30 December 2006

Mother India

Mother India
Indian artist MF Husain has gone into self-imposed exile in Dubai, after a ruling that his painting Mother India was sacrilegious. The painting, a nude portrait of India's mother-goddess Bharat Mata, provoked criticism when it was published by India Today on 6th February. (Husain previously caused controversy by quoting from the Koran in his song Noor-Un-Ala, from the soundtrack to his film Meenaxi.)

25 December 2006

Art & Obscenity

Art & Obscenity
This book is so new that its copyright page says "Published in 2007". It's a short though dense overview of transgression, abjection, violence, and death in the arts. The author, Kerstin Mey, discusses obscenity in art photography and performance art, and her study is valuable as it's the first of its kind. She covers all the main bases - Julia Kristeva, Georges Bataille, Hermann Nitsch, Carolee Schneemann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, Ron Athey - and it's exciting to see them all discussed together.

19 December 2006


Idomeneo, the previously banned opera directed by Hans Neuenfels, was performed yesterday at Deutsche Oper Berlin. It will be performed again on 29th December. A triumph for freedom of expression!

Performances of the opera (written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1781) opera originally scheduled for November were cancelled following advice from the German police, as the Neuenfels production includes a scene featuring the decapitated heads of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and Poseidon. The production was performed in 2003, though it was initially felt that a revival this year may incite Muslim protests and thus put the safety of the performers and audience at risk. There were no reports of disturbances yesterday, however.

17 December 2006

Women In A Society Of Double-Sexuality

Women In A Society Of Double-Sexuality
Twelve Flower Months
Tang, Bangkok's gallery of contemporary Chinese art, is currently showing an exhibition titled Women In A Society Of Double-Sexuality. The exhibition features paintings, photographs, sculptures, and videos by thirteen female Chinese artists, most notably Chen Lingyang's photographic series Twelve Flower Months (2000).

Twelve Flower Months is a collection of a dozen images, each depicting a different flower. Each photograph was taken as the artist was menstruating, and her menstrual blood is visible in each image, as it trickles down her leg or stains her crotch. The age-old fear of menstrual blood, perhaps the most potent cultural taboo, is directly challenged.

Chen was interviewed for the fascinating Channel 4 programme Beijing Swings in 2003 and she discussed the deeply personal nature of Twelve Flower Months. The exhibition runs from yesterday until 20th January 2007.

07 December 2006

1001 Movies
You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, edited by Steven Jay Schneider, has been revised again. A handful of films have been removed from the last edition, published in 2005, replaced by new entries in this 2006 edition.

Again the deleted films and their replacements are all very recent. Casualties this time include important films such as City Of God, Hero, Russian Ark, and Kill Bill I. Also, many of the new entries added to the 2005 edition have been deleted from this 2006 edition! Personally, I prefer the 2005 version.


06 December 2006

Colour Me Kubrick

Colour Me Kubrick
The film Colour Me Kubrick is a comedy about Alan Conway (played by John Malkovich), a conman who spent several years in the 1990s pretending to be Stanley Kubrick. It was surprisingly easy for Conway to use Kubrick's name whenever he wanted a free meal or a sexual favour. He met men in bars, introduced himself as Kubrick, promised them acting roles, and seduced them.

Alan Conway died in 1999 (as did Kubrick), and this film is based on a newspaper interview he gave after his con was discovered. The credits call it "A true...ish story", and with such limited source material it's not surprising that they invented much of the plot themselves.

The poster tagline is clumsy: "They wanted something for nothing. He gave them nothing for something". The only original music is an overly literal song by Bryan Adams: "I'm not the man you think I am...". The cast-list reads like a roll-call of mediocre 1980s British TV: Honor Blackman, Peter Bowles, Leslie Phillips, Robert Powell, and the appalling 'comedian' Jim Davidson.

The running-time is less than ninety minutes. The repetitive plot features Conway meeting people, schmoozing them, then moving on to someone else. The film relies entirely on John Malkovich's performance, though it gives him nothing to work with as there's no depth to the character.

The script was written by Anthony Frewin, one of Kubrick's personal assistants (who also wrote the book Are We Alone?). The director, Brian W Cook, was Kubrick's assistant director. Maybe they think that, by portraying Conway as a sleazy opportunist, they are avenging Conway on Kubrick's behalf, but the result is simply exploitative.

Alan Conway's story is a fascinating one. It's amazing that he could pass himself off as Kubrick for so long, and although he was motivated by financial and sexual gain, there are presumably also some psychological reasons for his actions. Whatever they may be, there are no insights into them in this film, only cheap laughs. It's pretty tasteless to make a comedy about Conway - the man was mentally unbalanced, after all.

Colour Me Kubrick currently has no theatrical or video distribution in either the US or UK. It's hard to see it, but it's not hard to see why. Conway was interviewed by Channel 4 for a short documentary called The Man Who Would Be Kubrick (1999) - it lasts for less than fifteen minutes, but it tells us more about Conway than Colour Me Kubrick does.

02 December 2006

Le Cinema En 100 Films

Le Cinema En 100 Films
Les 100 Films De L'Histoire Du Cinema
Le Cinema En 100 Films, by Thomas Leroux, is a guide to 100 classic films. The book was published last year, and has now been republished and retitled Les 100 Films De L'Histoire Du Cinema. Leroux previously compiled a list of 120 classic films, L'Indispensable Du Cinema En 120 Films, in 2002. (The 100 films are listed alphabetically, according to their French-language titles.)


21 November 2006


Following the banning of Idomeneo in Berlin, another opera has been censored, this time here in Bangkok. Ayodhya, Somtow Sucharitkul's operatic interpretation of the epic poem Ramayana, was performed in Bangkok on three nights last week. Each of the performances was censored following intense pressure from the Ministry of Culture.

The opera's final scene, as originally staged, included one character, the demon Thotsakan, being fatally wounded. However, the Thai Ministry declared that, according to the tradition of 'khon' dance-drama, it is bad luck to depict Thotsakan's death, therefore they would not permit it in Ayodhya (even though Ayodhya is an opera, not a khon performance). Somtow, who has an extremely high reputation in Thailand and internationally, did initially fight the decision, though he later reluctantly caved in.


Abstract Composition
Marina Warner's non-fiction books are an ideal combination of fascinating subject-matter (contemporary mythology) and diverse sources (drawing references from across the spectrum of culture). The themes she discusses are often ecclectic. For instance, her history of ogres and monsters, No Go The Bogeyman, includes an appendix titled Going Bananas, discussing the cultural history of the banana.

Her examples are equally wide-ranging, as she cites classical references alongside fine art and contemporary popular culture. For me, it is this inclusivity that makes her such an interesting writer. She demonstrates a scholarly understanding of ancient historical sources, yet is also at ease when discussing 21st century media.

Warner's latest book, Phantasmagoria, is a study of visual representation of supernatural, ephemeral phenomena. She examines historical representations of the soul and spirit, from wax death masks to psychic photographers and zombie cinema. Again, the most impressive feature is the sheer range of both subject-matter (including ghosts, mirrors, ectoplasm, and the apocalypse) and references (from Ovid to MMORPGs).

Phantasmagoria's chapter on the Rorschach inkblot test is especially fascinating because it suggests several progenitors of abstract art. Herrmann Rorschach's inkblots were purely abstract shapes, though they were designed not as art but as psychological tools, as patients were asked to discern form and meaning from the symmetrical patterns. Rorschach's research [try saying that as a tongue-twister] began in 1921 (after abstract art had established itself), though more interesting are the earlier, similar experiments of Justinus Kerner.

Kerner also produced abstract, symmetrical inkblots (much earlier than Rorschach, from circa 1853 onwards), though he then added eyes, limbs, and other recognisable features, transforming them from abstract blobs to figurative images. These designs were known collectively as 'klecksographien'.

The real revelation, though (at least to me), is the work of Victor Hugo, who painted abstract images in ink circa 1850-1870. Hugo's 'tache' stain-paintings were created from random splashes of ink, prefiguring Abstract Expressionism by 100 years.

The birth of abstraction in art is generally dated to the first decade of the 20th century. In 1908, Wilhelm Worringer published Abstraction & Empathy, and there was an explosion of geometric abstraction in painting circa 1913, including works by Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrain, Frantisek Kupka, Fernand Leger, Robert Delaunay, and Kazimir Malevich. Of these artists, Kandinsky is most often singled out as the father of abstraction.

Kupka's Amorpha: Fugue In Two Colours (1912) is regularly cited as the earliest abstract painting, though in fact it is a depiction of movement, thus not strictly abstract (though perhaps Futurist?). Arnaldo Ginna's 1908 painting Nevrastenia has been described as "probably the first abstract painting in the history of Western art" (in Cartoons, by Giannalberto Bendazzi).

However, the random tache paintings of Victor Hugo predate all these examples of abstract art. Hugo even titled one such painting Abstract Composition, and, while it is undated, it was probably produced in the early 1870s. The origin of abstraction is one of the most fascinating aspects of modern art, and perhaps Victor Hugo's Abstract Composition is the earliest candidate?

17 November 2006

Canon Fodder

Canon Fodder
The September-October issue of the journal Film Comment contains a lengthy article by Paul Schrader, titled Canon Fodder. In the article, Schrader attempts something never previously tackled at such length: he explores the history of, and criteria for, a canonical list of necessary films.

There have been many previous attempts at compiling 'definitive' lists of classic films, sometimes selected by public votes, sometimes chosen by individuals or panels of critics, and sometimes distilled from polls of critics and directors. I identified the most frequent types last year. The acknowledged leader in the field is Sight & Sound's list of ten 'greatest films of all time', chosen by hundreds of international critics and published every decade (most recently in 2002); Citizen Kane has remained at the top of their list ever since 1962.

In his article, Schrader traces the fascinating history of the notion of artistic and literary canons. Inspired by Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, he then proposes and explains a series of criteria by which to judge the films of the past 100 years: beauty ("the bedrock of all judgments of taste"), strangeness ("unpredictable burst of originality"), unity of form and subject-matter ("this traditional yardstick of artistic value"), tradition ("The greatness of a film or filmmaker must be judged not only on its own terms but by its place in the evolution of film"), repeatability ("appreciated by successive generations, it grows in importance and context with time"), viewer engagement ("The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it"), and morality ("Good or bad resonance [is] beside the point. The point is that no work that fails to strike moral chords can be canonical").

Schrader is consciously elitist in his choices ("to counter the proliferation of popularity-driven lists"), and he also eschews auteurism ("I'd like to concentrate on films, not filmmakers"). Furthermore, he maintains that canons need not contain 'equal opportunities' quotas ("Genre and subject matter don't matter; nor do the age, race, and sex of the filmmakers"). His list is divided into three tiers:


1. The Rules Of The Game
2. Tokyo Story
3. City Lights
4. Pickpocket
5. Metropolis
6. Citizen Kane
7. Orphee
8. Masculin-Feminin
9. Persona
10. Vertigo
11. Sunrise
12. The Searchers
13. The Lady Eve
14. The Conformist
15. 8½
16. The Godfather
17. In The Mood For Love
18. The Third Man
19. Performance
20. La Notte


21. Mother & Son
22. The Leopard
23. The Dead
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey
25. Last Year At Marienbad
26. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
27. Jules & Jim
28. The Wild Bunch
29. All That Jazz
30. The Life Of Oharu
31. High & Low
32. Sweet Smell Of Success
33. That Obscure Object Of Desire
34. An American In Paris
35. Salvatore Giuliano
36. Taxi Driver
37. Ali: Fear Eats The Soul
38. Blue Velvet
39. Crimes & Misdemeanors
40. The Big Lebowski


41. The Red Shoes
42. Singin' In The Rain
43. Chinatown
44. The Crowd
45. Sunset Boulevard
46. Talk To Her
47. Shanghai Express
48. Letter From An Unknown Woman
49. Once Upon A Time In The West
50. Voyage In Italy
51. Nostalghia
52. Seven Men From Now
53. Claire's Knee
54. Earth
55. Gun Crazy
56. Out Of The Past
57. Children Of Paradise
58. The Naked Spur
59. A Place In The Sun
60. The General

(In Film Comment's printed list, #35 and #50 were incorrect. Schrader wrote an erratum in the current issue, and the list above is the correct version.)

14 November 2006

The Unseeable

The Unseeable
The Unseeable, the new film by Wisit Sasanatieng, is a ghost story set in 1930s Bangkok. A pregnant woman, Nualjan, has come to the city in search of her missing husband, and she stays as a guest in a run-down old mansion owned by the elusive Madame Ranjuan. The house and its grounds are haunted by a child, a hanged woman, and a gardener (amongst others), and the atmosphere is decidedly creepy. This is a traditional haunted house, complete with billowing curtains and creaking doors.

Nualjan is intimidated by the housemaid, Somjit, who is seemingly lifted straight out of Rebecca, with her high-necked black dress, stern demeanor, and sudden appearances. Indeed, the mansion in The Unseeable has a backstory and presence as foreboding as that of Rebecca's Manderley, and Ranjuan and Rebecca exert a similarly all-embracing power over their respective homes.

The film's twist ending is similar to that of Art Of The Devil II, and The Unseeable was actually written by one of that film's directors, Kongkiat Khomsiri. The film's Thai-language title literally translates as 'having an affair with a ghost', which gives a fairly large hint. There is such a rapid series of expositional twists in the final reel that, rather than explaining everything, it all becomes more confusing.

The Unseeable is markedly different from Wisit's previous films, the brightly-coloured, camp melodrama Tears Of The Black Tiger and the modern fairy-tale Citizen Dog. The over-saturated colours are gone, replaced by a palette of muted browns evoking 1930s interiors. Much of the film takes place at night, in another contrast to the bright daylight of his previous work. (Though Wisit is popular on the international festival circuit, his films are a bit too quirky for domestic audiences. This may change with The Unseeable.)

Wisit wrote the script for Nang Nak, a hugely popular film about a man who doesn't realise that his wife is a ghost, and Thai cinema has been flooded with ghost films ever since. The Unseeable is therefore a 'safe', commercial choice, but Wisit is by no means selling out. It may be yet another Thai ghost story, though its period atmosphere seems to be frozen in time (particularly as its spectral conclusion implies the cyclical nature of the story).

09 November 2006

Koranen & Profeten Muhammeds Liv

Koranen & Profeten Muhammeds Liv
The project which led to the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed caricatures has now been published in Denmark. Kare Bluitgen's complaint that no-one would illustrate his book Koranen & Profeten Muhammeds Liv prompted Jyllands-Posten to commission twelve highly controversial Mohammed caricatures, though Bluitgen has now found an anonymous illustrator who agreed to draw Mohammed for his book.

04 November 2006

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick
The Stanley Kubrick exhibition, previously held in Germany, has moved to Ghent in Belgium. It is on show at the city's Caermersklooster from 5th October this year until 7th January 2007.

I saw the exhibition with my friend and fellow Kubrick obsessive, Filippo Ulivieri, which was the best possible way to see it. It features props from each of Kubrick's films, including iconic items such as the typewriter from The Shining and the 'starchild' from 2001. There are also pages from Kubrick's notebooks and scripts, and hundreds of previously unseen Kubrick photos.

30 October 2006


Two days ago, the satirical Spanish magazine Deia published a collage of Spain's King Juan Carlos, showing him drooling victoriously after shooting a bear which had been subdued with a barrel of vodka. The image is a reference to an alleged hunting incident in which the King apparently killed a drunken bear. Legal proceedings have been instigated against the magazine, and it may face charges of lèse-majesté.

29 October 2006


Blasphemy, by S Brent Plate, is the first-ever full-length study of blasphemous art. It begins with a lengthy, though generalised, account of the Mohammed cartoons controversy, and is profusely illustrated (including small reproductions of a few of the Mohammed caricatures, though none of the subsequent cartoons inspired by them).

Most of the illustrations, though, are not really blasphemous. Several, such as works by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Marcus Harvey, and others, have no relation to blasphemy at all. A chapter on flag desecration seems extraneous (and the subject, along with modern American examples of artistic blasphemy, was discussed in Steven C Dubin's excellent book Arresting Images).

Potentially blasphemous art representing Jesus as sexually active (such as The Last Temptation Of Christ) is glossed over or excluded. The author explains that he has concentrated solely on visual art, though I'm still surprised that he didn't find room to even briefly mention the novel The Satanic Verses or the poem The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, which are perhaps the most famous examples of blasphemous art in the UK.

24 October 2006


Horror: The Definitive Guide To The Cinema Of Fear is a new book about horror cinema. Not just any book, mind you, but the Definitive Guide (or so it proclaims). Any book with the word definitive in its title is asking for trouble, because the author's idea of definitive may not be the same as the reader's.

In this case, the authors are James Marriott and Kim Newman. Or rather, Marriott is editor and principal contributor, Newman wrote introductory essays to each chapter, and six others wrote reviews and shorter essays. It's rather misleading that Marriott and Newman are the only names on the cover, especially because they are not credited as editors - the cover implies that they are co-authors, which is not strictly true.

Newman is one of the very best writers on horror cinema, and his essays in this new book (overviews of the genre in each decade) are excellent. (He also wrote Nightmare Movies, a comprehensive study of the modern horror film.) It's a shame, therefore, that he didn't write any of the chronological film reviews that make up the bulk of the book.

The format is very clearly modelled on Horror: The Aurum Film Encyclopedia, edited by Phil Hardy. Hardy's more comprehensive book also concentrated on film reviews in chronological order, punctuated by overview essays introducing each decade. (Newman contributed many reviews to the second edition of Hardy's encyclopedia.)

19 October 2006

The Top 100 Movies Of All Time

The Top 100 Movies Of All Time
Readers of Total Film magazine have voted for The Top 100 Movies Of All Time, as follows:

1. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
2. Fight Club
3. Pulp Fiction
4. The Lord Of The Rings III: The Return Of The King
5. The Shawshank Redemption
6. GoodFellas
7. The Godfather
8. The Lord Of The Rings I: The Fellowship Of The Ring
9. Jaws
10. Donnie Darko
11. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
12. The Usual Suspects
13. The Matrix
14. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
15. Seven
16. The Godfather II
17. Gladiator
18. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
19. Aliens
20. Sin City
21. The Lord Of The Rings II: The Two Towers
22. LA Confidential
23. Taxi Driver
24. Die Hard
25. Batman Begins
26. Back To The Future
27. Schindler’s List
28. Spider-Man II
29. The Big Lebowski
30. Heat
31. Reservoir Dogs
32. Blade Runner
33. Terminator II: Judgment Day
34. Alien
35. X-Men II
36. Annie Hall
37. Leon
38. Casablanca
39. Apocalypse Now
40. Memento
41. Jurassic Park
42. It’s A Wonderful Life
43. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
44. Monty Python & The Holy Grail
45. The Third Man
46. The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
47. Toy Story II
48. A Clockwork Orange
49. Moulin Rouge!
50. The Apartment
51. The Wild Bunch
52. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
53. Trainspotting
54. Raging Bull
55. City Of God
56. Stand By Me
57. The Thing
58. Scarface
59. Airplane!
60. The Silence Of The Lambs
61. Blue Velvet
62. Seven Samurai
63. Citizen Kane
64. 2001: A Space Odyssey
65. Shaun Of The Dead
66. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
67. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
68. Lawrence Of Arabia
69. Halloween
70. The Searchers
71. Rocky
72. Once Upon A Time In The West
73. Platoon
74. Kill Bill I
75. Magnolia
76. The Deer Hunter
77. The Shining
78. American Beauty
79. Fargo
80. Chinatown
81. Saving Private Ryan
82. Vertigo
83. King Kong
84. Goldfinger
85. The Wizard Of Oz
86. Dawn Of The Dead
87. Requiem For A Dream
88. The Terminator
89. Psycho
90. Brokeback Mountain
91. Dr. Strangelove
92. The Bourne Supremacy
93. The Incredibles
94. Some Like It Hot
95. Spirited Away
96. Rear Window
97. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
98. This Is Spinal Tap
99. Forrest Gump
100. The Exorcist

This list follows the magazine's previous list of 2005, the difference being that the earlier selection was chosen by the magazine's writers whereas the new list was voted for by the magazine's readers.

There are more sequels and remakes in this new list, and fewer world cinema titles. It's depressing that King Kong is the Peter Jackson remake, not the original. Similarly, Scarface is the remake instead of the original. Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy.

16 October 2006


Cars is the latest computer-animated film from Pixar, the studio who pioneered feature-length computer-animation with Toy Story. John Lasseter, who directed Toy Story, also directed Cars.

There is some extremely realistic animation, especially the Route 66 background landscapes and the gleaming car chassis. The plot is entertaining enough, though it's nothing more than the traditional Disney morality tale of a self-centered character (in this case, a racing car named Lightning McQueen) who must learn the value of friendship and community.

08 October 2006

Shaun Of The Dead

Shaun Of The Dead
Shaun Of The Dead has defined a new film sub-genre: rom-zom-com (romantic zombie comedy). It's directed by Edgar Wright, who previously worked on UK TV sitcoms such as Spaced. The lead actor (and co-writer) is Simon Pegg, who was also a Spaced cast-member.

Pegg plays Shaun, whose dull life is interrupted by a plague of slow-moving zombies (a la Dawn Of The Dead). However, because he's so used to seeing drunks and beggars on the streets, he doesn't realise that they are actually zombies. Several scenes show people going about their daily lives in a state of somnambulistic catatonia - are the undead zombies really any different from these mindless commuters?

07 October 2006

100 Landmark Films

Radio Times
The 2007 edition of the annual Radio Times Guide To Films includes a list of 100 Landmark Films, as follows (in chronological order):
  • A Trip To The Moon
  • Life Of An American Fireman
  • The Birth Of A Nation
  • Intolerance
  • The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari
  • Nanook Of The North
  • Nosferatu
  • Battleship Potemkin
  • The Gold Rush
  • Metropolis
  • The General
  • It
  • The Jazz Singer
  • Napoleon
  • Un Chien Andalou
  • Man With A Movie Camera
  • Frankenstein
  • M
  • Scarface
  • Ecstasy
  • 42nd Street
  • King Kong
  • The Private Life Of Henry VIII
  • L'Atalante
  • Becky Sharp
  • Triumph Of The Will
  • The Story Of A Cheat
  • Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • Gone With The Wind
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Stagecoach
  • Fantasia
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Cat People
  • Rome: Open City
  • It's A Wonderful Life
  • Song Of The South
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • Rashomon
  • M. Hulot's Holiday
  • The Robe
  • Les Diaboliques
  • On The Waterfront
  • Rebel Without A Cause
  • The Court Jester
  • Vertigo
  • Breathless
  • The 400 Blows
  • Psycho
  • Victim
  • Dr No
  • A Fistful Of Dollars
  • A Hard Day's Night
  • Blow-Up
  • Persona
  • Bonnie & Clyde
  • The Chelsea Girls
  • In The Heat Of The Night
  • The Graduate
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
  • Easy Rider
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Get Carter
  • Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
  • Deep Throat
  • Pink Flamingos
  • The Poseidon Adventure
  • The Exorcist
  • Mean Streets
  • The Godfather II
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Jaws
  • Nashville
  • Picnic At Hanging Rock
  • Rocky
  • Annie Hall
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • Halloween
  • National Lampoon's Animal House
  • Superman
  • Alien
  • Blade Runner
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Tron
  • This Is Spinal Tap
  • Blue Velvet
  • Withnail & I
  • Do The Right Thing
  • Jurassic Park
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Toy Story
  • Ring
  • The Celebration
  • The Blair Witch Project
  • The Matrix
  • Shrek
  • Brokeback Mountain
Note that The Maltese Falcon is the John Huston version, which is actually a remake of an earlier (and inferior) Roy Del Ruth film; Frankenstein is the superior James Whale version, not the Thomas Edison silent version.

27 September 2006

Good Boy

Good Boy
Michael Dickinson has been acquitted of all charges relating to his collage Best In Show. However, he now faces similar charges in relation to a new work, Good Boy, again portraying Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a dog. Last year, another Turkish cartoonist was fined for portraying Erdoğan as a cat.

25 September 2006

Advertising Is Dead

Advertising Is Dead
Advertising Is Dead: Long Live Advertising! is Tom Himpe's new survey of unconventional advertising campaigns. As Naomi Klein explained in No Logo, commercialism and branding are increasingly dominating every available surface area, and Himpe presents some of the most unusual and inventive examples of this visual space invasion. (Klein and Himpe are, of course, writing from opposite ideological positions: Klein condems branding, whereas Himpe actively promotes it.)

Himpe is an advertising copywriter, and his book is primarily a manual for other creatives on how to produce distinctive campaigns. For general readers outside the industry, the book's illustrations of specific adverts serve as the first detailed overview of this new field of graphic design.

Exactly how to label this new field is a matter of debate. 'Ambient advertising' suggests an encroachment into new territories and environments, as advertising appropriates non-traditional spaces (i.e., beyond billboards). 'Guerrilla advertising' implies a certain subterfuge or underhand unconventionality. Himpe cites both labels, and others, though doesn't settle for any of them as an umbrella term. (Tony Kaye's preferred term, 'hype art', is unfortunately not included.)

Advertising Is Dead's only serious rival is Guerrilla Advertising, from increasingly interesting art publisher Laurence King. However, its selection of examples is far less interesting than Himpe's (the only exception being Red Bull in Worms 3D, the first example of computer game product-placement, which is covered in Guerrilla Advertising though not by Himpe).

The book organises its examples into a series of fascinating categories, including Intrusion (unconventional spaces, such as the Hans Brinker hotel logo pinned to dog excrement on the street), Transformation (metamorphosis, for example the Volkswagen ice sculpture parked in London for a day), Installation (a huge pile of empty plastic bottles in Cape Town, resembling a scene from the Thai film Citizen Dog), Illusion (trompe l'oeil effects, such as a Nike poster whose perspective matches its surroundings), and Sensation (campaigns which interact with our senses, as in the cinema air-conditioner suffused with Panettone in Brazil).

Advertising Is Dead is not a definitive survey of ambient/guerrilla campaigns, though it is the first detailed study. The examples occupy the majority of the book, with little real analysis or history. (A comprehensive account is yet to be written; indeed, there has not yet been a comprehensive history of advertising in general published so far.) As a sourcebook of illustrations, it's unsurpassed, although my favourite example is sadly not included: the Puma contact-lenses worn by Linford Christie in 1996, surely the most ingenious instance of branded space.

Holy War

Holy War
Holy War
In January, Fresh Baked Video Games, a programme on American channel Spike TV, created a trailer for a fake computer game called Holy War, in which various religious figures fight to the death. One sequence showed Mohammed defeating Mormon founder Joseph Smith, and another featured Moses beheading Mohammed.
The Holy War sequence was broadcast after the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed caricatures were published, though before their international condemnation.

24 September 2006

World Trade Center

World Trade Center
World Trade Center is Oliver Stone's take on the New York terrorist attacks of '9/11' (11th September 2001). Stone is really the only director with the pedigree for such a project, as he has previously tackled major American political events such as the Vietnam war (Platoon and Born On The 4th Of July), the Kennedy assassination (JFK), and Watergate (Nixon).

The difference this time is that Stone's film has no agenda. He is at his best with provocative historical revisionism, most notably in JFK, though with World Trade Center he takes no stand and instead depoliticises his subject-matter.

Kubrick once commented that although the Holocaust involved the deaths of millions of Jews, Schindler's List was instead about hundreds of Jews who survived. The same argument can be used in the case of World Trade Center: 2,602 people were killed in New York, though the film is primarily about two people who lived. The film does not successfully convey the scale of the devastation in New York and across America. The impacts of the planes and the collapsing of the towers are not depicted in the film, perhaps because of the ubiquity of such images in the news media.

The film would be dramatically improved with the omission of two short (and cliched) sequences. A montage of peoples from various countries and cultures, all watching open-mouthed as the towers collapse on CNN, propagates the rather offensive notion that the attack on the World Trade Center was an event which shook the entire world. Other countries are facing indirect repercussions, such as increased security, though the tragedy of 11th September was largely an American tragedy. Also, when one of the trapped men slips into unconsciousness, we actually see his vision of Jesus, bathed in white. Idyllic flashbacks are one thing, though Jesus and the tunnel of light represent a step too far.

Defending Denmark

The Danish political party Dansk Folkeparti asked a group of students to draw Mohammed cartoons, in a parody of the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed caricatures. The event was filmed by Martin Rosengaard Knudsen as part of his (racist, anti-immigration) Defending Denmark campaign, and was broadcast on television by DR last month.

23 September 2006

L'Affaire Des Caricatures

L'Affaire Des Caricatures
L'Affaire Des Caricatures, a book by Mohamed Sifaoui about the international reaction to the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed caricatures, has been published in France. It includes a new cartoon of Mohammed on the cover.

19 September 2006

coup d'état

King Bhumibol, Queen Sirikit, Prem Tinsulanonda, Sonthi Boonyaratglin
We have just heard that there has been a military coup against the government in Bangkok, led by army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin. The army has taken control of Government House and is also controlling all TV stations. The coup appears to be an act of support for the King by the army, which thankfully suggests that it will be non-violent.

Thaksin Shinawatra was able to broadcast a brief message on Channel 9, declaring a state of emergency, before the army took over the signal. However, as he is currently at the UN in New York, Thaksin's influence in Thailand is now practically non-existent.

Thailand has a long history of military coups, though the last one was more than a decade ago and there had been progress towards a stable democracy. Yet another coup is the last thing Thailand needs, though an army spokesman has appeared on TV to assure us that they will return power to a democratic government as soon as possible.

18 September 2006

Contemporary American Cinema

Contemporary American Cinema
Contemporary American Cinema, edited by Linda Ruth Williams and Michael Hammond, is the first book to attempt a truly comprehensive examination of post-classical cinema (that is, American filmmaking since 1960, after Hollywood's golden age).

The book implicitly positions itself as an unofficial sequel to The Classical Hollywood Cinema (by David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, and Janet Staiger). It was only published this year, so only time will tell if it can earn as high a reputation as Bordwell et al., though it does gain instant significance as the first study of its kind.

Major trends are all covered in some depth: the decline of the studio system and the rise of New Hollywood in the 1960s, big-budget blockbusters in the 1970s, bombastic action movies and indie cinema in the 1980s, and "Smart Cinema" in the 1990s. (Maybe it's still too soon for a clear appreciation of 1990s cinema, as the "Smart Cinema" tag doesn't seem substantial enough.)

Of the book's contributors, only Kim Newman really stands out, though co-editor Linda Ruth Williams and her husband and co-writer, Mark Kermode, are also excellent writers. I can't help but contrast Contemporary American Cinema with The Oxford History Of World Film, whose format is similar though whose collection of contributors and essays is far superior. That may be an unfair comparison, though I make it only because, in their introduction, Williams and Hammond say that they commissioned "some of the best film writers and academics in the world" to write "a series of first-class essays".

Although it was written as a university film studies textbook, complete with suggested essay questions, it can also be read as a work of general film history. As a survey of trends in American cinema circa 1960-2000, it's a unique and important book.

02 September 2006

Blue Peanuts

Blue Peanuts
Blue Peanuts is an obscure short film which was originally distributed on VHS alongside Apocalypse Pooh. It features a Peanuts cartoon hilariously overdubbed with Dennis Hopper's profane dialogue from Blue Velvet.

01 September 2006

Apocalypse Pooh

Apocalypse Pooh
Apocalypse Pooh is a combination of Apocalypse Now and Winnie The Pooh & The Blustery Day: clips from the cartoon set to the film's soundtrack, and vice-versa. So, Winnie becomes Martin Sheen's Willard, Piglet becomes Dennis Hopper's manic photojournalist, and Marlon Brando's Kurtz becomes Eeyore.

It was directed by Todd Graham in 1987, and has circulated on VHS. It's arguably the first-ever Mashup film, as it synchronises audio and video from two different sources; it can even lay claim to being the first AMV (anime music video) avant la lettre, as it includes Winnie flying a kite set to Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones.

29 August 2006

The King Never Smiles

The King Never Smiles
The King Never Smiles
Paul M Handley's unauthorised biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, The King Never Smiles, is unique in that it does not subscribe to the conventional hagiographic view of Bhumibol's reign. The book cannot be sold in Thailand, due to the country's lèse-majesté law, which prohibits any criticism of the King, the Queen, or the Crown Prince.

[Lèse-majesté is broadly interpreted, strictly enforced, and harshly punished in Thailand. Bail is denied for lèse-majesté suspects, trials are held in camera, and the maximum sentence is a jail term of fifteen years. Material subject to a lèse-majesté investigation cannot be quoted or published for legal reasons.]

23 August 2006

Depth Of Field

Depth Of Field
There have been analyses of Kubrick's career by individual writers, and monographs on his individual films, though Depth Of Field: Stanley Kubrick, Film, & The Uses Of History (edited by Geoffrey Cocks, James Diedrick, and Glenn Perusek) presents, for the first time, an anthology on Kubrick's films and themes by a broad range of authors. The impressive list of contributors includes Kubrick's script-collaborators Frederic Raphael and Diane Johnson, Kubrick biographer Vincent LoBrutto, and veteran film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

In his essay The Pumpkinification Of Stanley K, Raphael punctuates extended classical allusions with occasional references to his disappointment upon viewing Eyes Wide Shut, the film he co-wrote. He is unrepentant regarding the criticism he received for his self-serving memoir, Eyes Wide Open.

The most bizarre essay is Death By Typewriter, in which Geoffrey Cocks homes in on tiny, insignificant details in order to demonstrate (unsuccessfully) that The Shining is actually a metaphor for the Holocaust. Cocks demonstrates an obsessive interest in trivial minutiae; for some unclear reason, he wants us to realise that the number seven recurs throughout the film, in increasingly obscure and unlikely manifestations. Hilariously, he suggests that, in A Clockwork Orange, the line "You see that shoe?" is a deliberate echo of "You see that, Jew?". (In Annie Hall, this kind of paranoia is played for laughs: "Not 'D'you eat?', but 'Jew eat'".)

The book provides a useful opportunity to explore Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut, with the benefit of hindsight, reassessing its initial critical response. (Kubrick's films often received mixed reviews on first release, only to be re-evaluated several years later.) Tim Kreider does this most successfully in the final chapter, Introducing Sociology.

22 August 2006

Snakes On A Plane

Snakes On A Plane
It has Samuel L Jackson shouting at people! It has airborne peril with no pilot and no windows! It has a Jurassic Park-style tense manual electrics reboot! It has so-bad-it's-good B-movie dialogue! Most importantly, it has [ahem] snakes on a [ahem] plane. It's Snakes On A Plane (directed by David R Ellis) - it does exactly what it says on the tin.

The Libertine

The Libertine
In Laurence Dunmore's The Libertine, Johnny Depp plays John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and scandalous Restoration poet. Rochester wrote some of the bawdiest poetry in English literature, and his life was as debauched as his art.

The Libertine, though set in the 17th century, does not follow traditional period film conventions (a la A Cock & Bull Story). It could hardly be described as a costume drama; it has none of the restrained formalities of the genre. Ornate sets are replaced by murky taverns and dark back-streets.

Also, the camera is frequently hand-held, which, combined with Rochester's atheism and amorality, gives the film a feeling of contemporariness in both style and tone.

21 August 2006

A Cock & Bull Story

A Cock & Bull Story
Tristram Shandy (arguably the first work of post-modern art, 200 years avant la lettre) is one of those 'unfilmable' novels, like Naked Lunch and Ulysses, or, for different reasons, Lolita. Those novels have all been filmed, of course, though they can still be described as unfilmable. The film versions of Naked Lunch and Ulysses were unable to reproduce the novels' anarchic streams-of-consciousness. Kubrick's Lolita was a masterpiece, and was scripted by the novel's author himself, though it replaced the book's erotic travelogue with comedy and social satire. (The later remake had fewer censorship problems, though it lacks the merits of either the novel or the original film.)

Now Tristram Shandy has been filmed, too, as A Cock & Bull Story (by Michael Winterbottom). The novel's formal eccentricities haven't quite been replicated in the film version, though its unique narrative style has been successfully transferred and even expanded.

The novel is ostensibly autobiographical, with Tristram Shandy recounting the events of his life, though he is side-tracked by numerous digressions and he frequently interrupts the narrative in order to comment on the very process of autobiographical writing. This structure has been retained by the film, which stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (both TV comedians). Coogan, playing Shandy, steps in and out of character throughout the film, alternating between Shandy, Shandy's father, and himself.

The film's 'in period' scenes (replicating the 18th century novel) are outnumbered by contemporary sequences in which Coogan and Brydon comment on their performances and, backstage, the producers review the rushes and rewrite the script as they go along. Thus, we see Coogan in the make-up trailer preparing for a scene, then performing it on the set, then turning to camera and commenting on the material. We are even shown him being interviewed for a supposed extra feature to be added to the film's DVD.

The funniest scenes are the improvised mock-rivalries between Coogan and Brydon. As they banter backstage, Brydon (are his teeth off-white, or yellow?) and Coogan (why don't his shoes make him seem taller?) both parody their own insecurities. Hilariously, Brydon even imitates Coogan's TV character, Alan Partridge, and Coogan spends much of the film in a futile attempt to disassociate himself from Partridge, the character that made him famous.

A Cock & Bull Story has deliberate echoes of other 18th century period films (it shares music cues with Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, for instance), though, more surprisingly, it has much in common with the films of Woody Allen. In Annie Hall, for example, the adult Allen observes and comments on re-enacted scenes of his childhood. The similarity is most striking in Stardust Memories, in which Allen plays a neurotic film comedian, an exaggerated version of himself. (However, Allen denies any autobiographical element, and feigns surprise when critics associate him with his Stardust Memories character.) A Cock & Bull Story and Stardust Memories both end in the same way, with the actors in a screening-room watching the film and, as it finishes, assessing its quality and discussing their own performances.

10 August 2006

Die Besten Filme Aller Zeiten

The German magazine Cinema, in its July issue, has published a list of the 100 greatest films ever made, based on votes from readers:

1. The Lord Of The Rings I-III
2. Pulp Fiction
3. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
4. The Matrix
5. The Godfather
6. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
7. Fight Club
8. Titanic
9. The Godfather II
10. Forrest Gump
11. Gladiator
12. Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith
13. Star Wars VI: Return Of The Jedi
14. Sin City
15. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
16. Braveheart
17. Schindler's List
18. Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
19. Seven
20. Terminator II: Judgment Day
21. The Silence Of The Lambs
22. The Godfather III
23. Kill Bill I
24. Once Upon A Time In The West
25. Die Hard
26. American Beauty
27. Star Wars II: Attack Of The Clones
28. Ice Age
29. High Noon
30. Alien
31. Leon
32. Brokeback Mountain
33. Dirty Dancing
34. Amelie
35. Dances With Wolves
36. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
37. The Shawshank Redemption
38. Saw
39. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
40. Some Like It Hot
41. Gone With The Wind
42. Once Upon A Time In America
43. King Kong
44. Moulin Rouge!
45. The Big Lebowski
46. The Blues Brothers
47. Donnie Darko
48. Casablanca
49. Crash
50. Back To The Future
51. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
52. From Dusk Till Dawn
53. Pretty Woman
54. Memento
55. Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire
56. The Usual Suspects
57. Die Hard II: Die Harder
58. Walk The Line
59. Monty Python's Life Of Brian
60. Dead Poets Society
61. Shrek
62. Garden State
63. Kill Bill II
64. Lost In Translation
65. Scarface
66. Aliens
67. A Clockwork Orange
68. Heat
69. Saving Private Ryan
70. Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone
71. Spider-Man
72. Apocalypse Now
73. Blade Runner
74. Spider-Man II
75. The Thirteenth Floor
76. Die Hard III
77. Batman Begins
78. Face/Off
79. Shrek II
80. Taxi Driver
81. The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
82. Cruel Intentions
83. The Sixth Sense
84. LA Confidential
85. Lethal Weapon
86. Love Actually
87. 1492: Conquest Of Paradise
88. Life Is Beautiful
89. Psycho
90. The Terminator
91. Murder She Said
92. City Of God
93. Million Dollar Baby
94. Reservoir Dogs
95. GoodFellas
96. Snatch
97. Armageddon
98. Big Fish
99. Finding Nemo
100. Independence Day

The magazine previously surveyed its readers in 2000, when their #1 choice was Schindler's List. What's surprising about this new list is the embracing of entire trilogies: Die Hard I-III are all included, as are The Godfather I-III. (Die Hard II-III and The Godfather III are usually [and rightly] ignored in such lists.) Uniquely, all six Star Wars films are included: not only the original trilogy (Star Wars IV-VI) but also the disappointing later trilogy (Star Wars I-III). With so many sequels and trilogies given individual entries, it seems strange to lump the Lord Of The Rings trilogy all together as one entry. There is a general preference for more recent films, as in most polls derived from public votes: King Kong is the Peter Jackson remake, and Scarface is the Brian de Palma remake. Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy. Note also that Crash is the Paul Haggis Oscar-winner, not the scandalous David Cronenberg film, and Titanic is the James Cameron version.

31 July 2006

The Last Supper

The Last Supper
Damien Hirst's series The Last Supper (produced in 1999) will be on show next month at 100 Tonson in Bangkok, as part of a British Council exhibition called Monologue/Dialogue (throughout August). The Last Supper is a group of thirteen screenprints, designed to resemble the labels and boxes of pharmaceutical products though given the names of traditional British foods (steak and kidney pie, chips, Cornish pasty, etc.).

Several of the images include a clearly phallic fake company logo, suggesting that, on one level at least, Hirst's combination of pills and pub grub can be taken as a wry joke. They also suggest the 'space food' eaten - or presumed to be eaten - by astronauts, and the futuristic food in pill form which has been predicted for decades yet has not yet materialised. More seriously, they comment on the increasing amount of artificial additives found in processed foods.

With its emphasis on product packaging, The Last Supper has a superficial connection to Pop Art, though Hirst's images are more muted and clinical than Andy Warhol's bright, garish Brillo boxes and Campbell's screenprints. The Last Supper was produced in an edition of 150, an unusually high quantity for Hirst, echoing Warhol's love of multiple copies.

The thirteen images of The Last Supper signify Christ and the disciples, originally represented in the Gospels and, of course, in Leonardo da Vinci's Milan mural. Hirst himself has also represented Jesus and the disciples in other forms: in Twelve Disciples (1994), the twelve followers were each represented by cows' heads in tanks, with Jesus represented by an empty tank; in The Apostles (2003), each disciple was symbolised by a medicine cabinet filled with found objects, with Jesus represented by an empty cabinet. Most recently, in The Stations Of The Cross (2004, a photographic series by Hirst and David Bailey), Jesus was depicted as a nude woman with a cow's head.

The Apostles, part of Hirst's fascinating exhibition Romance In The Age Of Uncertainty, emphasised the suffering and deaths of the disciples, the cabinets - stained with blood and containing skulls, bones, and weapons - becoming physical manifestations of the bodies of the apostles themselves. The Last Supper is also a reference to death, though the theological element is less explicit.

Although there are thirteen screenprints in The Last Supper, representing the thirteen people at the Biblical last supper, each image does not stand explicitly for a specific person in the way that the cabinets and cows' heads do. Rather, the Last Supper of the title can be seen as a comment on our own reliance on pills to prolong our lives, the implication being that each tablet, or each meal, could be our last.

Science, medication, and pharmaceuticals are recurring themes in Hirst's work. He has produced a series of medicine cabinets filled with pill boxes (Modern Medicine, 1989-1993), and his long-running geometric 'spot paintings' all illustrate chemical compounds. He created a full-scale replica of a chemist's shop, Pharmacy (1992). His restaurant, Pharmacy, was in business from 1997-2003, and one of his companies is called Science Ltd. His epic monograph I Want To Spend The Rest Of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone, One To One, Always, Forever, Now (1997) takes science as its design theme, and the catalogue of Hirst's work from the Saatchi collection (2001) itself imitates the typography of The Last Supper.

Ultimately, Hirst's installations (the animals in formaldehyde, the medical cabinets, etc.) are more substantial than these screenprints. Also, for a more contemplative contemporary last supper, we can turn to Chris Ofili's The Upper Room (1992), a stunning group of thirteen paintings, each depicting a rhesus monkey, installed in a beautiful walnut-panelled room with soft lighting. However, Hirst is one of the most significant of all contemporary artists, so any exhibition of his work is an important artistic event in Bangkok.

23 July 2006

The Suspended Moment

The Suspended Moment
The Suspended Moment is a touring exhibition of works from the collection of Han Nefkens, currently on show in Bangkok from 6th-30th July. In her catalogue introduction, curator Hilde Teerlinck interprets the title as an instant frozen in time ("A Split Second"), which she describes as "the instantaneousness and transience of a moment". This recalls the 'decisive moment' philosophy of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Teerlinck doesn't cite Cartier-Bresson, though she does mention another interesting parallel. She notes a thematic correlation between the novel Girlfriend In A Coma - specifically its chapter titled "Dreaming even though you're wide awake" - and Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

The concept of the exhibition is explored most literally in Blast, Naoya Hatakeyama's series of dramatic rock explosion photographs, in which the enormous energy of the blasts is eternally frozen. Otto Berchem's installation, Deadheading - a vase of stalks on a pedestal, with the flower heads scattered on the floor below - demonstrates the fragility of time, and the transience of perfection. Highly acclaimed Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook's video Conversation, in which she speaks to a group of shrouded corpses, takes Berchem's concept to its logical conclusion.

More than the artworks themselves, however, the most important thing about The Suspended Moment is the very fact that it is on show in Bangkok. Such international group exhibitions of contemporary, conceptual art, in such diverse media (video, installation, painting, photography, and sculpture), are rare indeed in this city. The exhibition has been split into three venues (PSG, Tadu, and 100 Tonson), some of which are better organised than others, though when the forthcoming contemporary culture building is finished Bangkok will have a truly modern space large enough to accommodate such exhibitions, and will hopefully attract or even produce many more of them.

18 July 2006

50 Films To See Before You Die

Channel 4's film channel, Film4, has produced a list of 50 Films To See Before You Die, as follows:

1. Apocalypse Now
2. The Apartment
3. City Of God
4. Chinatown
5. Sexy Beast
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. North By Northwest
8. Breathless
9. Donnie Darko
10. Manhattan
11. Alien
12. Lost In Translation
13. The Shawshank Redemption
14. Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India
15. Pulp Fiction
16. Touch Of Evil
17. Walkabout
18. Black Narcissus
19. Boyz 'n The Hood
20. The Player
21. Come & See
22. Heavenly Creatures
23. A Night At The Opera
24. Erin Brockovich
25. Trainspotting
26. The Breakfast Club
27. Hero
28. Fanny & Alexander
29. Pink Flamingos
30. All About Eve
31. Scarface
32. Terminator II
33. Three Colours: Blue
34. The Royal Tenenbaums
35. The Ladykillers
36. Fight Club
37. The Searchers
38. Mulholland Drive
39. The Ipcress File
40. The King of Comedy
41. Manhunter
42. Dawn Of The Dead
43. Princess Mononoke
44. Raising Arizona
45. Cabaret
46. This Sporting Life
47. Brazil
48. Aguirre: The Wrath Of God
49. Secrets & Lies
50. Badlands

This list was selected by a committee including David Puttnam, Jason Solomons, Karen Krizanovich, Tessa Ross, and Menhaj Huda. Like the recent list by Andrew Collins, The Godfather and Citizen Kane are inexplicably omitted. Scarface is the remake rather than the Howard Hawks original.

How To Be A Film Buff

Andrew Collins, film critic for Radio Times magazine, has produced a list of twenty-five essential films, called How To Be A Film Buff. Each entry also has an alternative, making a total of fifty films. The full list is as follows:
  • Casablanca (or Citizen Kane)
  • The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (or Nosferatu)
  • Blade Runner (or 2001: A Space Odyssey)
  • A Matter Of Life & Death (or The Red Shoes)
  • Out Of The Past (or The Big Sleep)
  • La Dolce Vita (or Bicycle Thieves)
  • High Noon (or The Searchers)
  • Rear Window (or Psycho)
  • The Hidden Fortress (or Rashomon)
  • Bonnie & Clyde (or Easy Rider)
  • Bringing Up Baby (or His Girl Friday)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
  • Un Chien Andalou (or L'Age d'Or)
  • Armageddon (or Con Air)
  • Heaven's Gate (or Dances With Wolves)
  • Annie Hall (or Manhattan)
  • Singin' In The Rain (or An American In Paris)
  • Paths Of Glory (or A Few Good Men)
  • Performance (or Blow-Up)
  • Bride Of Frankenstein (or Dracula)
  • Blackboards (or The Apple)
  • The Day The Earth Stood Still (or Invasion Of The Body-Snatchers)
  • Pulp Fiction (or Reservoir Dogs)
  • Shoah (or Night & Fog)
  • Winter Light (or The Silence)
Mostly, the alternate choices are films of equal quality to their main counterparts, though not in all cases. Bride Of Frankenstein, for example, is paired with the much weaker Dracula. (Paths Of Glory has A Few Good Men as its alternate choice, but I think we all know that, in this case, no alternative is necessary, least of all A Few Good Men.) It's strange that La Dolce Vita and Bicycle Thieves are paired, as they seem more like opposites. There is a choice between Armageddon or Con Air - how about a third choice of 'neither'?

There is a distinct lack of epics here: no Gone With The Wind, no Metropolis, no Apocalypse Now, and no Lawrence Of Arabia. Unusual, and certainly regrettable, is the lack of The Godfather. The biggest surprise, though, is that Citizen Kane is one of the alternative choices and not on the main list: it's an essential film, especially in a list titled How To Be A Film Buff.

An Encyclopedia Of Swearing

An Encyclopedia Of Swearing
Geoffrey Hughes's 1991 book Swearing is still the only serious academic text on the subject, though it's quite thin and its sources are now outdated. So his new book, the much expanded (though not significantly updated) An Encyclopedia Of Swearing, is a milestone in the field.

The Encyclopedia includes entries for key historical periods (such as medieval, Renaissance, and Restoration), significant writers and texts (including William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Lady Chatterley's Lover), and swearwords themselves. Of course, I turned first to one entry in particular. The entry for this word discusses medieval usage, a brief (Germanic and Latin) etymology, the Earl of Rochester, and two outdated variants. There is no mention of feminist reappropriation, though, and no discussion of contemporary usage.

In his introduction, Hughes explains that the book is not a dictionary - it does not include a comprehensive list of all known swear words. (For a better analysis of offensive words, see Hugh Rawson's Dictionary Of Invective; for a definitive list of terms, see Jonathon Green's Cassell Dictionary Of Slang.) As an encyclopedia, however, this new book is valuable for its account of the history of swearing - a history often summarised, though rarely described in as much detail as found in Hughes's Encyclopedia.

There are brief repetitions throughout the book, with several anecdotes and quotations duplicated in different entries. Also, he writes that Mary Whitehouse personally influenced Kubrick's decision to withdraw A Clockwork Orange from the UK: "Her objection... led to the director withdrawing the film from showings in Britain", though in reality Kubrick's action was a result of death threats his family received.

The Encyclopedia provides a necessary historical account of swearing, though its sources don't seem sufficiently up-to-date. There are a couple of token references to HBO, though Hughes appears much more comfortable when quoting from medieval manuscripts than from contemporary popular culture.

14 July 2006


Bangkok's annual French arts festival, La Fete, ended yesterday with Solo, a modern dance performance by Philippe Decoufle (first performed in 2004). It was amusing and entertaining, though a bit too whimsical, with tricks and jokes in place of substance.

The performance began with Decoufle explaining that dance is essentially autobiographical, prompting him to sit at a desk and show us snapshots of his friends and family. This may have demonstrated his charm, though it had nothing whatsoever to do with modern dance.

After this quirky introduction, the performance developed into a multi-media spectacle. Using video cameras and projectors, Decoufle was able to interact with a reversed projection of his own image. With another camera, he could infinitely replicate his every movement on a large screen behind him, in a tribute to Busby Berkeley's musical choreography.

It was the Berkeley tribute section that was the most impressive in the show. Somehow, the multiplied images of himself spiralled into the distance, and each one was delayed by a split second, so that, when Decoufle moved, he was followed by a virtual chorus line of his own reflections. (A live video version of the mirrored corridors in Citizen Kane, The Lady From Shanghai, and Enter The Dragon.) Further camera tricks produced a video kaleidoscope of Decoufle's multiplied body.

Decoufle has worked as a clown, a mime, and a filmmaker, and these skills were all central to Solo. Only at the end of the performance did the cameras and screens disappear, leaving the performer isolated (truly solo) and actually dancing.

30 June 2006

I'm Going To Tell You A Secret

I'm Going To Tell You A Secret
Madonna's new live album and documentary both have the same (slightly cumbersome) title, I'm Going To Tell You A Secret. The album includes highlights from the Reinvention Tour, and the documentary, like Truth Or Dare, includes concert footage and backstage sequences.

In the documentary, she is filmed in her car after (I think) the concert I saw, and she says it was her best Reinvention show thus far and her sweatiest show ever. We have an insight into life with Guy Ritchie and her children, though the best material is the live footage of Vogue and Nobody Knows Me. The only downside is that, towards the end, it goes into preachy Kabbalah overdrive.

The album's track-list is: The Beast Within, Vogue, Nobody Knows Me, American Life, Hollywood, Die Another Day, Lament, Like A Prayer, Mother & Father, Imagine, Into The Groove, Music, Holiday, and a demo of I Love New York.

29 June 2006

"Crown Prince Jigme Girlfiend"

Jigme and mystery woman
Earlier this month, Thailand celebrated King Bhumibol's sixtieth anniversary. Royalty from other nations came to join the festivities, and the whole event received extensive, reverent coverage throughout the Thai media. By far the most popular royal guest was Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, heir to the throne of Bhutan. Jigme has set hearts aflutter, and has become quite a pin-up. However, there is one photo of him that can't be distributed.

The most popular Thai web forum (Pantip) and newspaper (Thai Rath) both printed the picture, showing Jigme and an un-named woman. Thai Rath captioned it "Crown Prince Jigme Girlfiend [sic] From Bhutan paparazzi”. Yesterday, the police Department of Special Investigation imposed a ban on any further circulation of the image, though how they intend to enforce this remains unclear. It has been quietly removed from pantip.com's archives.

27 June 2006

The Passion Of The Christ

The Passion Of The Christ
Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ is, according to a recent Entertainment Weekly article, the most controversial film of all time. Roger Ebert has written: "the film is the most violent I have ever seen. It will probably be the most violent you have ever seen." Well, speak for yourself, Roger. The violence is protracted and excruciating, though superlatives are inappropriate.

The film, essentially a passion play, concentrates solely on the final twelve hours of Jesus's life, beginning with his arrest. Christ's near-fatal scourging, his arduous walk along the stations of the cross, and his crucifixion, are all unflinchingly documented. If Jesus did suffer and die for us, these events should certainly be presented unsanitised. A similar representation can be found in Matthias Grunewald's altarpiece The Crucifixion, depicting an emaciated, almost gangrenous Christ. The message, then, is that Christ suffered. However, there seems to be no other message besides this.

Jewish groups accused the film of anti-Semitism, claiming that Jews are portrayed in the film as a baying mob calling for Christ's death and then accepting moral responsibility for it. In fact, though it does occasionally deviate from the New Testament, the narrative is largely traditional. Pontius Pilate is presented as a rather weak leader, sympathetic to Jesus, with Herod depicted as effete and similarly sympathetic. The true villain is Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, who personally demands Jesus's death.

When the Jews bay for Christ's blood, they are merely following Caiaphas's instigations. Thus, the film - like Monty Python's hilarious Life Of Brian - can be seen as a comment on the dearth of independent thought amongst crowds. (Life Of Brian takes this much further, of course, and criticises the unquestioning worship of organised religion itself.)