Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Artist

The Artist
The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is, like Martin Scorsese's Hugo, a tribute to silent cinema. However, while Hugo was filmed in 3D, colour, and widescreen, The Artist is a black-and-white, silent film, in the Academy ratio. (Steven Soderbergh attempted a similar technical tribute with The Good German, his black-and-white, Academy homage to Casablanca.)

Hazanavicius recreates, with impressive fidelity, the experience of watching a silent film, though he does bend the rules occasionally (notably in a dream sequence with synchronised sound effects). Inter-titles are used to convey dialogue, though it's often possible to read the actors' lips anyway, because they perform in the traditional overly-dramatic silent-film style. Only in the final few seconds do people actually speak audibly, a moment comparable to the fleeting movement at the end of Chris Marker's photo-roman La Jetee.

The Artist's plot is clearly inspired by A Star Is Born, with a young starlet (Peppy Miller) beginning her career while an established star (George Valentin) fades away. The film belongs in the same company as classic backstage dramas such as 42nd Street, All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard, The Bad & The Beautiful, and The Player. Specifically, as it explores Hollywood's transition to sound after The Jazz Singer, it invokes comparisons with Singin' In The Rain. (The Artist isn't a musical like Singin' In The Rain, though it does include Astaire/Rogers-style tap dancing.) There are also references to Citizen Kane, such as breakfasts revealing the deterioration of a marriage.

The lead male character is partly based on Douglas Fairbanks, and clips from Fairbanks's The Mask Of Zorro are included; his last name, Valentin, also refers to Rupolph Valentino. The heroine quotes Greta Garbo ("I want to be alone"), and insists that the studio hire Valentin just as Garbo demanded a role for John Gilbert in Queen Christina. The strong supporting cast includes John Goodman (playing a movie producer, as he did in Matinee), James Cromwell, and the dog Uggie.

The film's technical sophistication and cine-literacy make it fascinating, though it's also incredibly witty and entertaining. For cinephiles, it's (almost) as exciting as Hugo, though it works just as well for mainstream audiences, too. It has an engaging narrative and it makes silent cinema accessible, and achieves both for 100% of the time. [In contrast, Hugo is 50% exciting plot for kids (the story of the two orphans) and 50% film history for adults (the life of Georges Melies), though the two halves don't quite fit together.]

Thursday, 23 February 2012


The publisher of Attounissia, a daily Tunisian newspaper, has been arrested and charged with disrupting public morality. Nasreddine Ben Saida has been held in custody since his arrest on 15th February, the day that his newspaper printed a front-page photograph of footballer Sami Khedira and his girlfriend, Lena Gercke. The photo, taken from the March issue of GQ magazine in Germany, shows Gercke topless, though her breasts are covered by Khedira's hands. Ben Saida faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Human Clay

The Human Clay
The Human Clay
The Human Clay, a joint exhibition by provocative Thai artist Vasan Sitthiket and Australian photographer Diane Mantzaris, opened today at Number One Gallery in Bangkok. (Vasan's solo exhibitions Obsessive Compulsive and Ten Evil Scenes Of Thai Politic [sic] were also held at the same venue.)

Vasan has painted a self-portrait as a skeleton holding a machine gun (People Can Do No Wrong), and an auto-fellating monk (Intrend Smart). Mantzaris has photographed herself posing as classical sculptures while urinating (Fountain Of Eve and Fountain Of Venus).

Both Vasan and Mantzaris have used art as a means of political protest; they previously collaborated in the 1990s, shortly after the Black May massacre by the military. The Human Clay will close on 3rd March.


Tuesday, 21 February 2012


The 20th February issue of Newsweek Asia has been banned in Malaysia. The magazine included reproductions of paintings by Egyptian artist Weaam El Masry that were deemed offensive by Malaysian censors. One of the paintings is reprinted as a thumbnail photo in Newsweek's current issue.

Monday, 20 February 2012

El Pais

El Pais Interdit
Last Thursday's edition of the Spanish newspaper El Pais has been banned in Morocco, as it contains a caricature of King Mohammed VI. The cartoon, by Damien Glez, was first published in Le Monde in 2009, and distorts the King's head and body into the shape of a keyhole.

Walid Bahomane, a Moroccan man, was arrested after he uploaded the cartoon to Facebook this month. A Facebook group, Mohammed VI: Ma Liberte Est Plus Sacree Que Toi, has been set up in solidarity with him, and now contains numerous King Mohammed caricatures. Persecuted cartoonist Khalid Kadar has drawn a portrait of the King which has been censored with the word "INTERDIT", highlighting Morocco's lack of free expression.

(A previous edition of El Pais was also banned in Morocco for similar reasons in 2009. Other foreign publications - Le Nouvel Observateur this year and last year, Courrier-International in 2009 and 2011, Pelerin this year, L'Express in 2011, and L'Express International in 2008 - have also been banned in Morocco, and the Moroccan newspaper Akhbar Al Youm was closed down in 2009.)

Sunday, 19 February 2012


Hugo is Martin Scorsese's first film in 3D, and also his first film aimed specifically at a family audience. Like Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder, Scorsese's film adds prestige to the 3D fad, and demonstrates that stereoscopic cinema can be used creatively as more than merely a gimmick. It's the greatest (and arguably the only great) 3D film since Avatar.

Chloe Moretz gives another impressive performance, after her equally self-assured appearances in Kick-Ass, 500 Days Of Summer, and Let Me In. Ben Kingsley is, of course, excellent, in his second Martin Scorsese film (following Shutter Island). Ray Winstone (also in his second Scorsese film, after The Departed) has merely a cameo role, as does Jude Law. It's ironic that Law repairs an automaton in Hugo, as he previously played a robot in AI.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Hugo Movie Companion

The Hugo Movie Companion
The Hugo Movie Companion is a guide to the making of Martin Scorsese's latest film, Hugo. The book's author, Brian Selznick, also wrote The Invention Of Hugo Cabret, the graphic novel on which the film is based. Like the novel, the Movie Companion is extensively illustrated, with images from Scorsese's influences including A Trip To The Moon, The 400 Blows, and even the Mona Lisa.

Selznick covers every aspect of the film's production, and has seemingly interviewed all of the key cast and crew, including Scorsese. Numerous on-set photos are included, along with script extracts, storyboards, and pre-production sketches. Scorsese has contributed a short essay on the influences of the Lumiere brothers and Georges Melies.

Given Selznick's proximity to the film's source novel, he's not really objective enough to write a making-of book. Fortunately, though, self-references are kept to a minimum - except in the final chapter, when he describes his own cameo role with false modesty and excessive detail.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Le Nouvel Observateur

The 2nd February issue of Le Nouvel Observateur has been banned in Morocco, because it includes a drawing of God from the animated film Persepolis. A previous issue of the magazine was banned in Morocco last year. (Other foreign publications - Pelerin this year, Courrier-International in 2009 and 2011, L'Express in 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.)

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Retro Ver-Spective

Retro Ver-Spective
Retro Ver-Spective
The group exhibition Retro Ver-Spective opened yesterday at Gallery VER in Bangkok. The exhibition includes a video by Thunska Pansittivorakul, excerpted from his film The Terrorists (though, at the time of writing, the video was not working).

Retro Ver-Spective will close on 8th April. Gallery VER previously hosted an exhibition of Thunska's photography (Life Show), and a retrospective of his short films (Inside Out, Outside In).

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Taschen Art and Collector's Editions

Taschen Art & Collector's Editions
Taschen Art & Collector's Editions
Taschen Art & Collector's Editions: An Art Book Exhibition opened at the Serindia Gallery in Bangkok on 2nd February, and will close on 15th April. The exhibition features a selection of culture and architecture books published by Taschen, including a signed copy of Steve Shapiro's Taxi Driver monograph.

Taschen's catalogue includes some of the world's greatest art books, though they've become synonymous with rather risque material since publishing their (initially censored) Jeff Koons monograph. They're probably my favourite publisher, because they celebrate high and low culture equally. Also, unlike most other publishers, Taschen continue to produce lavish editions that highlight the value of printed hardback books.

Taschen's Napoleon is the largest and most expensive book I own. Their other titles include 100 All-Time Favorite Movies, Some Like It Hot, Modern Architecture A-Z, Photographers A-Z, Letter Fountain, Horror Cinema, Art Cinema, Cinema Now, A History Of Advertising, Trespass, Film Noir, Atlas Maior, Harmonia Macrocosmica, Chronicle Of The World 1493, Codices Illustres, The Eiffel Tower, Fashion, The World Of Ornament, The Complete Costume History, Atlas Of Human Anatomy & Surgery, Decorative Arts From The Middle Ages To The Renaissance, Architectural Theory From The Renaissance To The Present, Art Now, Industrial Design A-Z, Design Of The 20th Century, Architecture In The 20th Century, and 20th Century Art.

Their directors series includes introductory books on Stanley Kubrick (Visual Poet) and Alfred Hitchcock (Architect Of Anxiety), and their books Sculpture: From The Renaissance To The Present Day, The Stanley Kubrick Archives, Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings & Drawings, Michelangelo: Complete Works, Picasso, and Andres Serrano: America & Other Works are definitive surveys.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Pelerin Pelerin
A special edition of the journal Pelerin, published last month, has been banned in Morocco as it contains five images of a veiled Mohammed. (Other foreign publications - Courrier-International in 2009 and 2011, L'Express and Le Nouvel Observateur in 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.)

Monday, 6 February 2012

Hugo (2D)

Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, is nominally the story of Hugo Cabret, a Parisian orphan, though its real focus is filmmaker Georges Melies, played by Ben Kingsley. Melies sells toys at a small booth, though Hugo discovers that he was a pioneer of science-fiction cinema. Melies directed A Trip To The Moon, silent cinema's first masterpiece, excerpts from which are included in Scorsese's film.

The film also features clips from other silent classics, including The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (which set the template for Scorsese's Shutter Island), The Great Train Robbery (which inspired the final shot of Scorsese's GoodFellas), Workers Leaving The Lumiere Factory, and Intolerance. The scene depicted on the poster is, of course, a reference to Safety Last.

At a time of digital film production, exhibition, and distribution, Scorsese emphasises the medium's mechanical origins, and hopefully the film will introduce silent films to a new generation. (Scorsese has promoted early cinema before, writing the foreword to Silent Movies.) It's a charming film, and an evocative tribute to the first artist of cinema, though I wonder whether the Melies storyline will be sufficiently engaging for children.

Though written by John Logan - who also wrote RKO281, Rango, The Aviator (another Scorsese film about a director), and Sweeney Todd - Hugo has parallels with Scorsese's own life. Scorsese was captivated by the cinema as a child, and he rehabilitated the reputation of director Michael Powell, just as Hugo brings Melies back into the limelight. (I saw Hugo in 2D, though it was filmed in 3D and is also screening in a 3D version.)

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Carnage, Roman Polanski's latest film, after The Ghost Writer, stars Jodie Foster, John C Reilly, Christoph Waltz, and Kate Winslet. After their son hits another child, Waltz and Winslet visit the victim's parents, Foster and Reilly, to discuss what to do next. The two couples are initially cordial to each other, though the veneer of civility is gradually removed. The action takes place entirely within Foster and Reilly's apartment, resulting in a claustrophobic though theatrical chamber piece. It sometimes feels like a prologue to The Exterminating Angel or Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, both of which feature the baser instincts of the bourgeoisie.

Polanski has confined his dramas to domestic spaces before, in Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, and Death & The Maiden, though Carnage is too blackly comic to achieve the intensity of those earlier films. The dialogue is consistently witty, though the action ultimately becomes unrealistically exaggerated and at the end nothing seems to have happened. Waltz and Foster dominate, and they are both satisfyingly unsympathetic, but Reilly and Winslet's characters are under-developed. Waltz was much more charismatic in Inglourious Basterds.