11th March) at SAC Gallery, and will close on 4th June. Ruangsak has previously created heart sculptures for his Ash Heart Project (made from the ashes of various species), and his sculpture Transformations is a whale heart made from human ashes. Uncanny, which is also part of the Golem 2022 project, runs concurrently with Embodying the Monster from 23rd April to 19th May at Gallery VER, also in Bangkok.