Thursday, 30 September 2010

Time Out Film Guide 2011

Time Out Film Guide 2011
The nineteenth edition of the Time Out Film Guide has been published, with 350 new entries and reviews of thirty-eight films (including Uncle Boonmee) which were screened at Cannes this year. Of course, the Internet Movie DataBase contains many more entries, though Time Out is written and compiled by professional critics (and edited by John Pym). Mindful of the rise of online film criticism, this edition includes a persuasive essay defending printed reference books.

There are several appendices (a useful list of 100 film websites; a comprehensive index of directors; and a list of alternative titles, which strangely only includes European languages), and 19,000 capsule reviews. This year's new entries include: The Ghost Writer ("cold and lean"), Kick-Ass ("hyperfictional ultraviolence"), Shutter Island ("pure operatic delirium"), Bruno ("both repulsive and compelling"), Avatar ("beautifully designed" but "dire script"), The September Issue ("reveals a business in which looks can kill"), Drag Me To Hell ("gross-out fright movie"), and Ponyo ("vibrant, surreal and enchanting").

Time Out is the best of the annual film guides, and I buy it every year. (I reviewed the eighteenth edition earlier this year.) But I'll also hold on to my copy of the out-of-print Halliwell's Film Guide 2008.

The Faith Of Graffiti

The Faith Of Graffiti
The Faith Of Graffiti, with photographs of New York graffiti by Jon Naar and an essay by Norman Mailer, was originally published in 1974. The first book to celebrate and theorise the art of graffiti (also known as Watching My Name Go By), it is now available in an expanded edition with additional images.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


Fanzines, written by Teal Triggs and published by Thames & Hudson, is a survey of self-published zines from their origins in the 1970s to contemporary e-zines. As zines are frequently radical and alternative, the book also acts as a visual historiography of alt.culture, from Punk to post-feminism.

In their form and content, zines are similar to underground press titles such as Oz, though zines target niche audiences and are often written by individuals. The cottage-industry aspect of the format is evident in both zine production and distribution: zines are typically photocopied and stapled, promoted via classified advertising (or, until 1998, listed in Factsheet Five), and sold by mail order. Whereas early zines (such as Sniffin' Glue, featured in 100 Years Of Magazine Covers) were handwritten or typed on manual typewriters, more recent titles are produced via desktop publishing or published online.

I have a personal interest in zines, having written several of them in the 1990s: a monthly Madonna fanzine (called, incredibly unimaginatively, Madonna Monthly) and a cult-film zine (Disturbed). Of course, blogging and print-on-demand now provide further opportunities for self-published personal expression, and Fanzines might therefore be a timely archive of an endangered medium.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Essential 100

The Essential 100
Essential Cinema
The Toronto International Film Festival has compiled The Essential 100, a list of the 100 greatest films. The list was selected partly by the Festival's organisers, and partly by an audience vote. Like Cahiers Du Cinema's list from 2008, the films are being screened in a cinema season: screenings began yesterday at the Bell Lightbox, and will continue until the end of the year.

The Essential 100 films are as follows:

1. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
2. Citizen Kane
3. L'Avventura
4. The Godfather
5. Pickpocket
6. Seven Samurai
7. Pather Panchali
8. Casablanca
9. Man With A Movie Camera
10. Bicycle Thieves
11. Ali: Fear Eats The Soul
12. 8½
13. Battleship Potemkin
14. Rashomon
15. Tokyo Story
16. The 400 Blows
17. Ugetsu Monogatari
18. Breathless
19. L'Atalante
20. Cinema Paradiso
21. Grand Illusion
22. Lawrence Of Arabia
23. Persona
24. Gone With The Wind
25. Sunrise
26. 2001: A Space Odyssey
27. Voyage In Italy
28. Amelie
29. City Lights
30. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
31. Sherlock Jr
32. The Rules Of The Game
33. The Leopard
34. La Dolce Vita
35. Train Arriving At A Station
36. The Wizard Of Oz
37. La Jetee
38. Vertigo
39. Night & Fog
40. Pulp Fiction
41. The Searchers
42. Slumdog Millionaire
43. The Conformist
44. City Of God
45. Taxi Driver
46. Apocalypse Now
47. Salo
48. The Seventh Seal
49. A Trip To The Moon
50. Metropolis
51. The Battle Of Algiers
52. In The Mood For Love
53. Viridiana
54. Life Is Beautiful
55. The Sorrow & The Pity
56. Pan's Labyrinth
57. Mme De...
58. Blade Runner
59. Through The Olive Trees
60. Children Of Paradise
61. Bringing Up Baby
62. Singin' In the Rain
63. Johnny Guitar
64. A Clockwork Orange
65. Memories Of Underdevelopment
66. M
67. Scorpio Rising
68. Psycho
69. Dust In The Wind
70. Schindler's List
71. Nashville
72. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
73. Wavelength
74. Jules & Jim
75. Chronique d'Un Ete
76. The Lives Of Others
77. Greed
78. Some Like It Hot
79. Jaws
80. Annie Hall
81. The Birth Of A Nation
82. Chungking Express
83. La Noire De...
84. Raging Bull
85. The Maltese Falcon
86. Chinatown
87. Andrei Rublev
88. Wings Of Desire
89. Videodrome
90. Written On The Wind
91. The Third Man
92. Blue Velvet
93. The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
94. Breaking The Waves
95. A Nos Amours
96. Cleo From Five To Seven
97. All About My Mother
98. Earth
99. Oldboy
100. Playtime

Note that Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy. There is also an exhibition, called Essential Cinema, featuring images and artefacts from each of the 100 films, which opened on 12th September and will close on 23rd October.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Art That Dares

Art That Dares
Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, & More, by Kittredge Cherry, discusses artists who have been censored for their depictions of Jesus as homosexual or (less controversially) as female. Arguably the most provocative artist profiled by Cherry is Alex Donis, whose My Cathedral installation in San Francisco depicted Jesus and the Hindu god Rama kissing passionately; the painting was destroyed by protesters in 1997.

Cherry's book focuses on painting and sculpture, though gay Christs have also appeared in other artistic media: a series of photographs by Fernando Bayone (Circus Christi), two films (Matthias von Fistenberg's Passio and Ed D Louie's He), a poem by James Kirkup (The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name), a lithograph by Enrique Chagoya (The Misadventures Of The Romantic Cannibals), a play by Terrence McNally (Corpus Christi), and a magazine illustration (Johnny Correa's Resurrection, in The Insurgent); also, in Jerry Springer: The Opera, Jesus admits: "Actually, I am a bit gay".

There have been exhibitions of intentionally blasphemous art in Dublin (Blasphemous) and Moscow (Caution: Religion! and Forbidden Art). S Brent Plate's book Blasphemy discusses the history of blasphemy in art, and Steven C Dubin's excellent book Arresting Images includes a chapter on the censorship of blasphemous art.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Fry Chronicles

The Fry Chronicles
The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography, by Stephen Fry, covers Fry's life in the 1980s, including his time at Cambridge University with Hugh Laurie and his nascent comedy career. The book feels more mainstream than his previous autobiography, Moab Is My Washpot: it's less rude, and its title is as bland as Moab's was obscure.

As Fry explains in his introduction, the book explores "some of the C-words that have dominated my life", and every chapter title begins with 'c'. So, The Fry Chronicles is captivating, clever, and comical, though also a bit conventional.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Thailand's Crisis

Thailand's Crisis
Thailand's Crisis
Giles Ji Ungpakorn's new book Thailand's Crisis & The Fight For Democracy discusses Thai politics following the 2006 coup. Ji critiques the the 2007 military constitution and criticises the current climate of political censorship. His Red Siam manifesto, in which he calls for the adoption of the French tripartite motto 'liberty, equality, fraternity', is also included. It has been banned from distribution in Thailand.

Ji states plainly what others don't dare to say. He can do this because he is living in exile in the UK, after his previous book, A Coup For The Rich, was accused of lèse-majesté. (The most controversial passages from A Coup For The Rich are included in Thailand's Crisis as an appendix.) However, there is no attempt at objectivity; for example, he claims that the editing of the controversial Abhisit audio clip "did not in any way distort what Abhisit actually said", whereas even the Prime Minister's critics admit that the tape was misleading.

There is surprisingly little commentary on the PAD's 2008 seizures of Government House and Suvarnabhumi airport or the 2009 Songkran riots. (The events of May 2010 occurred too late for inclusion.) Also, the drawbacks of self-publishing are apparent: Ji's spelling ("ice burg"), punctuation ("!!"), and italicisation are unconventional and distracting. Unfortunately, much of the material is not new: parts of chapters two and three, most of chapters one and five, and almost all of chapter four have been copied from A Coup For The Rich.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Encyclopedia Of Early Cinema

Encyclopedia Of Early Cinema
Encyclopedia Of Early Cinema contains valuable information on the studios, directors, actors, and producers of the silent era circa 1890-1910. Its coverage of the period, from the familiar (Louis and Auguste Lumiere, Georges Melies, Thomas Edison) to the obscure (Emile Reynaud, Louis Le Prince, Thomas Armat, Max and Emil Skladanowsky), is more comprehensive than that of any other film encyclopedia. The book's editor, Richard Abel, is an authority on French silent cinema, and there are over 100 additional contributors (unfortunately not including William K Everson or Kevin Brownlow, arguably the greatest historians of silent film).

The paperback edition has been very slightly expanded, with one new entry and minor revisions. More importantly, the paperback version makes the book accessible to a general audience, being significantly cheaper than the hardback edition (which was sold primarily to academic libraries).

Friday, 3 September 2010


TCDC's new exhibition Spirits: Creativities From Beyond explores spirits, ghosts, and other supernatural phenomena. As usual at TCDC, the installation is impeccable: flickering lights, eerie sounds, and dark corridors create a suitably spooky atmosphere. Spirits opened on 20th August; it was originally scheduled to close on 21st November, though it has now been extended until 9th January 2011.

The emphasis is on Thai ghosts, and their representation in films, comics, and commercials. Several props from Nonzee Nimibutr's Nang Nak are included. TCDC also commissioned a short documentary, That Spooky Atmosphere, featuring interviews with Nonzee and The Unseeable director Wisit Sasanatieng. (Nonzee introduced a screening of Nang Nak at the NETPAC Asian Film Festival last month, and The Unseeable will be screened at the Thai Film Archive later this month.)

A Journey

A Journey
We've had the fictional version (in The Ghost Writer), and the perspectives of Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, but now Tony Blair has written his memoir, A Journey, published in America with an additional subtitle: My Political Life. (Andrew Rawnsley's Servants Of The People and The End Of The Party cover the same ground more objectively.)

Blair admits that his suspicious-looking arrangement with Bernie Ecclestone was "a really stupid lapse of judgement"; that the expensive and underwhelming Millennium Dome was "in retrospect a mistake"; and that he should not have sacked Peter Mandelson once, let alone twice. Surprisingly, his biggest regret was passing the Freedom of Information Act: "I quake at the imbecility of it". (He still doesn't regret the invasion of Iraq, and there is no apology for the two misleading intelligence dossiers; he did feel "desperately sorry" after the brutal killing of Jean Charles de Menezes - but only "for the officers involved".)

Blair's account is informal (with too many exclamation marks) and surprisingly candid, with moments of comedy: Gordon Brown locked in the loo ("Withdraw from the contest or I'm leaving you in there") and John Prescott on the warpath ("Where's fookin' Menzies?"). It's also unavoidably one-sided. He is astonished, for example, that Labour leader John Smith considered appointing the Scottish Gordon Brown as deputy leader; naturally, he felt that he, rather than Brown, should be Smith's deputy, forgetting or ignoring that he is also a Scot. (Regarding the subsequent Labour leadership contest, there is no mention of the fabled Granita deal.)

A curious footnote: Blair begins the book by describing his meeting with the Queen on the day he became Prime Minister. According to his account, the Queen told him: "You are my tenth prime minister. My first was Winston [Churchill]". In The Queen, a fictionalised account of Blair and the Queen's relationship, she also uses precisely those words. The film's writer says that he invented the dialogue, and Blair says that he has never seen the film. So it's either an enormous coincidence, or the film had some extremely senior sources, or Blair is confusing fiction with fact.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle Reforma
American cartoonist Daryl Cagle has been criticised by Mexican authorities after his cartoon satirising the Mexican flag was syndicated yesterday in over 800 newspapers. Cagle's cartoon was published on the front page of Reforma in Mexico, incorporated into a cartoon by Paco Calderon. Flag-desecration is illegal in Mexico; singer Paulina Rubio has been charged with the offence.

Tears Of The Black Tiger

Tears Of The Black Tiger
Citizen Dog
The Unseeable
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears Of The Black Tiger, the Thai Film Archive will be screening a Wisit retrospective this month. Tears Of The Black Tiger will be screened first (on 5th September), followed by Citizen Dog (on 12th September) and The Unseeable (on 19th and 30th September).

The Archive previously screened Tears Of The Black Tiger as part of its ภาพยนตร์ศรีศาลายา season last year. Wisit's short films (not screening at the Archive) include the music video เราเป็นคนไทย, the art film Norasinghavatar, and a segment of the anthology film Sawasdee Bangkok. He also designed the posters for the Bangkok International Film Festival in 2008 and 2009.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Third Man

The Third Man
To promote his political memoir The Third Man: Life At The Heart Of New Labour last month, Peter Mandelson was filmed sitting in front of a roaring fire narrating a fairy-tale version of New Labour: "Once upon a time there was a kingdom, and for many years it was ruled by two powerful kings. But the kings wouldn't have been in power without a third man. People called him 'the prince of darkness'. I don't know why!" His ironic smirk after that last line is hilariously conspiratorial and theatrical, like Mandelson himself - in contrast to Gordon Brown's cringe-making fake smile on YouTube last year (photographed in Where Power Lies).

Unlike Alastair Campbell, whose diaries were published in 2007, Mandelson spent long periods outside the heart of government. He may have been more influential than Campbell in shaping New Labour, though his two resignations (in 1998 and 2001) and his period as EU Commissioner (2004-2008) meant that he was periodically marginalised from Downing Street. Therefore, The Third Man focuses more on the (admittedly fascinating) twists and turns of Mandelson's political career than on the major policy decisions of the Labour government.

Mandelson's relationships with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (the first and second men, with Mandelson as the Harry Lime figure) are a central preoccupation: his backing of Blair for the Labour leadership, his subsequent long-running feud with Brown, and finally his public comeback when Brown replaced Blair as Prime Minister. Most useful is his insider's account of this year's election and its aftermath, events which occurred too late for Andrew Rawnsley's otherwise comprehensive The End Of The Party.