30 December 2007

Casino Royale

Casino Royale
Casino Royale was the first of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, though the film rights to it had always eluded Cubby Broccoli, who produced films based on all of Fleming's subsequent Bond books. A film of Casino Royale was made in 1967, though it was a spoof version featuring a huge, chaotic ensemble of directors, writers, and stars. When the rights finally passed to Broccoli's company, a canonical version could finally be made, directed by Martin Campbell.

Campbell had previously directed Pierce Brosnan as an ultra-suave Bond in GoldenEye. Brosnan's replacement, Daniel Craig, is more reminiscent of Die Hard's John McClain than the traditional James Bond character. (Does he want his Martini shaken or stirred? "Do I look like I give a damn?" is his iconoclastic answer.)

24 December 2007

Seduced

Seduced
Seduced: Art & Sex From Antiquity To Now, an exhibition at the Barbican in London (from 12th October 2007 until 27th January 2008), presents an historical survey of sex as represented in various artistic media from Classical sculpture to contemporary photography.

Every significant field is included: Japanese illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries, Victorian and early 20th century erotic photography from the Alfred Kinsey collection, outrageous drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, Surrealist images by Man Ray, illustrations for Justine and The Philosophy Of The Boudoir, and the Kama Sutra. There are even late drawings by Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso, and an early (self-satisfied) Picasso self-portrait. Sex in contemporary art is represented by Andy Warhol's film Blowjob, and collections of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe (his most sado-masochistic, homoerotic images), Nobuyoshi Araki (close-up, eroticised images of isolated organs and snails), Jeff Koons (quasi-pornographic self-portraits with Ilona Staller), Thomas Ruff (out-of-focus images appropriated from porn websites), and Nan Goldin.

Goldin's work, a slide-show of naturalistic images, is the only exhibit to carry an individual 'explicit content' warning, although the Kinsey slideshow is far more graphic; the Goldin warning may be a precautionary reaction to the fuss over her recent Baltic exhibition. There are very few notable omissions, though Warhol would have been better represented by Blue Movie, and Carolee Schneemann's film Fuses should have been included, as should Andres Serrano's History Of Sex photographs.

Adland

Adland
Adland: A Global History Of Advertising, by Mark Tungate, is the first truly historical and international book about the advertising industry. Its emphasis is on the industry rather than the advertisements themselves, and its index is incomplete, though it explores the business of advertising with unprecedented scope.

Potty Fartwell & Knob

Potty Fartwell & Knob
Potty Fartwell & Knob: Extraordinary But True Names Of British People, by Russell Ash, is a pre-Christmas, stocking-filler book. Ash has compiled thematic lists of unusual names, all taken from census records, registers of marriages, and other public documents.

Thus, for example, we learn that there was a man named Jesus Christ who was born in 1940 and died in 2004. My favourite word is given its very own chapter, and the book lists twenty first names and surnames which incorporate it. (Anyone familiar with the English town Scunthorpe will get the general idea; as a personal nomenclature, it appears in even less disguised forms.)

In his introduction, Ash stresses that "wherever possible original documents have been checked" to avoid mistakes, though he also writes that his research involved "access to online material". Exactly how many census records he checked online, and how many he examined in their original versions, is unclear. I'm not convinced that all of the names listed are genuine, as it's too easy for mistakes or spoofs to creep in when records are typed into databases.

23 December 2007

New Works

New Works, an exhibition of videos and sculptures by Santiago Sierra, opened at the Lisson Gallery, London, on 30th November, and will close on 19th January 2008. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, Seven Works.

New Works features twenty-one blocks (Anthropometric Modules) of dried human excrement, collected and moulded by 'dalit' ('untouchable') scavengers in India. Sierra's art raises awareness of the exploitation of low-paid workers, though he has also been accused of exploiting the disadvantaged volunteers who work for him (by paying them nominal sums to perform degrading acts). Indeed, the Indian scavengers received no compensation for their work on his recent sculptures.

21 December 2007

Stanley Kubrick Archive

Stanley Kubrick Archive
Stanley Kubrick Archive
I went to the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts in London yesterday. The Archive was donated by Kubrick's widow earlier this year, and is currently being catalogued.

I had a great surprise: I found that I am actually part of the archive! In one of the boxes is my list of Kubrick's Look photographs, printed out from my website.

Live Earth

Live Earth
This year's Live Earth concert has been released on DVD and CD as Live Earth: The Concerts For A Climate In Crisis. The CD features Madonna performing Hey You, and the DVD features her performance of La Isla Bonita.

16 December 2007

30,000 Years Of Art

30,000 Years Of Art
30,000 Years Of Art: The Story Of Human Creativity Across Time & Space, published by Phaidon, features 1,000 artworks from cave paintings to conceptual art. Each work is illustrated by a full-page, colour photograph, and accompanied by a few paragraphs of explanatory text, following the same format as Phaidon's The Art Book and The 20th Century Art Book.

30,000 Years Of Art spans the entire history of artistic achievement, and features works from around the world. In addition to painting, sculpture, installation, and video, it also includes decorative art: ceramics, textiles, and metalwork. (In contrast, The Art Book is restricted to Western art since the Renaissance, and decorative art is excluded.) Unlike The Art Book, there are no cross-references but there is an index.

Each artist is restricted to a single entry. Some artists are represented by their most famous works, such as Velasquez (Las Meninas), Richard Hamilton (Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?), and Picasso (Les Demoiselles d'Avignon), though others are not: Leonardo's first portrait (Ginevra de' Benci) is included instead of the Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo is represented by his Dying Slave sculpture rather than David or the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

30,000 Years Of Art, weighing almost 6kg with more than 1,000 pages, is an excellent introduction to international art history. The Story Of Art (by EH Gombrich; also published by Phaidon), A World History Of Art (by John Fleming and Hugh Honour), and Art Through The Ages (by Helen Gardner) are the best single-volume art histories.

10 December 2007

The Bridge

The Brige
The Bridge is a documentary directed by Eric Steel. Throughout 2004, Steel used remote cameras to film people walking across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, looking for anyone who was preparing to jump off the bridge. His cameras captured nineteen people as they jumped to their deaths. The film includes footage of these suicides, and interviews with friends and relatives of those who died.

Documentary filmmaking has always raised questions about directorial intervention, though in this case the issue is absolutely fundamental. Steel maintains that, any time he saw someone behaving unusually, he called the coastguard, and that he was thus able to prevent six suicide attempts. One of the film's interviewees, a photographer, explains the detachment he feels when looking through a camera viewfinder, and this has also been explored in horror films such as Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project. In The Bridge, the photographer overcame his artistic instinct and intervened to save the life of the suicidal woman he was photographing, and Steel himself is adamant that he did all he could for each of the people whose deaths he filmed.

07 December 2007

1001 Movies
You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Steven Jay Schneider's 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die has been tweaked again, in a new 2007 edition. As in 2006 and 2005, the changes are few and are limited to the most recent films. The Departed has been added, for example, but Nine Queens and Y Tu Mama Tambien have been unfairly excised. Cache, added in 2006, has now been cut.

PDF

05 December 2007

Adam & Ewald

Adam & Ewald
Adam & Ewald
Adam & Ewald
Adam & Ewald
Photographs by Iranian artist Sooreh Hera have been withdrawn from a planned exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum in the Netherlands. The images, part of a series titled Adam & Ewald, show gay men wearing Mohammed masks.

03 December 2007

Destination Moon

Destination Moon
Destination Moon was directed by Irving Pichel and produced by George Pal. Pal's intention was to inject scientific credibility and documentary realism into science-fiction, though the result is a rather boring, uneventful film. A group of engineers build a rocket, fly to the moon, and then fly back again. They don't encounter any aliens, they don't crash, and there isn't even any dramatic conflict. (Some elements, such as the coloured space suits, the procedural details, and an astronaut adrift in space, could have influenced Kubrick's 2001.)

While Pichel and Pal were perfecting their scrupulous accuracy, they were overtaken by a low-budget exploitation film, Rocketship XM, which was rushed into production and actually released before Destination Moon. Rocketship XM has no production values, but it's far more exciting than Pichel's film. Pal later produced the alien invasion film The War Of The Worlds, one of the most dramatic sci-fi films of the period, but it was the success of Destination Moon that revived the genre at the start of the 1950s.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Fellowship Of The Ring
(director's cut)

The Fellowship Of The Ring
The Fellowship Of The Ring is the first film in Peter Jackson's trilogy The Lord Of The Rings, based on the novels of JRR Tolkien. I did not see these films when they were originally released, though I am a huge fan of Jackson's earlier splatter films Bad Taste and Braindead. I saw his remake of King Kong last year, and it sapped away any enthusiasm I had to see The Lord Of The Rings.

Well, The Fellowship Of The Ring is so much better than King Kong. The entire cast is suberb, especially Ian McKellen as Gandalf. It's surprising that Orlando Bloom's character has so little dialogue, though presumably his role is expanded in the second and third installments. Though there is extensive CGI, the film also relies heavily on traditional effects such as matte paintings and miniatures. Logistically, the trilogy is surely one of the most complex film projects ever undertaken, as the three films were produced simultaneously, with multiple units.

The result is stunning. I only wish I could feel the same enthusiasm for Jackson's King Kong.

24 November 2007

Seven Works

Seven Works
Seven Works, edited by Elena Crippa, is a catalogue of recent works by the artist Santiago Sierra, including his new Anthropometric Modules (sculptures moulded from dried human excrement), to accompany the forthcoming New Works exhibition at the Lisson Gallery, London.

23 November 2007

Spellbound

Spellbound
Spellbound was directed by Alfred Hitchcock for producer David O Selznick. The film's theme, psychoanalysis, was suggested by Selznick, who was in analysis at the time. Ingrid Bergman (as radiant as ever) plays Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst who correctly diagnoses that John Ballantine (played quite blandly by Gregory Peck) is suffering from delusional amnesia. She must discover his real identity before the police find him and charge him with murder.

Selznick was notorious for his personal supervision of the films he produced, often over-ruling the directors and assuming ultimate creative responsibility. (Gone With The Wind, for example, has one credited director, though two others worked on it at different times and Selznick is effectively the film's auteur.) Hitchcock planned his films down to the last detail in pre-production, and, to avoid post-production changes, he shot only the specific angles that he knew he would use. After his Selznick contract expired, he personally produced every film he subsequently directed. The joke in North By Northwest about Roger O Thornhill's middle initial standing for "Nothing" is a sly dig at Selznick's similar affectation, and, more surprisingly, the murderer in Rear Window bears an uncanny resemblance to Selznick.

One of Hitchcock's favourite actors, Leo G Carroll, appeared in five films for the director besides Spellbound. Ingrid Bergman would later star in Hitchcock's Notorious, one of his greatest films. (Incidentally, one reason why it is so great is that Selznick was preoccupied with writing Duel In The Sun so he didn't interfere in the production.)

Spellbound has rather too much psychobabble; the whole script plays like the last reel of Psycho. Also, the early scenes in which Petersen is misconstrued as frigid and a female patient is treated for nymphomania feel laboured and un-necessary. The two close-up point-of-view shots (drinking drugged milk and suicide by shooting, the latter featuring a flash of red in an otherwise monochrome film) are a bit gimmicky. On the other hand, the music score by Miklos Rozsa is fascinating, featuring the first use of the theremin in any film soundtrack.

The film is probably most famous for its short dream sequence, designed by the over-rated Surrealist artist Salvador Dali and directed (uncredited) by William Cameron Menzies. Dali's concepts borrow heavily from the iconography of his previous paintings, and from his and Luis Bunuel's film Un Chien Andalou.

Creature From The Black Lagoon (2D)

Creature From The Black Lagoon
Creature From The Black Lagoon, directed by Jack Arnold, is one of the most iconic of all science-fiction films. It may not have the visual spectacle of Metropolis, nor the philosophical insight of 2001, but it does have a red-blooded, web-fingered, amphibious gill-man.

The eponymous creature, an evolutionary missing link, is discovered in an Amazonian lagoon by a team of scientists. As their fact-finding expedition progresses, the creature kills the more expendable of them and abducts the film's token female love-interest. The film itself is also a missing link, half-way between King Kong (a primitive monster capturing a distressed woman) and Jaws (a small group in a boat, attacked by a deadly marine animal).

The film was originally released in 3D, like Jack Arnold's previous It Came From Outer Space, which the underwater photography (including a lyrical pas de deux, directed by James C Havens) takes full advantage of. The above-water scenes are more routine, with repetitive, melodramatic music cues and a predictable plot preventing any genuine suspense or surprise. It's great fun, though.

Arnold also directed a sequel to this film, Revenge Of The Creature. His most interesting sci-fi production of the period is the existential The Incredible Shrinking Man.

16 November 2007

Syndromes & A Century

Syndromes & A Century
Syndromes & A Century, the latest film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, was screened tonight at Alliance Francaise in Bangkok. (It will also be shown tomorrow.) The director was present to introduce the film and answer questions afterwards. It was, sadly, shown on DVD instead of 35mm, due to 'technical difficulties', just like their Georges Melies event two weeks ago.

These screenings offer a very rare chance to see the film in Thailand, as it is effectively banned from distribution in this country. When it was originally submitted to the censors at the Ministry of Culture, they insisted that four (totally innocuous) scenes be removed; rather than mutilate his work, Apichatpong instead decided not to release it here at all, forming the Free Thai Cinema Movement to campaign against state censorship.

The film begins in a rural clinic, with a female consultant interviewing a male army doctor. The doctor falls in love with her, though she tells him that she is keen on someone else, a lotus-seller seen in a long flashback. One of her patients, an (unsympathetic) elderly monk, recounts a dream in which he is attacked by chickens. At the same clinic, a singing dentist strikes up a friendship with one of his patients, a young monk who dreams of being a DJ.

Then, at the halfway point, the film begins again: the consultant interviews the army doctor, the old monk recounts his dream, and the dentist treats the young monk. This time, the location has shifted to a city hospital, and, rather than falling for the consultant, the army doctor has a beautiful girlfriend instead.

I readily admit that I can't explain exactly what it's supposed to be about. Like Apichatpong's mystical Tropical Malady, it is a film of two distinct halves, a beautiful and tranquil enigma. I want to watch it again immediately.

Unknown Forces

Unknown Forces
Unknown Forces: The Illuminated Art of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (สัตว์วิกาล: ภาพเรืองแสงของ อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล), edited by Sonthaya Subyen, is the first monograph on Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The latest in Sonthaya's Filmvirus book series, it includes interviews with the director, a bibliography, and a comprehensive filmography.

14 November 2007

Strangers On A Train

Strangers On A Train
In Strangers On A Train, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, two men meet by chance in a train carriage. One (Bruno, played by Robert Walker) recognises the other, Guy (Farley Granger), who is a famous tennis player. Bruno initiates a conversation between them, in which he subtly exposes Guy's insecurities. Bruno then makes a theoretical proposal: that he will kill Guy's unfaithful wife if Guy kills his father. Guy laughs dismissively at the idea, and leaves the train.

Then, when Bruno carries out his end of the arrangement, he pressures Guy to do likewise. Guy refuses, though he realises that he cannot tell the police that Bruno killed his wife because Bruno would claim that they had plotted the scheme together. Thus, Guy is treated as a suspect by the police, and must find some way to stop Bruno from framing him.

The plot, an archetypal Hithcock concept, comes from Patricia Highsmith's novel Strangers On A Train, which Hitchcock adapted with Czenzi Ormonde and Barbara Keon. Novelist Raymond Chandler had been originally contracted to write the script, though Chandler disliked collaborating with Hitchcock. Chandler regarded Hitchcock's contributions as interferences, while, for Hitchcock, collaborating on a script was the most enjoyable part of the creative process.

The novel's central premise remains unchanged in the film; this is unsurprising, as it's such a perfect Hitchcockian scenario. There was a major structural alteration, however: in the book, Guy does indeed kill Bruno's father, whereas in the film he does not. Highsmith's book is about the corruption of innocence: Bruno's pervasive persistence ultimately drives Guy to murder, much as Iago poisons the mind of William Shakespeare's Othello.

Hitchcock's film, on the other hand, explores the persecution of innocence, with an innocent man under constant suspicion (a theme he dealt with equally directly in The 39 Steps, North By Northwest, and The Wrong Man), as Bruno encourages Guy to feel guilty for a crime he has not committed. Other Hitchcock preoccupations are present, too: the idea of the 'perfect murder' is a conversation topic in both this film and Shadow Of A Doubt; also, the 'Oedipus complex' lies at the heart of the mother-son relationships here, in Psycho, and in Notorious.

The most striking element in the film is Robert Walker's performance as Bruno. He perfectly captures the character's decadence, obsession, and psychosis. Indeed, notwithstanding his murder of Guy's wife, he is the most engaging character in the film, and the audience is invited to sympathise with him. Hitchcock's villains were often more engaging than his heroes: Uncle Charlie, for instance, in Shadow Of A Doubt, Norman in Psycho, and Tony in Dial M For Murder. Bruno is also another in a line of Hitchcock's gay characters: while Brandon and Phillip in Rope, Leonard in North By Northwest, and Mrs Danvers in Rebecca are not explicitly homosexual, they are, like Bruno, implicitly coded as gay.

The notion of contrastive doubling is another significant aspect of the film, recalling the two Charlies of Shadow Of A Doubt: two leading men (gay/straight, guilty/innocent), two love interests (Madonna/whore), and two detectives (good cop/bad cop). The psychological subtexts (doubling, Oedipal relationships, transference of guilt) add layers of interest to a thoroughly entertaining and blackly comic film.

Aside from the brilliant performances by Walker (in his only Hitchcock film) and Granger (who had previously appeared in Rope), the supporting cast is also outstanding. Leo G Carroll (veteran of five other Hitchcock films) is superb, and Hitchcock's daughter Patricia (who later appeared in Psycho) has a substantial role. This film also marks the beginning of Hitchcock's collaboration with cinematographer Robert Burks, who would go on to photograph eleven further films for the director.

The standout sequence is before Guy's tennis match, when the spectators' heads turn like metronomes from left to right to left to right, following each volley of the ball, while Bruno stares conspicuously ahead. The ending, however, is less impressive: there is an unrealistic (typically outrageous) shootout on an out-of-control carousel, followed by a studio-imposed coda. Fortunately, though, the ending cannot diminish one of Hitchcock's greatest films.

13 November 2007

Get Real

Get Real
Get Real
Eames chairs
Get Real is an exhibition organised by furniture design company Herman Miller. The exhibition features classic pieces of furniture (principally chairs) designed for the company since 1946. The highlights are George Nelson's bright, quirky Marshmallow sofa (1956) and, especially, the mass-produced moulded plywood (1946) and plastic (1948) chairs by Charles and Ray Eames. Get Real is at Siam Paragon from 10th November until tomorrow.

10 November 2007

Zoo

Zoo
Robinson Devor's film Zoo is a documentary about Kenneth Pinyan, who died in 2005. Pinyan, also known by the pseudonym Mr Hands, was a zoophile who fatally perforated his colon during sex with a horse at a farm near Enumclaw, Washington. (Bestiality was not illegal in Washington at that time, though it was criminalised following Pinyan's death.)

The use of reconstructions and atmospheric imagery, and the lack of authoritative narration or detailed factual information, are increasingly common in contemporary documentaries. In Zoo, audio interviews with other Enumclaw zoophiles (who never refer to Pinyan by name) are accompanied by overly aestheticised, non-judgemental reconstructions of the events they describe.

Devor consciously avoids sensationalising the subject-matter, though explicit video footage of Pinyan and a horse is shown for a few seconds in the corner of the frame. The only other instance (to my knowledge) of comparably explicit material being legally available was in 2002, when La Fura dels Baus included a similarly brief and graphic clip of a woman and a horse in their multi-media play XXX.

There are very few precedents for a documentary on this subject. On UK television, Channel 4 screened Hidden Love: Animal Passions in 1999, which featured an interview with Mark Matthews, another zoophile with a passion for horses. Matthews was a guest on the Jerry Springer Show in 1998, though the episode (I Married A Horse) has never been broadcast.

08 November 2007

Thai Film Journal

Thai Film Journal
From Censorship to Rating System
This month, the Thai Film Journal (วารสารหนังไทย) has a special issue devoted to film censorship. It features the proceedings from a seminar organised by the Thai Film Foundation, From Censorship to Rating System: The Way Forward? (จากเซ็นเซอร์สู่เรตติ้ง ทางออกที่เป็นไปได้), which was held at Bangkok Code on 29th May. Speakers at the seminar included Dome Sukwong, founder of the Thai Film Archive; Chalida Uabumrungjit from the Thai Film Foundation; Ladda Tangsuppachai, an official from the Ministry of Culture; and director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, representing the Free Thai Cinema Movement.

05 November 2007

"Ytringsfrihed er Dansk"

Dansk Folkeparti
After their Mohammed cartoons competition last year, Dansk Folkeparti's poster for the forthcoming Danish election features a drawing of Mohammed with the anti-censorship slogan "Ytringsfrihed er Dansk, censur er det ikke" ("Freedom of speech is Danish, censorship isn't").

02 November 2007

Film Factfinder

Film Factfinder
Film Factfinder, like Ronald Bergan's Film, features a concise guide to film genres, directors, countries, and 100 key films. Unlike Bergan's book, it does include a film glossary and a biographical dictionary of actors yet does not include any photographs. Each entry is rather brief: the biographies are less than ten sentences each, and each genre and country is given only one or two paragraphs. (The book is edited by Camilla Rockwood; the lists of directors and actors first appeared in the Chambers Book Of Facts.)

Film Factfinder's alphabetical list of 100 "Notable Films" is as follows:
  • Amores Perros
  • Andrei Rublev
  • Apocalypse Now
  • L'Atalante
  • Battleship Potemkin
  • Belle De Jour
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • The Big Sleep
  • The Birth Of A Nation
  • Blade Runner
  • Blow-Up
  • Blue Velvet
  • Bonnie & Clyde
  • Breathless
  • Brief Encounter
  • Brighton Rock
  • The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari
  • Casablanca
  • Chinatown
  • Citizen Kane
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Close-Up
  • Days Of Heaven
  • Deep Throat
  • La Dolce Vita
  • Don't Look Back
  • Do The Right Thing
  • Easy Rider

  • Eraserhead
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • The Exorcist
  • Farenheit 9/11
  • Fear Eats The Soul
  • The 400 Blows
  • Frankenstein
  • The General
  • The Godfather I-III
  • The Gold Rush
  • Gone With The Wind
  • The Gospel According To St Matthew
  • Greed
  • High Noon
  • His Girl Friday
  • It's A Wonderful Life
  • The Jazz Singer
  • Jules & Jim
  • King Kong
  • Last Tango In Paris
  • Last Year At Marienbad
  • Lawrence Of Arabia
  • The Leopard
  • The Lord Of The Rings I-III
  • Manhattan
  • Man With A Movie Camera
  • Metropolis
  • The Night Of The Hunter
  • Night Of The Living Dead
  • The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
  • Pather Panchali
  • Pickpocket
  • Psycho
  • Raging Bull
  • Raise The Red Lantern
  • Rashomon
  • Rebel Without A Cause
  • The Red Shoes
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Russian Ark
  • Sans Soleil
  • Saturday Night & Sunday Morning
  • Schindler's List
  • The Searchers
  • Seven
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Shadows
  • Singin' In The Rain
  • Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
  • Some Like It Hot
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Star Wars IV-VI
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Sunrise
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Taxi Driver
  • Three Colours: Blue/White/Red
  • Titanic
  • Tokyo Story
  • Touch Of Evil
  • Toy Story
  • Trainspotting
  • Triumph Of The Will
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Vertigo
  • Whisky Galore
  • White Heat
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Wings Of Desire
  • The Wizard Of Oz
The list actually includes 108 films, taking the various trilogies into consideration. It was compiled by Hannah McGill. Note that Titanic is the James Cameron version and Frankenstein is the James Whale version. Also, Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy.

Film Classics

Film Classics
Film Classics is a film studies primer published by SparkNotes (like CliffsNotes, but not as good). The book discusses twenty classic films, and begins by explaining the criteria for inclusion: technical achievement, influence, universal appeal, zeitgeist, and genre. There is also a "Shortlist of Great Directors", which lists ten significant filmmakers (or eleven, because Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut are listed together). Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein, to name but two, are conspicuous by their absence.

Each film is given around thirty pages of analysis, though the list of films is far too limited: there are only two foreign-language films, and only one silent film. Because Star Wars, The Matrix, The Godfather, and The Lord Of The Rings are all included as trilogies, there are twenty-eight films in the list, rather than twenty. (There are four films by Francis Coppola, yet none by Akira Kurosawa, Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir, or Kenji Mizoguchi - a slight imbalance?)

The classic films are as follows, in chronological order:
  • The Birth Of A Nation
  • Gone With The Wind
  • Citizen Kane
  • Casablanca
  • On The Waterfront
  • Vertigo
  • Sleeping Beauty

  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Godfather I-III
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
  • Taxi Driver
  • Annie Hall
  • Star Wars IV-VI
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Schindler's List
  • The Matrix I-III
  • The Lord Of The Rings I-III
  • Spirited Away
It's difficult to know who would benefit from this book. It's aimed at film students, but it's totally unacademic. There is no bibliography, the analyses of each film are all uncited and anonymous, and there are no references to film theory of any kind. General readers, though, would surely find it too dry, with its character analyses and interpretations of themes, motifs, and symbols.

31 October 2007

Songs Of Mass Destruction

Songs Of Mass Destruction
Madonna is featured on the new Annie Lennox album Songs Of Mass Destruction. She appears on the track Sing, along with Anastacia, Isobel Campbell, Dido, Celine Dion, Melissa Etheridge, Fergie, Beth Gibbons, Faith Hill, Angelique Kidjo, Beverley Knight, Gladys Knight, KD Lang, Sarah McLachlan, Beth Orton, Pink, Bonnie Raitt, Shakira, Shingai Shoniwa, Joss Stone, Sugababes, KT Tunstall, and Martha Wainwright. While the others make brief, barely distinguishable contributions, Madonna sings the entire second verse.

28 October 2007

Chandramohan

Durga Slaying Krustacean
Chandramohan, a Fine Art student at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Gujarat, was arrested in May after his degree show included paintings of nude Hindu deities. One painting, Durga Slaying Krustacean, depicts the goddess Durga giving birth; he has also depicted Jesus ejaculating during the crucifixion.

Durga Slaying Krustacean is reproduced, in black-and-white, in the current issue of Index On Censorship. (MF Husain also caused controversy in India with representations of naked Hindu goddesses, most notably his painting Mother India.)

27 October 2007

European Union Film Festival 2007

European Union Film Festival 2007
Four Months, Three Weeks, & Two Days
This year's European Union Film Festival is afiliated with the World Film Festival of Bangkok, at Esplanade Cineplex.

Four Months, Three Weeks, & Two Days, the Romanian New Wave film that won the Palme d'Or at Cannes earlier this year, is screening on 3rd and 4th November. The film, by Cristian Mungiu, stars Anamaria Marinca as Otilia, a student who helps her friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) obtain an illegal abortion shortly before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Mungiu films most interior scenes with a stationary camera, contrasted by shaky hand-held shots for corridors and exteriors. The two leading characters provide a further contrast: Gabita's (frankly annoying, though realistic) self-deluding naivety is offset by Otilia's determination and resilience. Back-street abortion is hardly a new topic, though the film also reveals the everyday hardships of life in a Communist state - black-market cigarettes, daily power-cuts, and Trabants.

26 October 2007

5th World Film Festival of Bangkok

5th World Film Festival of Bangkok
Help Me Eros
Closely Observed Trains
George Melies: Le Cinemagicien
A Trip To The Moon
The 5th World Film Festival of Bangkok opened on 25th October and will close on 4th November. Most screenings take place at Esplanade Cineplex. The Festival's main attraction is a sidebar event: Jiri Menzel, one of the leading directors of 1960s Czech cinema, will speak about his classic Closely Observed Trains, at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 1st November.

Taiwanese drama Help Me Eros, directed by and starring Lee Kang-Sheng, is screening on 31st October and 2nd November. Kang-Sheng has acted in several films by Tsai Ming-Liang, and Help Me Eros is clearly influenced by him. Many scenes are filmed with diagonal compositions from a static camera, with the action contained within a corner of the frame, as befitting the film's lonely, uncommunicative characters. There are two clips from a fictional TV cookery show, in which a carp is filleted alive and an unhatched ostrich is fried.

This evening, the great-grand-daughter of Georges Melies introduced a selection of his films at Alliance Francaise, in an event titled Georges Melies: Le Cinemagicien. (It will take place again tomorrow.) Melies was one of the pioneers of cinematic special effects, and although his films have a quaint Victorian charm their technical genius still impresses even now.

Melies's films were accompanied by narration and a piano recital, both performed live, to recreate their original theatrical presentations. The recreation only went so far, however: the mostly expositional narration also included some (slightly incongruous) historical information about Melies, and the films were (disappointingly) screened on DVD rather than the advertised 16mm.

Some of Melies's most famous films were included, such as L'Homme A La Tete En Caoutchouc (in which his head is seen to inflate, deflate, and explode in a puff of smoke) and A Trip To The Moon (one of the first attempts at a sustained cinematic narrative, a series of tableaux in which Victorian astronomers are attacked by spear-wielding natives on the moon). [There are many inaccuracies in the published lists advertising the films to be shown at this event.]

25 October 2007

From Message To Media

From Message To Media
How To Explain Art To A Bangkok Cock
Horror In Pink I
From Message To Media is a retrospective survey of Thai new-media art 1985-2005, at Bangkok University Gallery from 22nd September until 10th November. (The title inverts Marshall McLuhan's dictum "the medium is the message".)

The exhibition, part of the Bangkok Design Festival, features video art and digital photography by ten artists. (Eleven were originally planned, though for some reason acclaimed director Apichatpong Weerasethakul was unfortunately omitted at the last minute.)

Apinan Poshyananda's video installation How To Explain Art To A Bangkok Cock (1985) features footage of the artist interpreting Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa for a group of chickens. He was presumably inspired by Joseph Beuys's performance How To Explain Pictures To A Dead Hare - the difference being that Apinan's chickens were all alive. Apinan also printed photocopies of Leonardo's painting onto crates, so that they resembled Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes. (He has also silkscreened the same image, titled Metamorphosis Of Mona, in a further Warhol parallel.) He cites Walter Benjamin's fascinating essay The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction as a key influence, and he is one one of the most interesting of the many artists inspired by Benjamin.

Several videos by Vasan Sitthiket are included, such as There Must Be Something Happen [sic] (1993), in which he was filmed while urinating and excreting (similar in content, if not in style, to the Aktionist films by Kurt Kren, such as The Eating Drinking Shitting Pissing Film). Vasan's other videos are I Manning Myself Around (the artist's fruitless attempts to grab some money dangling in front of him), Top Boot On My Head (performing everyday tasks with a boot balanced on his head), Goodbye Thailand (in which he pretends to kidnap himself at gunpoint), and How To Make A Good Art For Get Win Award [sic] (in which he presents a lecture on art to an empty classroom).

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook is represented by her video Reading For Female Corpse (2001). [Confusingly, I saw a different Araya video two years ago which had the same title and date.] Araya can be seen reading aloud to a woman's corpse which is positioned in a coffin-like glass box.

Manit Sriwanichpoom's trademark 'Pink Man', a man in a bright pink suit pushing a shopping trolley incongruously inserted into photographs, is seen here as a spectator at the public lynchings of Thai pro-democracy protesters in 1976. The images (Horror In Pink) are extremely powerful, especially Horror In Pink I, in which a hanged man is about to be savagely beaten with a chair. Manit created the series after Samak Sundaravej was elected governor of Bangkok in 2000: the works were intended to remind the city's electorate of Samak's notorious role as an agitator prior to the 6th October 1976 massacre.

24 October 2007

Doo Phra

Doo Phra
Perceptless
A painting by Withit Sembutr titled Doo Phra, depicting a group of Buddhist monks crowding around an amulet-seller, has been withdrawn from an exhibition in Bangkok. Withit, an art student, entered the painting in the Young Thai Artist 2007 competition, and the winning entries are currently on show at the Esplanade mall. There is, however, a blank space where Withit's painting should be.

It was withdrawn due to controversy surrounding a painting by another artist, Anupong Chantorn, which is currently being exhibited at Silpakorn University in Bangkok (at the 53rd National Exhibition, until 30th October). Anupong's painting, Perceptless (which is on the cover of the exhibition catalogue), shows monks with beaks, presenting them as bird-like scavengers. There have been demonstrations against the painting by Thai monks, though it has not been removed.

19 October 2007

Bloody Cartoons

The twelve Mohammed caricatures originally published in Jyllands-Posten have finally been broadcast by the BBC in the UK. BBC2's Why Democracy? series posed the question Is God Democratic? in a Storyville documentary titled Bloody Cartoons on Monday evening. The programme opened with a new version of the most famous cartoon (Mohammed's turban as a bomb), drawn by Kurt Westergaard.

17 October 2007

Film

Eyewitness Companions: Film
Film, by Ronald Bergan, is a single-volume introduction to cinema history, as part of Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness Companions series. Within its 500 pages, it includes a decade-by-decade history of the cinema, an explanation of the film production process, chapters on each film genre, film production in each major country, profiles of 200 key directors, and reviews of 100 significant films.

Each of its five sections (history, production, genres, countries, directors, and films) really deserves its own book, and indeed such books exist. Strangely, however, Bergan provides no bibliography or further reading guide at all, which is disappointing because, although his book is a perfect introduction to film for young people, as their interest develops they will be inspired and grounded by Bergan yet will naturally want to seek out more specialist material.

Reductivism is inevitable in any book with this ratio of size to scope, but each section does adequately summarise the key points, providing a broad overview for novice film fans. The section on film production is useful as it provides a more practical approach than most introductory film guides. The section on genre surprisingly finds space for categories which are often overlooked in other genre summaries. The world cinema section is less all-encompassing, with some countries (including Thailand) reduced to brief paragraphs in a general introduction instead of receiving their own individual chapters.

There is almost no cross-referencing, which is a pity, and the photo captions are often overly literal or redundant. There is a detailed index, though it has some omissions. There are also a few mistakes: at one point, for instance, Bergan refers to "Pierre and Auguste Lumiere" (Auguste's brother was called Louis). I would also quibble with some of Bergan's opinions: he describes Salvador Dali's contributions to Luis Bunuel's early films as "invaluable", which seems to massively over-rate Dali's cinematic work, and he claims that the remake of The Mummy "benefits from" (rather than suffers from) the use of CGI. Three times, Bergan describes Kubrick as "anti-militarist", which ignores Kubrick's fascination with war. In an appendix, Bergan oddly (and incorrectly) lists Our Daily Bread as joint 10th in a reprint of Sight & Sound's 2002 critics' poll, even though it received only a single vote.

I've never been quite certain who DK's books are aimed at. They state that they publish educational, illustrated reference books for both adults and children, but to me all of their books seem more suited to younger people. Their educational tone, large fonts, glossy paper, and copious photographs (as distinct from figures or plates) give the impression of children's textbooks. For instance, DK's The Look Of The Century, by Michael Tambini, was one of the very first books on visual culture that I ever bought, and I still have it today; but, although I bought it when I was a teenager, I couldn't imagine buying it now, at twenty-nine.

The book that Film most resembles is The Virgin Encyclopedia Of The Movies, by Derek Winnert, which was published at the height of cinema's centenary celebrations but which is now out of print. That book was an excellent introduction to cinema for any young person who is starting to develop a serious interest in film, and Bergan's book serves a similar purpose.

Bergan concludes with a chronological list of Top 100 Movies, limited to one film per director. (Although there are technically 104 films because Three Colours and The Lord Of The Rings are both trilogies, and this also violates the one-film-per-director rule.) Who exactly selected the 100 films is unclear: Bergan is the book's credited author, though he introduces the Top 100 Movies as "the films we have chosen".

The Top 100 Movies are as follows:
  • The Birth Of A Nation
  • The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari
  • Nosferatu
  • Nanook Of The North
  • Battleship Potemkin
  • Metropolis
  • Napoleon
  • Un Chien Andalou
  • The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
  • All Quiet On The Western Front
  • The Blue Angel
  • City Lights
  • 42nd Street
  • Duck Soup
  • King Kong
  • L'Atalante
  • Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
  • Olympia
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Gone With The Wind
  • The Philadelphia Story
  • His Girl Friday
  • The Grapes Of Wrath
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Little Foxes
  • To Be Or Not To Be
  • In Which We Serve
  • Casablanca
  • Ossessione
  • Children Of Paradise
  • A Matter Of Life & Death
  • It's A Wonderful Life
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • Letter From An Unknown Woman
  • Passport To Pimlico
  • The Third Man
  • Orphee
  • Rashomon
  • Singin' In The Rain
  • Tokyo Story
  • On The Waterfront
  • All That Heaven Allows
  • Rebel Without A Cause
  • Pather Panchali
  • The Night Of The Hunter
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Vertigo
  • Ashes & Diamonds
  • The 400 Blows
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Breathless
  • La Dolce Vita
  • Saturday Night & Sunday Morning
  • L'Avventura
  • Last Year At Marienbad
  • Lawrence Of Arabia
  • Dr Strangelove
  • The Battle Of Algiers
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Andrei Rublev
  • The Chelsea Girls
  • Bonnie & Clyde
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Easy Rider
  • The Conformist
  • The Godfather
  • Aguirre: The Wrath Of God
  • Nashville
  • In The Realm Of The Senses
  • Taxi Driver
  • Annie Hall
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • The Marriage Of Maria Braun
  • The Deer Hunter
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Blade Runner
  • Paris Texas
  • Heimat
  • Come & See
  • Blue Velvet
  • Shoah
  • A Room With A View
  • Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
  • Cinema Paradiso
  • Do The Right Thing
  • Raise The Red Lantern
  • Unforgiven
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Three Colours I-III
  • Through The Olive Trees
  • Four Weddings & A Funeral
  • Toy Story
  • Fargo
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • In The Mood For Love
  • Traffic
  • The Lord Of The Rings I-III
  • City Of God
  • Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Note that The Maltese Falcon is the John Huston version, which is actually a remake of an earlier (and inferior) Roy Del Ruth film. Also, Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy.

14 October 2007

Creativities Unfold 2007-2008

Creativities Unfold 2007-2008
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang Stefan Sagmeister
Creativities Unfold 2007-2008 at TCDC (10th-14th October) featured a series of design workshops, seminars, and symposia, and was part of the Bangkok Design Festival. The theme for this year's event is Genius Of The Place: In Search Of Excellence From Within. We went to the final day's event, the Genius Loci & Design symposium, to see Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Stefan Sagmeister.

Pen-ek, one of the leading directors of the Thai New Wave, explained that the uncommercial, depressing nature of his films reflects his personal interests in grief, death, and funerals. Alongside clips from his own films, he included sequences from Manhattan, and revealed that he is a fan of Woody Allen. (Unsurprising, as Allen appears to have a similar personality.)

Austrian graphic design superstar Sagmeister showed examples of his previous work, concentrating on Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far, a series of written mottoes (similar to Jenny Holzer's Truisms) which have appeared in a wide range of typographical styles. He gave a candid and fun presentation; unfortunately, though, he didn't mention his most famous project, which involved carving the text of a poster into his bare flesh in 1999.