Wednesday, 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.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


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.)

Saturday, 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.

Friday, 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.


Friday, 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.

Sunday, 6 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.

Thursday, 3 November 2011


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.

Tuesday, 1 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".