Thursday, 27 March 2008

Tomyam Pladib

Tomyam Pladib
Tomyam Pladib, which opened on 19th March until 5th June, is an exhibition of Thai and Japanese art hosted by The Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok. The exhibition features Morakot, a video by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Morakot is the name of an abandoned Bangkok hotel, and Apichatpong's slow-moving camera films the hotel's deserted rooms filled with (digitally added) floating white feather-like objects. The effect is elegiac, evoking the memories of the hotel's long-departed guests.

Apichatpong discussed his various films and videos in a presentation this evening (Apichatpong On Video Works). He explained the origins of his multi-screen video installations (one of the more surprising sources being Thai melodramas), and played extracts from several of his films. He also screened a few short films in full:

Ghost Of Asia
(a man follows a child's instructions all day, with the action sped up for comic effect; part of the Tsunami Digital Short Film project),

(a telephone call between the director and his mother)

The Anthem
(a wonderful overture to cinema, first screened at the 11th Thai Short Film & Video Festival)

There was also a short Q&A session with the director.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

5th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival

BEFF 2008
The 5th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival began yesterday, and runs until Sunday at Esplanade Cineplex. This year's event, organised by Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Project 304, has The More Things Change... as its central theme.

There will be two programmes commenting on post-Thaksin political instability (Learned Behaviour, 27th and 30th March; Track Changes, 26th and 30th March). Both of these programmes will include films from Spoken Silence at the 11th Thai Short Film & Video Festival, including Middle-Earth in Learned Behaviour. Another highlight is sure to be Thaiindie Buffet, featuring a selection of independent Thai films (Thaiindie Showcase, 29th March) and music videos (Experimental Music Videos, 27th March).

This evening, the Sompot+Thunska programme featured three works by Sompot Chidgasornpongse (Naoko Is Trying To Teach Me How To Make Tonkatsu In One Minute, 8,241.46 Miles Away From Home, and Landscape 101 01 1101 01...) and two new films by Thunska (Action! and Soak). There was also a Q&A session with Thunska.

Action! is a short compilation of out-takes from Zart Tanchareon's film God Man, featuring the actor Sitthipong Prempridi. Sitthipong died last year, and Action! is Thunska's tribute to him.

Soak stars Saifah Tanthana, who is filmed swimming in the sea (during which the soundtrack is dominated by the gurgling of the water) and riding a motorcycle, with the video camera representing Thunska's gaze. The film is an extended, improvised sequel to Thunska's first film, Private Life. It also recalls his film You Are Where I Belong To, which briefly features Thunska filming a man as they paddle in the sea.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Hajarat Muhammad

Rabindra Prasad Panda, author of the Odia-language book Hajarat Muhammad, has been arrested in Cuttack, India. The cover of his book features an image of Mohammed wielding a sword.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Lord Of The Rings
The Return Of The King (director's cut)

The Return Of The King
The Return Of The King is the third film in Peter Jackson's trilogy The Lord Of The Rings. I saw the extended version, which is almost an hour longer than the theatrical version. This third film is more satisfying than the second, The Two Towers, perhaps because the battle of Gondor (in this film) has more narrative significance than the battle of Helm's Deep (in the second film). In retrospect, the substantial time devoted to Helm's Deep now seems more like an excuse for dramatic tension in the second film rather than an integral episode in the overall narrative. It's nice to return to bucolic Hobbiton at the end, a place which (as in the first film, The Fellowship Of The Ring) resembles Teletubbyland!

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Lord Of The Rings
The Two Towers (director's cut)

The Two Towers
The Two Towers is the second film in Peter Jackson's trilogy The Lord Of The Rings, the sequel to The Fellowship Of The Ring. I saw the extended version, which is substantially longer than the theatrical version, containing several unique sub-plots. It was as impressive as The Fellowship, although slightly less enjoyable. I was fascinated by the sheer variety of characters and locations established in The Fellowship, whereas The Two Towers more conventionally intercuts between three plot strands. Andy Serkis is outstanding as the schizophrenic Gollum, physically ravaged and mentally unbalanced by his "precious" ring.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Daily Xpress

Daily Xpress
Today saw the launch of Thailand's first free daily newspaper, the Daily Xpress, published in Bangkok by The Nation. (The Nation is one of two daily English-language newspapers on sale in Thailand, the other being the Bangkok Post.)

The first issue of the Xpress has forty-eight pages. Even with ten pages of classified ads, it's an impressive total for a freesheet. 100,000 copies will be distributed every day. The emphasis is on features, human interest, and lifestyle.

The Xpress does have a surprising amount of entertaining and original content. It is, however, disposable rather than informative, and it can't replace other titles as a news source.

To coincide with the Xpress launch, the Nation itself has been rebranded. It now styles itself as "Thailand's biggest business daily", and has shifted its focus almost entirely to business news. Politics and international news have been reduced to one page each, and sports news has been moved over to the Xpress. There is no coverage of general Thai news at all.

This is a risky decision, as it narrows the Nation's target market and takes it out of direct competition with the Post. The new business focus also makes it an odd bedfellow for the Xpress, as the two papers are aimed at opposite audiences. While the Xpress may attract young readers who pick it up for free, the copies bundled with the Nation will probably remain unread.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The Stranger

The Stranger
The Stranger was the first film directed by Orson Welles following his Rio documentary It's All True. His work on It's All True earned Welles an unfair reputation: that he was profligate and extravagant. The Stranger was a conscious (and successful) attempt to prove otherwise - to show that he could make a regular, popular film within the studio system, on-budget and on-schedule.

In the film, Welles plays a Nazi war criminal (the architect of the Holocaust, no less) who has changed his identity and escaped to a small American town. He marries a judge's daughter, played by Loretta Young, to keep up appearances. Edward G Robinson plays a detective attempting to track him down.

A similar situation occurs in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, made in the same year, with the major difference being the role of the Nazi's wife: Loretta Young's extremely naive character is very different from the Ingrid Bergman role in Notorious. A more general comparison could be made with Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt, in which a killer seeks refuge in a small American town; in that film, it is the killer's sister who is (initially) as naively unsuspecting as Young is in The Stranger. Welles's line about watching people from the clock tower "like God, looking at little ants" anticipates his role in The Third Man, when he looks down from the ferris wheel at the "dots" below.

The Stranger is a less personal project than Welles's other films, though it does include numerous high-angle and low-angle shots which add visual interest. The dark lighting and heavy shadows are not only typical of early Welles but also typical of the period, as by this point film noir had caught up with Welles's eccentric cinematography. (Welles later directed the final film in the classic noir cycle, Touch Of Evil.)

Indie Sex

Indie Sex
Indie Sex is a series of documentaries broadcast on America's Independent Film Channel last year. Each episode deals with a different theme: Censored, Taboos, Teens, and Extremes. Each show features critics and directors discussing the history of (almost exclusively heterosexual) sex in cinema. Most of the film clips (with a few exceptions) are very tame, though the DVD includes more graphic sequences.

The first episode, Censored, gives a detailed history of American film censorship (and is less polemical than This Film Is Not Yet Rated). There is quite a lot of overlap, though, with the same points being made, and the same films being discussed, in several episodes. Among the directors interviewed are John Waters (discussing A Dirty Shame), Fenton Bailey (discussing Inside Deep Throat), Catherine Breillat (discussing Anatomy Of Hell), and John Cameron Mitchell (discussing Shortbus).

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Navar Igen IV

Navar Igen IV
The editor of a Swedish newspaper has received death threats after he published a poster featuring Satan defecating on Jesus. The poster, advertising the Navar Igen IV: Punx Against Christ! festival, was censored by the local council, though the Ostgota Correspondenten newspaper published it uncensored yesterday.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

A World History Of Photography

A World History Of Photography
The fourth edition of Naomi Rosenblum's A World History Of Photography has recently been published. The book's 800 images are beautifully reproduced, the text is as wide-ranging as the title suggests, and there is a useful annotated bibliography. At the end of each chapter are themed albums of full-page photographs, profiles of significant photographers, and technical histories.

The wealth of visual and textual information could, however, be more clearly organised and more up-to-date. Rosenblum acknowledges that the book is "structured in a somewhat unusual way", with chapters arranged thematically rather than chronologically (rather like the Tate Modern galleries). The book is divided into twelve major chapters, including portraiture, landscape, still life, art, and media. The chapters are too broad, however, a problem compounded by the lack of detail in the table of contents and the scarcity of subheadings within chapters. This also makes the layout feel rather dated, as do the line drawings in the technical history sections - does a book about photography really need to use line drawings? Similarly, there is not enough space given to recent and contemporary photographic artists and technologies: only a general account of digital technology, nothing about war photography after 1945, and no examples of contemporary fashion or advertising images.

Arguably the first book to present the history of photography as an art form, emphasising aesthetics alongside technology, was Beaumont Newhall's The History Of Photography, first published in 1937 and last revised in 1982. The first edition of Rosenblum's survey appeared in 1984, and since then it has been generally accepted as a successor to Newhall in scope and authority.

Both Newhall and Rosenblum begin their histories in 1839, with the invention of the Daguerreotype, though they also provide extensive pre-photographic background, as the invention and initial demonstration of photography was a process of simultaneous experimentation rather than a single 'eureka moment'. The first extant photograph, taken by Joseph Niepce in 1827, appears in Rosenblum's first chapter; it was discovered by Helmut Gernsheim, author of The History Of Photography, published in 1955.

The most recent historical survey of international photography is Mary Warner Marien's Photography: A Cultural History. It has 200 fewer pages than Rosenblum's, and 200 fewer illustrations, and is subsequently less in-depth in its coverage. On the other hand, it is more clearly organised and feels more up-to-date (with a large Andreas Gursky reproduction, for example). Marien's chapters are more specfic, and are subdivided more clearly. Her final chapter discusses photography after 1975 (and in the second edition she adds a new post-2000 chapter), whereas Rosenblum's final chapters begin as far back as 1950.