31 December 2011

Le Nouvel Observateur

Le Nouvel Observateur
Le Nouvel Observateur
A special edition of Le Nouvel Observateur, titled Les Arabes, has been banned in Morocco on the grounds that it contains images of Mohammed. However, the magazine, published on 28th December, does not actually include any depictions of Mohammed's face. There have been inaccurate press reports about the magazine, as some articles have confused it with L'Express, which was also recently banned in Morocco and does feature images of Mohammed.

Le Nouvel Observateur did, however, publish unveiled cover images of Mohammed on 10th March 2005 and 30th November 2006. (Other foreign publications - Courrier-International in 2009 and 2011, El Pais in 2009, and L'Express International in 2008 - have also been banned in Morocco, and the Moroccan newspaper Akhbar Al Youm was closed down in 2009.)

L'Express

L'Express L'Express
An edition of L'Express magazine has been banned in Morocco, as it contains depictions of Mohammed. The issue dated 21st December, featuring a history of Arab culture, includes two traditional images of Mohammed. L'Express was banned in Morocco for the same reason in 2008, when it featured a veiled Mohammed on the cover of its international edition. (Other foreign publications - Courrier-International in 2009 and 2011, and El Pais in 2009 - have also been banned in Morocco, and the Moroccan newspaper Akhbar Al Youm was closed down in 2009.)

29 December 2011

The Visual Dictionary Of Photography

The Visual Dictionary Of Photography
The Visual Dictionary Of Photography, by David Prakel, is an alphabetical guide to the art and technology of photography. It includes definitions of technical terms and capsule profiles of famous photographers. Each entry occupies a single page, typically with a large photograph or diagram illustrating a few sentences of text.

Primarily a guide to terminology and techniques, the book explains crucial variables such as shutter speed, aperture size, and ISO. It also provides an overview of photographic equipment and camera accessories.

This is a handy little reference guide to the practicalities of photography, covering both analogue and digital technologies. For more comprehensive studies of the art and history of photography, see Photographers A-Z, A World History Of Photography, and The Focal Encyclopedia Of Photography.

26 December 2011

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei, part of Phaidon's Contemporary Artists series, is the first book to explore Ai Weiwei's entire artistic career. Ai is China's most famous artist, and one of the leading names in international contemporary art.

The book features an interview with Ai by Hans Ulrich Obrist, a survey of Ai's oeuvre by Karen Smith, and a profile of Ai's sculpture Descending Light by Bernard Fibicher. Descending Light resembles Vladimir Tatlin's Monument To The Third International, the never-constructed Constructivist tower; it also looks like an enormous red lantern, and the director of Raise The Red Lantern, Zhang Yimou, was a contemporary of Ai's at the Beijing Film Academy.

Ai co-curated the notorious Bu Hezuo Fangshi exhibition (the Chinese equivalent of Charles Saatchi's Sensation), which introduced a new generation of provocative and taboo-breaking Beijing artists. Always an iconoclast, he was originally known for smashing priceless Han vases. He has also produced Duchampian 'readymades', beautiful porcelain sculptures, and large-scale wooden installations constructed from ancient Ming and Qing furniture.

Phaidon's monograph is a necessary introduction to Ai's background and early work, though Ai is now better known for his political activism. He has become a vocal critic of the Chinese government (unlike Zhang Yimou, who has been accused of producing propaganda), exposing state corruption and cover-ups. He was jailed earlier this year on (presumably trumped-up) tax-evasion charges; he was eventually released, though discussion of his arrest is suppressed and his associates continue to be harassed.

17 December 2011

Sex

Sex
Sex, a group exhibition at Toot Yung Gallery in Bangkok, opened yesterday after several delays due to the recent Bangkok floods. The exhibition includes Thunska Pansittivorakul's video The Altar (from last year's Another Side), though as of today the video had not yet been installed.

Sex will close on 20th January next year. It borrows its title from Madonna's controversial book of erotic photographs (Sex, 1992). Also, Mae West wrote a play with the same title (Sex, 1926), for which she was jailed for eight days.

15 December 2011

4th French Open Air Cinema Festival

4th French Open Air Cinema Festival
La Belle & La Bete
The 4th French Open Air Cinema Festival begins tomorrow, with a screening of Jean Cocteau's classic fantasy La Belle & La Bete at Lumpini Park, Bangkok. While last year's Festival ran for over a week, this year's has been reduced to only two days: it will close on 17th December.

The French Open Air Cinema Festival is organised by Alliance Francaise, and screenings are free. La Belle & Le Bete was also screened earlier this year, as part of Thammasat University's Que Reste-T-Il De Nos Amours season.

13 December 2011

Headshot

Headshot
To promote Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot, Au Bon Pain restaurants in Bangkok are selling a dossier containing booklets, posters, photographs, sketches, and stickers related to the film. This unusual film souvenir is limited to 1,000 copies (mine being #584).

06 December 2011

Who's There?

Who's There?
The director (Ejaz Ahmed), producer (Washim Sheikh), and publicist (KA Jauhar) of the Hindi horror film Who's There? have been arrested in Mumbai. The three men are facing charges of blasphemy, as a newspaper advertisement for the film depicts Jesus being stabbed while he is crucified. The advert was published by two Indian newspapers, DNA Suday and Sunday Mid Day, on 13th November.

Headshot

Headshot
Headshot
Headshot, the new film by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, stars Nopachai Jayanama as Tul, a hitman who wakes from a coma to find that his vision is upside-down. Tul, a former police officer, was framed for murder when he refused to drop an investigation. After serving time in prison, he is hired to assassinate well-connected organised criminals. (As in The Red Eagle, Headshot's sub-plot highlights and condemns Thailand's endemic political corruption.)

Headshot is a self-styled 'crime noir', and it does feature many film noir characteristics: the plot is told in a series of flashbacks, betrayal and deception are major themes, the female characters are femme fatales, and much of the action takes place at night. Although Tul is an ex-cop, his brutal intensity is far removed from the suave detectives of classic noir (epitomised by Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep). Headshot shares its inexorable fatalism and moral complexity with Double Indemnity, Touch Of Evil, and Out Of The Past.

The film begins as an exhilarating and violent thriller, establishing its noir credentials and revealing Tul's motivations and loyalties. In these early sequences, Tul's obsessions with guns and exercise, and his shaved head, are presumably inspired by Taxi Driver. Pen-ek is in familiar territory here, as his previous films Fun-Bar Karaoke, 6ixtynin9, Last Life In The Universe, and Invisible Waves have also dealt with crime and murder. Headshot is a return to those earlier themes, after his recent films Ploy and Nymph (the latter also starring Nopachai).

Unfortunately, Headshot's second half can't quite sustain its initial energy and inventiveness: the plot twists seem like excuses for unconvincing story elements, and Joey Boy is an unthreatening bad guy. Joey Boy's character tortures Tul by dripping candle wax onto his crotch, though the scene reminded me of the risible Body Of Evidence; riding a bicycle and wearing tennis whites (in a tribute to Funny Games?) further undermine Joey Boy's potential menace.

[In one scene, a hitman dresses in a monk's robe as a disguise, and carries a gun concealed in an alms bowl. For the Thai release, Pen-ek was required to digitally erase the gun from the bowl, as the censors felt that it was inappropriate for a monk to be seen carrying a gun.]

02 December 2011

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the catalogue to Apichatpong's Primitive exhibition, is edited by Gary Carrion-Murayari and Massimiliano Gioni. The slim monograph includes an interview with Apichatpong, behind-the-scenes stills, and even a glossary of Thai spirits; it was published to accompany the Primitive exhibition in New York.

01 December 2011

Primitive

Primitive
Primitive
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's multi-screen Primitive video installation opened today at The Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok, and will close on 29th February 2012. The exhibition was slightly delayed due to the Bangkok flood last month.

Primitive is an inter-disciplinary project that includes the short films A Letter To Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms Of Nabua. Apichatpong's feature-length Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which won the Palme d'Or last year, is also part of the Primitive project. The exhibition itself features seven videos: Primitive, Nabua, Making Of The Spaceship, A Dedicated Machine, An Evening Shoot, I'm Still Breathing, and Nabua Song.

Apichatpong has collaborated with The Jim Thompson Art Center before: he gave a talk at the Center in 2008 (Apichatpong On Video Works, part of Tomyam Pladib). He gave similar talks last year at MBK and this year at the Thai Film Archive.

Aside from Uncle Boonmee, Apichatpong's greatest films are Tropical Malady and Syndromes & A Century. His numerous short films include Mobile Men, Prosperity For 2008, Vampire, For Alexis, The Anthem, and Luminous People.

30 November 2011

Strangers On A Train (preview)

Strangers On A Train
Strangers On A Train, one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films, was previewed in a form that's slightly different from the final release version. The preview version is sometimes mistakenly described as the British version, though the film's final American version was the only one shown on general release.

Hollywood studios routinely modify films after they are previewed, though the preview versions are seldom released commercially. The Big Sleep, My Darling Clementine, and Blade Runner are notable exceptions.

There are relatively few differences between the two versions. One rather superfluous sequence from the preview - in which Bruno and Guy order food - was shortened in the final version, to reduce the overall running time. Also, the build-up to Guy entering Bruno's father's room is more suspenseful in the preview version: a brief additional sequence, with shadowy lighting and ominous music, misdirects the audience by implying that Guy actually intends to murder Bruno's father.

The film's ending represents the most significant alteration. The preview version ends rather blandly, with Guy's telephone call to his fiance; the final version inserted a new coda in which Guy is recognised by a vicar on a train, a more ironic and amusing ending.

20 November 2011

Persepolis

Nabil Karoui, the CEO of Nessma TV in Tunisia, is on trial for blasphemy after he broadcast the animated film Persepolis on 7th October. The film, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, includes comical sequences showing Allah in heaven, and visual depictions of Allah are forbidden under Islamic law. (Depictions of Mohammed are also considered blasphemous, of course.)

After the television broadcast, arsonists attacked Karoui's home and demonstrators protested outside the TV station. (Previously, the film was banned from the 2007 Bangkok International Film Festival, following a request by the Iranian government.)

19 November 2011

The 57th National Exhibition Of Art

The 57th National Exhibition Of Art
Body Openings
The 57th National Exhibition Of Art opened at BACC, Bangkok, on 1st October. It was originally scheduled to close on 5th November, though it was extended until today. The show has been held annually since 1949.

One of the highlights this year is Body Openings, a group of erotic/grotesque resin figures with displaced mouths resembling vagina dentatas, by Nisa Sirisre. Similar to the national exhibitions of previous years, there is a large quantity and range of entries on display, from (mostly figurative) paintings to (mostly mixed-media) sculptures and small installations.

Indeed, many artists from last year's 56th National Exhibition are also represented this year, and have produced surprisingly similar works. For example, Suporn Kaewda won first prize last year for an abstract landscape resembling an oil puddle, and he won second prize this year for a similar painting; and Karuna Panumes's triptych, of women with symbols reflected on their faces, resembles her impressive portrait from last year.

18 November 2011

One Tiger, Eight Breasts

Chinese photographer Zhao Zhao has been questioned by police in Beijing as part of a pornography investigation. The authorities claimed that Zhao's photograph One Tiger, Eight Breasts is pornographic, though Zhao defended the work and he has not been formally charged. The photo is a portrait of the artist Ai Weiwei and four women.

The questioning of Zhao is presumably an attempt to intimidate Ai and disrupt his political activities. Ai was detained for several months earlier this year on charges of tax evasion, and other artists associated with him have also been targeted by the authorities.

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11 November 2011

The Two Fridas

The Two Fridas
A performance by Indian artist T Venkanna was cancelled in Singapore earlier this year. The artist sat naked in front of a reproduction of Frida Kahlo's painting The Two Fridas, posing with visitors in a recreation of the painting.

The performance, at Gallery Maskara, was part of the Art Stage Singapore art fair, which opened on 12th January. Public nudity is illegal in Singapore, thus police questioned the artist and terminated the performance. This was followed by another instance of art censorship in Singapore a few months later, when the installation Welcome To The Hotel Munber was closed.

06 November 2011

Scorsese On Scorsese

Scorsese On Scorsese
Scorsese On Scorsese, by Michael Henry Wilson, is a book of interviews conducted with Martin Scorsese over the past thirty years. It was originally published in French, as Entretiens Avec Martin Scorsese. The English-language version has been updated to include Scorsese's most recent films (The Departed, Shutter Island) and his music documentaries (No Direction Home, Shine A Light).

The in-depth interviews are supplemented by on-set stills, correspondence, and annotated script pages supplied by Scorsese. As a result, this is probably the ultimate Scorsese book. Its title, Scorsese On Scorsese, was previously used by Ian Christie for his own Scorsese interview book, and by Richard Schickel for his Scorsese interview documentary.

Wilson and Scorsese co-directed the excellent documentary A Personal Journey Through American Movies. Wilson's book is a collaboration between Cahiers Du Cinema and Phaidon, as are the Masters Of Cinema (Hitchcock, Kubrick, etc.) and ...At Work (Welles, Hitchcock, etc.) series.

François Truffaut's study of Alfred Hitchcock was the first book-length interview with a major film director. Peter Bogdanovich's Welles interview, This Is Orson Welles, was as impressive as Truffaut's. Richard Schickel has recently released several such books, including Conversations With Scorsese and Woody Allen: A Life In Film. Conversations With Woody Allen, by Eric Lax, is another recent example. Faber & Faber issued an entire series of Directors On Directors interviews, including Woody Allen On Woody Allen.

03 November 2011

Liberation

Liberation
France's Liberation newspaper has today published a new Mohammed cartoon by Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Renald Luzier (known as Luz). After Charlie Hebdo's office was destroyed by arsonists following this week's Charia Hebdo edition, the newspaper's editorial staff were invited to use Liberation's offices, and they produced several new cartoons for today's issue of Liberation.

Charia Hebdo

Charia Hebdo
Arsonists have burned down the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris this week, after the satirical newspaper published a special edition 'guest-edited' by Mohammed yesterday. The issue, titled Charia Hebdo, in a pun on Islamic Sharia law, featured a front-page caricature of Mohammed saying: "100 lashes if you don't die laughing!", and a back-page cartoon of him with a red nose. (Visual depictions of Mohammed's face are strictly forbidden by the Koran.) The front-page image is by Renald Luzier (known as Luz); the back-page cartoon is by Stephane Charbonnier, known as Charb, the newspaper's editor. There are also ten small Mohammed cartoons throughout the newspaper, all by Luz.

The provocative cover image was reprinted in various newspapers yesterday, including the New York Post, the London Evening Standard, Tribune De Geneve, Le Monde, Liberation, Le Figaro, Blick Am Abend, and La Repubblica. Charlie Hebdo also caused controversy in 2006 with its previous Mohammed cover, printed in reaction to Muslim protests against Mohammed caricatures in Jyllands-Posten. Charlie Hebdo's first Mohammed cartoon appeared in 2002.

Jyllands-Posten, in Denmark, published twelve Mohammed cartoons in 2005, causing protests around the world. Many publications subsequently printed their own Mohammed cartoons in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten: Weekendavisen, France Soir, The Guardian, Philadelphia Daily News, Le Monde, Het Nieuwsblad, The Daily Tar Heel, Akron Beacon Journal, The Strand, Nana, International Herald Tribune, Gorodskiye Vesti, Adresseavisen, Uke-Adressa, and Harper's.

Equally provocative drawings of Mohammed as a dog were exhibited in 2007. The short film Fitna also includes a Mohammed cartoon, and there was an Everybody Draw Mohammed Day! event last year.

01 November 2011

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs is based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted during the last two years of his life. (Jobs died of cancer last month.) Jobs is generally regarded as the most influential business leader of his generation, a perfectionist and a visionary, the head of the world's largest company. Isaacson's biography confirms this view, though also presents Jobs as an obsessive, bad-tempered control freak.

In addition to regular tirades at Apple employees, Jobs also rants to Isaacson that Google's Android software copied the iPhone's operating system: "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this". Unfortunately, Isaacson doesn't interject to remind Jobs that Apple's graphical user interface and mouse were both copied from research by Xerox.

Isaacson chronicles the now-familiar Jobs trajectory: co-founding Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak, launching the Apple and Macintosh computers, leaving Apple then returning a decade later, pioneering computer animation with Pixar, and finally producing a ground-breaking series of iProducts. The narrative is supplemented by first-hand accounts from everyone involved: Isaacson has interviewed all the key players, including John Sculley, Tim Cook, John Lasseter, Bill Gates, Michael Eisner, Jony Ive, Eric Schmidt, and Rupert Murdoch. (Isaacson is a former CNN chairman and Time managing editor, and therefore extremely well-connected.)

The first Apple desktop computers now seem like antiques; to the current generation, Jobs will be remembered instead for the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Even the first iMac, a desktop computer with a CRT screen, looks like a relic today when compared with Apple's recent devices. But the Macintosh and iMac were both revolutionary: the Macintosh was the first intuitive, user-friendly computer, and the iMac was arguably the first computer to become a design icon.

The iMac and its successors, the G4 (on which I'm writing this blog post) and G5, were designed by Jony Ive. He also designed the aluminium MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops, and the various portable iGadgets. Jobs was the perfectionist who supervised the development of each product, though Ive deserves the credit for the designs themselves. He is probably the most important industrial designer since Dieter Rams, who produced a line of similarly stylish devices for Braun in the 1960s.

Isaacson is ultimately in awe of Jobs. He makes no mention of the basic functions missing from the original iPhone. He lavishes excessive praise on even tangential Apple projects: Pixar is a "miracle", iTunes "saved the music industry", and Apple stores "reinvented the role of a store in defining a brand". He does address concerns about Apple's lack of openness, though he explicitly sides with Jobs against the critics: "Sometimes it's nice to be in the hands of a control freak".

31 October 2011

Prabhat Kiran

Prabhat Kiran
Indian cartoonist Harish Yadav has been arrested after the newspaper Prabhat Kiran published his cartoon of politician Narendra Modi on 20th September. Yadav, who uses the pen name Mussveer, drew a caricature of a naked Modi, with a taqiyah strategically positioned to cover his buttocks.

30 October 2011

20th Century Pattern Design

20th Century Pattern Design
20th Century Pattern Design: Textile & Wallpaper Pioneers, by Lesley Jackson, was originally published in 2002, and an updated edition was issued this year. There seems to be only minimal revision of the previous edition, with no new examples from the past decade, though the comprehensive bibliography has been updated.

The book's chronological survey begins with Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau, though cultural appreciation of wallpaper and domestic decoration flourished a decade earlier during the Aestheticism movement. ("Modern wallpaper is so bad", the aesthete Oscar Wilde famously observed, "that a boy brought up under its influence could allege it as a justification for turning to a life of crime".)

Jackson's coverage is almost exclusively British, European, and American, and she profiles the key designers and studios of each decade. Her approach is largely ismatic, and she identifies trends such as Functionalism, Ruralism, Revivalism, and (more contentiously) Giganticism. She also links pattern design to the major cultural paradigms of the 20th century: Proto-Modernisn, Modernism, and Post-Modernism.

18 October 2011

The Man Who Owns The News

The Man Who Owns The News
Judging by the volume of information he controls, and the amount of money and influence he has accumulated, Rupert Murdoch is one of the world's most powerful individuals. His company, News Corp., was one of the first media corporations to vertically integrate media production and distribution, and is one of the most powerful global media conglomerates.

Murdoch is the last of the press barons, with a portfolio of prestigious (The Times, The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal) and popular (The Sun, the New York Post) newspaper titles. At a time when digitisation threatens the existence of print journalism, Murdoch remains reassuringly committed to his newspapers. Indeed, his forays into digital media (selling MySpace at a loss; the underwhelming The Daily) are uncharacteristic misjudgements, while his television businesses (including the outrageously biased Fox News) remain highly profitable.

Michael Wolff was given unprecedented access to Murdoch, his executives, and even his family. As he writes in the current issue of GQ: "I know what he is thinking; I know how he is thinking it; I know the rhythms of the way he talks about what he thinks; I know what he remembers and I know what he forgets. What's more, all of the people who are as obsessed with Murdoch as I am talk to me about him. I am the father confessor of Murdoch obsessives. If there is anything that can be known about him, I know it. Where he is at any given moment, his mood, his health, his diet, the state of his various relationships, I know. And, of course, Rupert knows that I know all of this and more".

Wolff charts the rise of Murdoch's international empire since the late 1960s, though the acquisition of The Wall Street Journal, the thread that runs throughout the book, receives such close attention that it marginalises other events. Wapping and the print unions, for example, are covered in a single page. Despite the hours of interviews Murdoch granted, Wolff quotes him only sparingly; also, Wolff has a strange habit of writing every sentence in the present tense, even when describing historical events: "Murdoch is born in 1931...".

The book (and its expanded paperback edition, with Wolff's personal account of Murdoch's reaction to the original version) came out prior to this year's revelation that Murdoch's News Of The World hacked into the voicemails of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. Incredibly, the scandal led to the closure of the News Of The World, and a "humble" Murdoch's appearance before a House of Commons committee.

17 October 2011

In Glorious Technicolor

In Glorious Technicolor
Francine Stock and Stephen Hughes (credited as co-author on the title page but not on the jacket) have selected three films from each decade of cinema's history for their book In Glorious Technicolor: A Century Of Film & How It Has Shaped Us. Their title comes from Cole Porter's song Stereophonic Sound, from the musical Silk Stockings:

"Today to get the public to attend a picture show,
It's not enough to advertise a famous star they know.
If you want to get the crowds to come around
You've gotta have glorious Technicolor,
Breathtaking CinemaScope,
And Stereophonic sound".

The list includes a handful of essential classics: The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari, Nanook Of The North, The Searchers, 2001, and Annie Hall. Some titles - for example, Top Gun and Basic Instinct - were seemingly chosen because they are representative of cinematic trends, rather than for their artistic merit.

The obscure Afgrunden is a surprising first entry, though it's good to see semi-neglected films such as Flesh & The Devil and Gold-Diggers Of 1933 on the list. It's odd that Hitchcock is represented by Spellbound when he directed so many superior films, and I can't fathom why Carrie, by Hitchcock-obsessed Brian de Palma, is included.

The triumvirate from the last decade is arguably the most appropriate. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Avatar, and Uncle Boonmee are all excellent films reflecting different trajectories of contemporary cinema.

Despite the book's title, almost half of the films are black-and-white, and the landmark Technicolor films (The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Gone With The Wind, The Wizard Of Oz) are not included. Also, the list of thirty films actually features thirty-two, because the Three Colours trilogy is counted as a single entry.

This is the In Glorious Technicolor list, in chronological order:
  • Afgrunden
  • The Birth Of A Nation
  • The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari
  • Nanook Of The North
  • Flesh & The Devil
  • The General
  • Scarface
  • Gold Diggers Of 1933
  • La Bete Humaine
  • Bambi
  • In Which We Serve
  • Spellbound
  • La Strada
  • The Searchers
  • Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
  • Peeping Tom
  • Bande A Part
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Aguirre: Wrath Of God
  • Carrie
  • Annie Hall
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Top Gun
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Basic Instinct
  • Three Colours: Blue/Red/White
  • Natural Born Killers
  • Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
  • Avatar
  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

14 October 2011

501 Must-See Movies

501 Must-See Movies
The third edition of 501 Must-See Movies contains only minor changes compared to last year's second edition. Three films (Gremlins, Serenity, and Children Of Men) have been deleted, and four new films (Avatar, Monsters, Brokeback Mountain, and The Proposition) have been added. There are 501 entries, including the combined entry for Kill Bill I and II.

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Spy Kids: All The Time In The World

Spy Kids: All The Time In The World
Aroma-Scope
Spy Kids: All The Time In The World is another film in the Spy Kids franchise, directed by Robert Rodriguez. The director is more famous for his ultra-low-budget debut, El Mariachi; his impressive teen-horror, The Faculty; and his violent comic-style noir, Sin City. He has also collaborated with Quentin Tarantino, on From Dusk Till Dawn and Grindhouse.

Rodriguez is known for his technical experimentation, and Spy Kids is one of several films he's directed in 3D. In fact, this film is advertised as a 4D release, with the extra dimension provided by a process billed as Aroma-Scope. This feature requires a scratch 'n' sniff card, featuring eight scents intended to complement the viewing experience. Unfortunately, most of the smells are indistinguishable, and scratching the card is a distraction from the film. Nevertheless, the concept is introduced by Ricky Gervais, in a hilarious voice-over cameo role, at the start of the film. (The film is also showing in 2D with Aroma-Scope.)

It's a gimmick, of course, inspired by the Odorama cards John Waters produced for his bad-taste comedy, Polyester. The first experiments with scented cinema occurred fifty years ago, when smells were wafted through cinema air-conditioning vents to accompany the documentary Behind The Great Wall (via the Aroma-Rama process) and piped to cinema seats during the thriller Scent Of Mystery (using the rival Smell-O-Vision system). Like Cinerama and 3D, they were Hollywood's attempts to lure audiences away from television.

13 October 2011

Hitchcock: Piece By Piece

Hitchcock: Piece By Piece
The text of Laurent Bouzereau's Hitchcock: Piece By Piece - brief chapters discussing Hitchcockian themes and motifs - is largely superficial, though the book's main attractions are its rare photographs and document facsimiles. It's an authorised project: Bouzereau was granted access to the Alfred Hitchcock archives, and Hitchcock's daughter Patricia wrote a foreword to the book.

Previously unpublished material - family portraits of Hitchcock and studio pre-production paperwork - is included, resulting in an interesting visual celebration of Hitchcock's films. Hitchcock's Notebooks, by Dan Auiler, also benefitted from authorised access to Hitchcock's archives, and contains substantially more material than Bouzereau's book, though Bouzereau focuses on Hitchcock's most famous films whereas Auiler's selection was more obscure.

Bouzereau has also written Cutting Room Floor, about censorship and director's cuts. He has directed over 200 making-of documentaries, including Exploring The Tree Of Life, Capturing Avatar, Minority Report: Future Realized, Revolution!: The Making Of Bonnie & Clyde, Raging Bull: Before The Fight, The Lady From Shanghai: A Discussion, Making Taxi Driver, and The Making Of Jaws. He has also made various featurettes about Chinatown, Minority Report, AI, and other films. He directed the Hitchcock documentaries The Making Of Psycho, All About The Birds, Saboteur: A Closer Look, Beyond Doubt: The Making Of Hitchcock's Favorite Film (about Shadow Of A Doubt), Rope Unleashed, Rear Window Ethics, The Trouble With Harry Isn't Over, The Making Of The Man Who Knew Too Much, Obsessed With Vertigo, The Trouble With Marnie, Topaz: An Appreciation, and Torn Curtain Rising.

Expanded Cinema

Expanded Cinema
Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance, Film, edited by AL Rees, David Curtis, Duncan White, and Steven Ball, is a historical survey of film beyond conventional, theatrical, narrative features. The title is borrowed from Gene Youngblood's 1969 Expanded Cinema, a utopian manifesto for the future of film as an immersive, multi-media experience.

Youngblood's title was itself inspired by Stan van der Beek's essay Culture: Intercom & Expanded Cinema, and Rees et al. credit van der Beek as a pioneer of ambient filmmaking (and reprint an illustrated version of Culture:Intercom). They also profile New American Cinema founder Jonas Mekas, and early video artist Carolee Schneemann, amongst others.

There is some overlap with new-media art and video art (discussed by Michael Rush in his books New Media In Art and Video Art). Underground filmmaking (Subversion) and art cinema (Art Cinema; Film As A Subversive Art, by Amos Vogel) are also closely connected.

12 October 2011

Conversations With Woody Allen

Conversations With Woody Allen
Eric Lax has interviewed Woody Allen regularly since 1971, for his book On Being Funny and an authorised biography; these interviews are collated in Conversations With Woody Allen: His Films, The Movies, & Moviemaking. It's Allen's third book-length interview, after Woody Allen On Woody Allen by Stig Bjorkman and Woody Allen: A Life In Film by Richard Schickel.

Surprisingly, Allen regards Match Point as one of his best films. More reasonably, he also rates The Purple Rose Of Cairo and Husbands & Wives very highly. He places Stardust Memories and Zelig in the second tier. He reveals that fans seem to like Broadway Danny Rose the most, and he admits that The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion may be his worst film. (No argument there.) It's clear that his priorities have changed: his personal favourites are the more substantial mid-period films rather than the "early, funny" ones (such as Love & Death and Sleeper); tellingly, he (unfairly) dismisses Scoop as "wasting my time with this little comedy". (Personally, I think his masterpieces are Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Crimes & Misdemeanors.)

Allen also reveals "my list of the best films ever made", which contains only one American film and only a single comedy:
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Rashomon
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • Grand Illusion
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Wild Strawberries

  • Amarcord
  • Throne Of Blood
  • Cries & Whispers
  • La Strada
  • The 400 Blows
  • Breathless
  • Seven Samurai
  • Shoeshine

09 October 2011

Lolly Pope

Lolly Pope
A photograph by Parastou Forouhar, titled Lolly Pope, was censored by Lebanese authorities exactly a year ago. The photograph, taken in 2008, shows a woman licking a lollipop which contains a portrait of Pope Benedict.

Lolly Pope appears in the book Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life, & Death In Iran, edited by Rose Issa. When it was published last year in Lebanon, the General Security office insisted that its publishers, Saqi Books, cover the image of the Pope with black ink and glue the Lolly Pope page to the previous page, so that the photo could not be seen.

The book is widely available, though only in its censored form. The uncensored Lolly Pope photograph has not been widely circulated, though it is featured in the current issue of Index On Censorship (The Art Issue).

06 October 2011

Confidence Men

Confidence Men
Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, & The Education Of A President, by Ron Suskind, reveals how Barack Obama's advisors dealt with the aftermath of the recent global economic crisis. It could have been called All The President's Men, but that title has already been taken by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Like Woodward (Obama's Wars), Suskind had top-level access, including an Oval Office interview with Obama; also like Woodward (and Game Change), Suskind's sources are mostly quoted anonymously.

Suskind depicts Obama as over-reliant on his aides, who take the opportunity to manipulate and even disregard the President. National Economic Council director Larry Summers, for example, is quoted complaining that "There's no adult in charge". Suskind's biggest scoop is his allegation that, after Obama instructed his economics team to find a way to restructure Citibank in 2009, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel ridiculed the idea and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner simply ignored it. (Geithner denies the allegation, and in his Suskind interview Obama side-steps the issue of Geithner's potential insubordination.)

Cars II

Cars II
Cars II, the sequel to Cars, was directed by Pixar's John Lasseter. The sequel shifts its focus from Lightning McQueen to his hick friend Mater, a goofy character surely of interest only to very young children. Consequently, there's not enough of the appealing Owen Wilson (who recently starred in Midnight In Paris, and is most famous for the Frat Pack films Zoolander, Wedding Crashers, and Meet The Parents). An espionage sub-plot with cameos by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer adds interest.

Unusually for Pixar, the original Cars was critically and commercially underwhelming, and Cars II, like most sequels, is inferior to the original. Cars was one of Lasseter's pet projects, which may explain why the sequel was green-lighted, though unfortunately the franchise's toy and merchandising potential may be another explanation. I saw it in 2D, but it has also been released in 3D, IMAX, and IMAX 3D.

01 October 2011

Penguen

Penguen
Cartoonist Bahadir Baruter is facing prosecution in Turkey after denying the existence of God in one of his cartoons. In the background of a recent cartoon, the writing on a mosque wall reads "There is no Allah; religion is a lie". The cartoon was published by the satirical magazine Penguen in February.

Other cartoonists have suffered censorship in Turkey. Two cartoonists were charged after their caricatures of President Abdullah Gul were published in Cumhuriyet, and another was fined for his caricature of PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a cat in the same newspaper. Michael Dickinson faced a long legal battle relating to Best In Show and Good Boy, his collages of Erdoğan as a dog.

Das Krapital

Das Krapital
Adult comic Viz originally issued Profanisaurus in 1997 as a cover-mounted booklet, credited to the pseudonym William H Bollocks. It was later retitled Roger's Profanisaurus, in reference to Viz's profane character Roger Mellie (and punning on Roget's Thesaurus). The Profanisaurus entries, collated in Das Krapital, are all slang terms for bodily functions, and are submitted by Viz readers. As such, the terms defined within are comical nonce words rather than genuine neologisms.

Das Krapital (with an anti-intellectual title punning on Das Kapital) is an expanded version of previous editions, Profanisaurus Rex and The Magna Farta. It's unashamedly (and post-ironically?) sexist, and full of inventive invective.

30 September 2011

Sunday Mirror

Footballer Rio Ferdinand has lost his lawsuit against the Sunday Mirror newspaper. Last year, the Mirror published a kiss-and-tell interview with Carly Storey, in which she revealed her affair with Ferdinand, and he sued them for invasion of privacy. The two-page article by Gary Anderson, headlined "My affair with England captain Rio", was published on 25th April 2010.

PDF

28 September 2011

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
Peter Kramer's A Clockwork Orange is the latest in the Controversies series of monographs on censored films. As in Kramer's 2001: A Space Odyssey book, his research at the Stanley Kubrick Archive has revealed new details about the film's production.

A Clockwork Orange is almost unique in British film censorship, as it was screened privately for the Home Secretary before its public release. Also, Kubrick famously requested that the film be withdrawn from the UK (not because of its violent content, but because his family received death threats).

24 September 2011

Midnight In Paris

Midnight In Paris
Woody Allen's latest film, Midnight In Paris, stars Owen Wilson as a struggling writer in a mismatched relationship. Wilson is essentially a substitute for Allen, and imitates (probably subconsciously) some of Allen's mannerisms and speech patterns. Allen has played similar characters in many films, including Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Deconstructing Harry. His last film, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, featured Josh Brolin in an almost identical role.

As in The Purple Rose Of Cairo, there's a Magical Realist twist; in this case, Wilson is transported back to the 1920s every night at midnight, discussing his novel with F Scott Fitzgerald, pitching The Exterminating Angel to Luis Bunuel, and falling in love with Pablo Picasso's muse. There's an attention to detail here that's been missing from most of Allen's recent films, and, even though the plot sometimes feels like Goodnight Sweetheart, the film is romantic and charming. Allen continues his European odyssey, after several films in London and Barcelona.

The Film Book

The Film Book
The Film Book: A Complete Guide To The World Of Cinema is a repackaging of Ronald Bergan's book Film. This new edition comes in a smart tin box, though some of the first edition's content has been removed: there are no appendices, and the directors section has been cut by 50%. Bergan's Top 100 Movies list is the same as in the previous edition.

13 September 2011

Umong Pa Meung

Umong Pa Meung
Pundhevanop Dhewakul's film Umong Pa Meung transposes Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon to northern Thailand circa 1500. It was filmed in and around Chiang Mai, with some scenes shot in the atmospheric Wat Umong compound. The cast includes several of Thailand's most popular contemporary stars: Ananda Everingham, Mario Maurer, Petthai Wongkumlao, and Chermarn Boonyasak. (Ananda, Chermarn, and Pundhevanop have worked together on several previous films.)

The plot, in which a monk, a woodcutter, and a commoner discuss a perplexing murder trial, is told in a series of flashbacks, each of which presents a different interpretation of the action. All the witnesses agree that a bandit ties a man to a tree and rapes his wife, though their stories diverge when the husband is murdered. The structure, plot, and characters are all familiar from Kurosawa's original masterpiece.

Perhaps to avoid unfavourable comparisons with Kurosawa, Pundhevanop insists that Umong Pa Meung is not a Rashomon remake. He told The Nation newspaper: "do not expect to see what you see in 'Rashomon'. They are totally different". To further minimise the Kurosawa connection, and to add literary and Thai-historical credibility, the film is being marketed as an adaptation of a play by Kukrit Pramoj. Kukrit reworked Rashomon as a theatrical drama, which Pundhevanop subsequently directed on stage.

Despite Pundhevanop's disclaimer, Umong Pa Meung is clearly a Kurosawa remake. Many shots - such as the woodcutter's entry into the forest, the witnesses giving evidence direct-to-camera, and the triangular compositions of the three principal flashback characters - are direct imitations of sequences from Kurosawa's film.

In a rare deviation from Rashomon, Pundhevanop has chosen to depict the judge observing the witnesses in court, thus distancing the audience. Pundhevanop's most substantial additions are the backstories he develops for each of the protagonists: the upbringings of the monk, the wife, and the bandit are presented as flashbacks. He has also modified the commoner character, who is now reduced to a comically grotesque figure.

While remaking one of the world's greatest films may seem sacrilegious, there have already been several Hollywood Kurosawa remakes: The Outrage remade Rashomon and The Magnificent Seven remade Seven Samurai. Rashomon has also been adapted into a Broadway play and an opera.

Kurosawa's Rashomon was a modest film, achieving success to the surprise of its producers, though Umong Pa Meung is a self-consciously prestigious production, a lavish widescreen epic. In contrast to Kurosawa's emphasis on the subjective nature of truth, Pundhevanop heightens the melodrama and uses frequent slow-motion to romanticise the action. Mario and Chermarn have appeared together in two previous films - Love Of Siam and Rhatree Reborn - though Chermarn is more famous for (and more suited to) her lakorn (soap-opera) roles, and Umong Pa Meung does sometimes feel like an expensive soap-opera.

Following the relaxation of censorship since Rashomon was first released in 1950, a modern remake could conceivably present the central rape and murder more graphically than Kurosawa was able to. (Kurosawa circumvented such restrictions by representing the rape symbolically, with a dagger dropping into the ground.) However, aside from a briefly gory prologue, Pundhevanop's film remains as chaste as the original. Which begs the question: why remake Rashomon, if not to present its plot more realistically?

The answer, and the reason for the lack of explicit sex or violence, is that Umong Pa Meung is intended as a reflection of the Buddhist 'dharma' philosophy. Carried away by this overt religiosity, the film arguably takes itself too seriously, especially during the monk's extended backstory flashback, with earnest dialogue and an unintentionally camp sensibility.

11 September 2011

Gagasmicism

Gagasmicism
Gagasmicism
After Carnivalism, Thailand's art scene has coined another new 'ism': Gagasmicism, a multi-media exhibition by Pan-Pan Narkprasert. Pan-Pan's kitsch sculptures are lovingly crafted representations of Lady Gaga as a deity or icon. Gagasmicism opened today at BACC, Bangkok, and will close on 11th October.

05 September 2011

Best In Film

Best In Film
Best In Film: The Greatest Movies Of Our Time was broadcast by the American TV network ABC on 22nd March this year. ABC viewers and People magazine readers voted online for the five greatest (English-language) films in each genre:

Comedy

1. Airplane!
2. Monty Python & The Holy Grail
3. Some Like It Hot
4. Young Frankenstein
5. Tootsie

Sci-Fi Film

1. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
2. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
3. Avatar
4. The Matrix
5. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

Musical

1. The Sound Of Music
2. Grease
3. The Wizard Of Oz
4. Singin' In The Rain
5. West Side Story

Action

1. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
2. The Dark Knight
3. The Lord Of The Rings III: The Return Of The King
4. Die Hard
5. Gladiator

Suspense/Thriller

1. The Silence Of The Lambs
2. Jaws
3. Psycho
4. The Shining
5. Pulp Fiction

Animated Film

1. The Lion King
2. Toy Story
3. Beauty & The Beast
4. Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
5. Fantasia

The votes for greatest film overall were:

1. The Wizard Of Oz
2. The Godfather
3. Casablanca
4. Gone With The Wind
5. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

I'd like to think that Citizen Kane was #6 on that final list, but somehow I doubt it. (Beauty & The Beast is the Disney animated version; Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece not the obscure 1939 comedy.)

01 September 2011

Life On Air

Life On Air
Life On Air: A History Of Radio 4, by David Hendy, is a meticulous and thorough history of BBC Radio 4. I only started listening in the 1990s, so I was most interested in Hendy's final chapter (covering 1997 onwards). The Pleasures chapter, which discusses the station's most popular programmes, is another highlight.