31 October 2009


Funny Games
Michael Haneke's English-language remake of his film Funny Games will be shown in Bangkok tonight as part of the Cineplex cinema chain's Screamfest, to celebrate Halloween.

30 October 2009

Pop Life

Pop Life
Pop Life
Pop Life
The catalogue for Tate Modern's current exhibition Pop Life has been deemed illegal by the Metropolitan Police Service. The Met ordered the removal of Richard Prince's photograph Spiritual America on the day before the exhibition opened, and the Tate withdrew the catalogue from sale while it sought legal advice.

In a letter to the Tate, the Met confirmed that Spiritual America is "a level 1 indecent image of a child. The possession and distribution of which are criminal offences." They also cautioned that the catalogue could not be legally sold uncensored: "if the book were to be distributed in its original form (i.e. with the picture of Brooke Shields in it) an offence would be committed under the Protection of Children Act 1978."

In his catalogue essay, Jack Bankowsky acknowledges that Shields was "decidedly underage" and that "Prince invites us to ogle Brooke Shields in her prepubescent nakedness". To avoid prosecution, a sticker has now been placed over the offending photograph: "This image has been obscured on legal advice" (on page 123). The case recalls that of Robert Mapplethorpe's photograph Rosie, which UK police deemed illegal in 1996, despite it appearing in several monographs of the photographer's work.

The catalogue itself, edited by Bankowsky, Alison M Gingeras, and Catherine Wood, is an excellent exploration of artists (following Warhol, who was influenced by Dali) who "engaged with mass media and the market and cultivated artistic personas". Scott Rothkopf's essay on Jeff Koons' Made In Heaven series is a highlight. There is also a detailed bibliography.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence - From Stanley Kubrick To Steven Spielberg: The Vision Behind The Film, edited by Jan Harlan and Jane M Struthers, is a portfolio of pre-production material from Spielberg's film AI: Artificial Intelligence. It includes several pages from Kubrick's notebooks, though the bulk of the book is devoted to large reproductions of concept art by Chris Baker.

AI was originally conceived by Kubrick, who worked with Brian Aldiss on a treatment and screenplay based on Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, a short story by Aldiss. Kubrick subsequently collaborated with Bob Shaw, Ian Watson, and Sara Maitland on revised versions of the script, and production was scheduled to start in 1999 after the completion of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

After Kubrick's death during post-production of Eyes Wide Shut, Spielberg took over the project and wrote a new screenplay based on Kubrick's notes. The film, directed by Spielberg, was released in 2001. (I've always regarded AI as a misguided homage to Kubrick with a syrupy Spielbergian ending.)

The book features a foreword by Spielberg which gives a brief summary of his friendship with Kubrick. (Spielberg was more forthcoming in an interview for the Channel 5 documentary Steven & Stanley in 2001.) There is an account of AI's pre-production by Struthers, who works with the Kubrick Archive, though it glosses over Kubrick's 'creative differences' with his various script collaborators. (Frank interviews with Aldiss and Maitland are featured in the Channel 4 documentary The Last Movie from 1999.)

29 October 2009

El Pais

El Pais
Akhbar Al Youm
The 24th October edition of the Spanish newspaper El Pais was banned from sale in Morocco, as it printed a cartoon by Le Monde cartoonist Plantu which Moroccan authorities considered disrespectful to the national flag. The cartoon originally appeared in Le Monde on 22nd October. El Pais also reprinted Khalid Kadafrom's cartoon from Akhbar Al Youm. (Other foreign publications - Courrier-International and L'Express International - have also been banned in Morocco.)

28 October 2009

Drag Me To Hell

Drag Me To Hell
The hugely enjoyable Drag Me To Hell is Sam Raimi's first horror film since his Evil Dead trilogy. It's a welcome return to supernatural horror, in contrast to the slasher remakes and 'torture porn' which have recently dominated the genre. It even references the silent vampire film Nosferatu, with a demon's hand casting a long shadow similar to Nosferatu's Orlok.

The plot, in which a curse is placed on a bank employee, provides plenty of gory set-pieces, though the tone is always tongue-in-cheek rather than truly horrific. (A director's cut, more violent than the theatrical version, has also been released.) All hell breaks loose for the final confrontation with the demon, and this scene includes a great moment in which a goat becomes possessed. The last-minute twist is actually revealed on the film's poster.

Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces
The central character in Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces is a blind script-writer and former director whose lover, Lena, died after their affair made her husband jealous. The film was screened at the 2009 Bangkok International Film Festival last month, and is now on general release.

Broken Embraces is more consistently restrained than Almodovar's two previous films, Volver and Bad Education, neither of which take their dark themes completely seriously. Broken Embraces does have some comic relief, however: rushes from the film-within-the-film, the melodramatic Chicas & Maletas (which is modelled on Almodovar's frenetic comedy Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown).

Almodovar has described Broken Embraces as a film noir. It does feature typical noir themes, such as jealousy and betrayal, though Lena is no femme fatale, and Almodovar's sets and lighting are only slightly less bright than his usual style.

Penelope Cruz is outstanding as the writer/director's lover, and Blanca Portillo is also particularly effective as his agent. Cruz and Portillo both previously appeared in Volver.

It's hard to feel sorry for the central character, however; he is blind and in mourning, yet he lives in a beautiful apartment, has several assistants, and apparently seduces women on a regular basis. For me, Almodovar's greatest film is still Talk To Her, with its devastating narrative, sympathetic and morally ambiguous characters, and moments of outrageous comedy.

27 October 2009

Filthy English

Filthy English
Filthy English: The How, Why, When, & What Of Everyday Swearing, by Peter Silverton, is yet another guide to the history of 'offensive' language. The book is divided thematically, as are Forbidden Words and Jonathon Green's Slang Down The Ages, as opposed to the word-by-word organisation of Dirty Words, Getting Off At Gateshead, and Hugh Rawson's Dictionary Of Invective. (An Encyclopedia Of Swearing contains entries on themes and individual words.)

Filthy English is useful for its contemporary examples, though it is slightly anecdotal in tone. Silverton has conducted substantial research [he cites my website as an "extensive source"], and he has also interviewed writers and performers about their attitudes to the words he discusses, though there are no footnotes.

20 October 2009

99 Classic Movies
For People In A Hurry

99 Classic Movies For People In A Hurry
99 Classic Movies For People In A Hurry (or, on the title page: 99 Movies For People In A Hurry) condenses each film into a four-frame comic strip. The films are listed in seemingly random order, as follows:
  • The Karate Kid
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • Ghostbusters
  • Back To The Future
  • Raiders Of The Lost Ark
  • Gone With The Wind
  • Fatal Attraction
  • Casablanca
  • Radio Days
  • The Terminator
  • Alien
  • Blade Runner
  • Spartacus
  • The Third Man
  • Citizen Kane
  • Easy Rider
  • Taxi Driver
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Deliverance
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • Cinema Paradiso
  • The Seventh Seal
  • The Great Dictator
  • Lawrence Of Arabia
  • The Shining
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • King Kong
  • The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
  • Jaws
  • Dawn Of The Dead
  • The Creature From The Black Lagoon
  • Showgirls
  • The Mummy
  • A Fish Called Wanda
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Mad Max
  • Die Hard
  • Delicatessen
  • The Searchers
  • Psycho
  • Battleship Potemkin
  • Un Chien Andalou
  • The Misfits
  • The Public Enemy
  • Rocky
  • The Blue Lagoon
  • Wild At Heart
  • Annie
  • The Sound Of Music
  • The African Queen
  • Singin' In The Rain
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Dr Zhivago
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Bullitt
  • The Sting
  • Rebel Without A Cause
  • Barbarella
  • The Evil Dead
  • Police Academy
  • The Blues Brothers
  • Yojimbo
  • The Bridge On The River Kwai
  • M. Hulot's Holiday
  • The Guns Of Navarone
  • Seven Samurai
  • The Thing
  • Escape From New York
  • The Testament Of Dr Mabuse
  • Metropolis
  • Enter The Dragon
  • Jailhouse Rock
  • Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
  • Schindler's List
  • Brazil
  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Bagdad Cafe
  • The Big Blue
  • Scarface
  • The Godfather
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Dr Strangelove
  • Pulp Fiction
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Rosemary's Baby
  • The Exorcist
  • Breakfast At Tiffany's
  • Forrest Gump
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • GoodFellas
  • Fight Club
  • North By Northwest
  • The Silence Of The Lambs
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Platoon
  • It's A Wonderful Life
  • The Matrix
1980s films such as The Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, and Back To The Future are presumably included purely for their nostalgia value. Note that The Maltese Falcon is the John Huston version and Scarface is the Brian de Palma version. Oddly, Dawn Of The Dead is the Zack Snyder remake rather than the classic George Romero original. Also, Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy.

18 October 2009

Story Of The Scene

Story Of The Scene
Story Of The Scene: The Inside Scoop On Famous Moments In Film, by Roger Clarke, discusses the making of eighty classic film scenes, with a two-page chapter devoted to each film (except Spartacus, which has two chapters). The most interesting chapters are those that concentrate on one specific moment, such as Brandon Lee's death in The Crow, Roman Polanski's cameo in Chinatown, the subway grille in The Seven-Year Itch, and the cockroach-eating in Vampire's Kiss.

Other chapters have less focus, and simply summarise general trivia about each film. In some cases, though, the author has interviewed the directors involved, and this results in a few gems: Park Chan-Wook discussing the octopus-eating scene in Oldboy, and John Boorman describing Stanley Kubrick's fascination with the rape scene in Deliverance.

16 October 2009

The Tate Guide To Modern Art Terms

The Tate Guide To Modern Art Terms
The Tate Guide To Modern Art Terms, by Simon Wilson and Jessica Lack, is an alphabetical guide to art styles, materials, genres, and 'isms' from Impressionism onwards. The illustrations are all black-and-white, and are limited to works from the permanent collections of the various Tate galleries; each entry is succinct, though the scope is comprehensive and there is extensive cross-referencing.

15 October 2009

Dance With The Devil

Dance With The Devil
Ottmar Horl, who was under police investigation last month for displaying a Nazi gnome in Nuremberg, is now displaying 1,200 of them in Straubing. The exhibition, Dance With The Devil, opened today and will close next Monday. It has previously been shown in Belgium and Italy. Last month's police investigation was eventually dropped, as it was determined that the gnome was satirising, rather than promoting, the Nazis.

07 October 2009

Water In Milk Exists

Water In Milk Exists
Water In Milk Exists, directed by Lawrence Weiner, features young (almost exclusively straight and white) couples discussing philosophy and having sex. Hardcore scenes are punctuated by shallow monologues about the natures of reality ("specific or general"?) and structure, including a debate about Mies van der Rohe ("I think he was an architect"). It could be another Shortbus, if it took itself less seriously.

04 October 2009

Akhbar Al Youm

Akhbar Al Youm
The Moroccan newspaper Akhbar Al Youm has been closed down by police, following its publication of a cartoon by Khalid Kadar on 26th September. The cartoon depicts Prince Moulay Ismail against a Moroccan flag background. The cartoonist, and the newspaper's editor, Taoufik Bouachrine, have both been arrested. Previously, Khalid Kadar drew another controversial royal cartoon, in Courrier-International. (L'Express International has also been banned in Morocco.)

01 October 2009

Spiritual America

A photograph of Brooke Shields has been removed from Tate Modern's exhibition Pop Life: Art In A Material World. The image, titled Spiritual America, shows Shields, aged ten, wearing make-up and standing nude in a bathtub.

The exhibition opened today in London, and will close on 17th January 2010, though the Spiritual America photograph was removed yesterday following a visit from the Metropolitan Police. The exhibition catalogue has also been withdrawn from sale.

The photo was taken in 1975 by Gary Gross, as part of his series The Woman In The Child and Little Women; it was exhibited in New York, and published in Sugar & Spice (1976), Photo magazine (1978), Index On Censorship magazine (May-June 1996), and American Photo magazine (September-October 2009). It was also part of the Controverses exhibition, which has been shown at the Musee de l'Elysee (Lausanne, 2008), the Bibliotheque Nationale (Paris, 2009), and the Botanique (Brussels, 2009).

In 1983, Richard Prince rephotographed the 1975 image, retitled it Spiritual America, and exhibited it again in New York. Spiritual America has been published in Item-4 magazine (Brazil, 1996) and in the book Stripped Bare: The Body Revealed In Contemporary Art (2004). It was included in the New Museum exhibition East Village USA (New York, 2004), and was the centrepiece of a major Prince retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum (New York, 2007-2008).

Two years ago, another UK gallery (Baltic) also removed a photograph of a naked child (Nan Goldin's Klara & Edda Belly-Dancing) following police advice, though it was later cleared of obscenity. Photographs of children by Robert Mapplethorpe, Graham Ovenden, Ron Oliver, Will McBride, David Hamilton, Tierney Gearon, and Annelies Strba have previously been investigated by UK police as potentially obscene. In America, the FBI investigated photographers Jacqueline Livingston and Jock Sturges on similar charges, though they were later acquitted.