Friday, 24 August 2012

The MDNA Tour

The MDNA Tour
The MDNA Tour
Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right Front National party, has filed a lawsuit against Madonna after the singer depicted her as a Nazi at a concert in Paris. During The MDNA Tour, a video of Nobody Knows Me plays as an interlude, and the video includes a split-second sequence in which a swastika is shown on Le Pen's forehead.

After the tour opened in June, Le Pen announced that she would sue if Madonna included the swastika in her French concerts. When the tour reached Paris on 14th July, the swastika was present (prompting a loud cheer from the crowd), and Le Pen sued Madonna for defamation. When Madonna played the video at her next French stadium show, in Nice on 21st August, she changed the swastika to a question mark, though the swastika has been included in all of her concerts outside France.

The question mark at the Nice concert is a rare example of Madonna censoring any aspect of her live shows. Scottish police had warned her against using prop guns during her MDNA Tour performance of Gang Bang, though her Edinburgh show on 21st June included the guns. Similarly, during her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990, police in Canada threatened to arrest her if she simulated masturbation during her performance of Like A Virgin in Toronto, though she did so anyway.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Ashes, a new short film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, features Apichatpong's dog, King Kong, and various farm animals. It will open the 16th Thai Short Film & Video Festival on 16th August.

It has no dialogue, though there is a voice-over describing "a dream within a dream" (Inception?). There is also footage of a protest against Thailand's lèse-majesté law, kaleidoscopic light patterns, jungle scenes, and a horizontal split-screen sequence. It ends with a pyrotechnical display at a funeral ceremony. The film was made for the Mubi website, and is Apichatpong's second online partnership (after his Animate Projects collaboration in 2009).

Ashes was filmed with a LomoKino, a hand-cranked camera that records short film clips on consumer 35mm film rolls. It's like a return to the Lumiere brothers' Cinematographe, which similarly captured only a minute of footage per roll. The lo-tech LomoKino also resembles the PXL (PixelVision) camera from the 1980s, which recorded video footage onto regular audio cassettes. There is even a special Mubi edition of the LomoKino available to buy, branded with Apichatpong's signature.

Apichatpong is now most famous for his feature films, such as Tropical Malady, Syndromes & A Century, and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, though he has also directed many short films and videos in addition to Ashes. These include Prosperity For 2008, Vampire, Luminous People, Mobile Men, Phantoms Of Nabua, For Alexis, A Letter To Uncle Boonmee, and the Primitive project. He has hosted two retrospectives of his short films in Bangkok: Apichatpong On Video Works and Indy Spirit Project.

16th Thai Short Film & Video Festival

16th Thai Short Film & Video Festival
The 16th Thai Short Film & Video Festival starts at BACC this Thursday, and runs until 26th August. The Festival will open with the Thai premiere of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's new short film, Ashes.

The Thai Short Film & Video Festival is Thailand's oldest film festival. The 11th Festival was at Bangkok's now-closed EGV Grand Discovery cinema, though the 12th, 13th, and all subsequent festivals have been hosted by BACC.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Unfinished Revolution

The Unfinished Revolution
Philip Gould's book The Unfinished Revolution: How The Modernisers Saved The Labour Party has been substantially expanded, and now has a new subtitle: How New Labour Changed British Politics For Ever. The new version reprints the original edition and supplements it with an entirely new second part (similar in organisation, though not in subject, to the expanded edition of Nightmare Movies).

The new section covers Labour's three terms in government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (though Andrew Rawnsley dealt with the same period more objectively in Servants Of The People and The End Of The Party). Blair has written an extensive foreword to Gould's book, arguing that Brown "took an Old Labour way out of the financial crisis"; advocating a return to the New Labour agenda, Blair even uses that old phrase from the Bill Clinton era, 'the Third Way', which is hardly likely to inspire a revival of Labour's fortunes.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Dieter Rams: As Little Design As Possible

Dieter Rams: As Little Design As Possible
Dieter Rams: As Little Design As Possible, written by Sophie Lovell and published by Phaidon, profiles one of the world's most famous industrial designers. Dieter Rams, who was head of design at Braun for over thirty years, designed hundreds of consumer products, including the ET66 calculator, the iconic white SK4 record player, and the aluminium T1000 world-band transistor radio.

The book includes a foreword by Jonathan Ive, Apple's chief designer, who is the nearest equivalent to Rams in contemporary industrial design. Working with Steve Jobs, Ive produced a series of consumer-technology devices (including the iMac, iPhone, iPod, and iPad) that conformed to the "ten principles of good design" that Rams formulated.

Rams felt that successful design should be innovative, useful, aesthetic, understandable, honest, unobtrusive, long-lasting, thorough, environmentally friendly, and should involve "as little design as possible". That last maxim, adapted from Mies van der Rohe's 'less is more', became the title of Lovell's book.

In her preface, Lovell writes that Rams told her: "Why on earth do we need another book about me?" Thus, while there are occasional quotes footnoted as "Rams, in conversation with the author", Rams clearly didn't give Lovell a formal interview. There are, however, plenty of glossy photos fetishising beautiful radios, clocks, and other objects from the past fifty years.

The Dark Knight Rises (IMAX 70mm)

The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises is the final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, following Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. It contains more IMAX footage than any other Hollywood film, with almost half of the film shot with IMAX cameras, resulting in a spectacular 70mm image that fills the enormous IMAX screen. (The 70mm IMAX scenes are framed at 1.43:1; cropped IMAX digital and regular anamorphic widescreen versions have also been released.)

Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman reprise their roles from the two previous Batman films, and there are two new villains: Bane (Tom Hardy) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). [Incidentally, Gary Oldman has become Gary Old Man: the Oldman of The Dark Knight Rises and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy seems far removed from the Oldman of Nil By Mouth or True Romance.] Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who appeared with Hardy and Caine in Inception, also star in The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises is most interesting as a celebration of analogue film technology at a time of digital transition. Nolan is (alongside Quentin Tarantino) one of the last Hollywood directors to use 35mm film cameras; even Martin Scorsese (Hugo) and Steven Spielberg (Tintin) have now made digital films. Nolan has actively campaigned for the preservation of analogue cameras and projectors, recognising that digital production and exhibition are cheaper yet technically inferior. Nolan is also notable for his use of traditional sets and special effects, minimising the use of CGI.

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Greatest Films Of All Time

Sight & Sound
Sight & Sound
Yesterday, Sight & Sound magazine announced the result of its decennial film poll: a list of the ten greatest films ever made, selected by film critics from around the world. For film-poll connoisseurs (including myself), Sight & Sound's list is the ur-list, the first and most authoritative guide to classic films.

The poll was originally conducted in 1952 (with Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thieves at #1); in the second poll, in 1962, Orson Welles's Citizen Kane was #1, and it remained in pole position throughout each subsequent poll. This year, however, Citizen Kane was displaced by Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (which came a close second to Kane in the previous list, in 2002).

This year's new entries include The Searchers and The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (both of which skipped a list, appearing in 1992 though not in 2002). Man With A Movie Camera, the other new entry, is the first documentary to appear in a Sight & Sound list. Man With A Movie Camera has replaced another Russian silent classic, Battleship Potemkin, which had appeared on every Sight & Sound list since 1952; the relegation of Battleship Potemkin (to #11) leaves The Rules Of The Game as the only film to have appeared on every list.

Apart from Battleship Potemkin, two other films from the 2002 list are also missing from this year's top ten: Singin' In The Rain drops to #20, and The Godfather (now counted individually, rather than as a joint entry with The Godfather II) falls to #21. Surprisingly, Apocalypse Now (at #14) received more votes than The Godfather, making it Francis Coppola's most acclaimed film.

Sight & Sound's ten greatest films are as follows:

1. Vertigo
2. Citizen Kane
3. Tokyo Story
4. The Rules Of The Game
5. Sunrise
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. The Searchers
8. Man With A Movie Camera
9. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
10. 8½

The magazine also surveyed film directors, to produce a separate top ten (with Tokyo Story at #1, and Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey jointly placed at #2). Both lists, and the individual choices of many of the critics and directors, appear in Sight & Sound's current issue.

The ten greatest films will be shown at the BFI Southbank cinema in London, from 1st September to 9th October. The top three will be shown at the UK's National Media Museum in Bradford on 16th September.


Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art
Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art opened in Bangkok earlier this year. The six-storey Museum is an imposing granite building, and feels appropriately like a Modernist cathedral for art.

MoCA was funded entirely by Boonchai Bencharongkul, founder of the DTAC telecommunications company. Boonchai is also Thailand's leading art patron, approximately equivalent to Charles Saatchi in the UK. Like Saatchi, Boonchai gobbles up new art: with vast financial resources and determination, he doesn't just dominate the local art market, he is the local art market.

Boonchai not only paid for the Museum's construction, he also filled it exclusively with his own art collection, and personally curated each gallery. Highlights include Birth-Ageing-Sickness-Death (a vivid oil triptych of disturbing figures by Kittisak Chanontnart, influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis) and Animal-Man Family (Anupong Chantorn's bronze dogs from his Hope In The Dark exhibition, presumably commissioned by Boonchai).

These are the exceptions, however. The Museum's permanent collection reflects Boonchai's personal taste, and unfortunately his taste is largely traditional. Thus, there is no political art at all, and representation of contemporary life is almost entirely absent. Instead, there are numerous galleries filled with religious and mythological paintings. Also, the collection consists entirely of paintings and bronze sculptures: there is no video art, photography, installation, digital, or new-media art of any kind.

Indeed, much of the collection is not even particularly recent. The ground floor contains works by Silpa Bhirasri from almost 100 years ago, and there's a collection of Victorian-era paintings on the fifth floor. The Museum's name is somewhat misleading, because the art there is largely modern rather than contemporary.

So, MoCA is an impressive building, with an extensive yet traditional art collection. It's like a conservative version of the Saatchi Gallery: a grand showcase for a formidable patron's personal taste.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Great Movies

Great Movies
Great Movies: 100 Years Of Cinema, by Andrew Heritage, is a guide to 100 classic films divided into ten genres. The films are listed chronologically within each section. Two pages are devoted to each film; there are plenty of glossy colour photos, though the text does little more than summarise each film's plot.

There is no western category, so High Noon and The Searchers appear in the Action/Adventure section and Once Upon A Time In The West is in the Historical section. Some of the other classifications are also rather odd: Pulp Fiction is listed under Comedy rather than Thriller/Crime, and Dr Strangelove is in the War section rather than the Comedy section. The author admits that the final category, Drama, is "an opportunity, within limited space, to attempt to include any movies that simply didn't fit into the preceding nine genre categories" (hardly an ideal solution).

The book also includes brief articles on significant film movements, such as the French New Wave, documentaries, realism, and underground cinema. However, these should really have been included in the main 100 list instead of being relegated to supplementary sections.

There are a few mistakes regarding technical details: the prologue to The Wizard Of Oz is described as "sepia black and white" (they are two different formats), there is a reference to "Blu-ray Avatar" (Blu-ray is not a theatrical format), a photo of a 35mm camera has a "digital camera" caption, and Inception is used as an example of "digital special effects" (visual effects are digital, special effects are analogue; Inception is notable for its analogue special effects). A famous line from Taxi Driver, "You talkin' to me?", is twice misquoted as "Are you looking at me?".

There is a brief bibliography, though it's rather outdated as it consists almost entirely of annual film guides that are no longer being published (Halliwell's, Time Out, etc.). It even cites the "invaluable Filmgoer's Companion", a book which was superseded long ago by Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia.

The Great Movies are as follows:

  • The Gold Rush
  • The General
  • A Night At The Opera
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • Kind Hearts & Coronets
  • M. Hulot's Holiday
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Manhattan
  • Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
  • Pulp Fiction
  • The Thief Of Bagdad
  • The Adventures Of Robin Hood
  • High Noon
  • The Wages Of Fear
  • The Searchers
  • Goldfinger
  • Raiders Of The Lost Ark
  • The Terminator
  • Die Hard
  • Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
  • The Blue Angel
  • Anna Karenina
  • Gone With The Wind
  • Casablanca
  • Sundet Boulevard
  • The African Queen
  • Written On The Wind
  • Breakfast At Tiffany's
  • Pretty Woman
  • Thelma & Louise
  • The Jazz Singer
  • Gold Diggers Of 1933
  • Top Hat
  • Singin' In The Rain
  • Oklahoma!
  • Jailhouse Rock
  • West Side Story
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Grease
  • Moulin Rouge!
  • The Big Sleep
  • Rififi
  • The Night Of The Hunter
  • North By Northwest
  • Bonnie & Clyde
  • Point Blank
  • The Godfather
  • Jaws
  • Taxi Driver
  • The Silence Of The Lambs
  • Intolerance
  • Napoleon
  • Alexander Nevsky
  • Lola Montes
  • The Ten Commandments
  • Spartacus
  • Lawrence Of Arabia
  • Once Upon A Time In The West
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Schindler's List
  • All Quiet On The Western Front
  • Henry V
  • The Red Badge Of Courage
  • The Dam Busters
  • The Great Escape
  • Dr Strangelove
  • Lacombe, Lucien
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Ran
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
  • Way Out West
  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • It's A Wonderful Life
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Home Alone
  • The Lion King
  • Toy Story
  • The Lord Of The Rings I: The Fellowship Of The Ring
  • Nosferatu
  • Metropolis
  • King Kong
  • The Bride Of Frankenstein
  • La Belle & La Bete
  • Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
  • Psycho
  • Night Of The Living Dead
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The Matrix
  • Greed
  • Pandora's Box
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Citizen Kane
  • Les Enfants Du Paradis
  • On The Waterfront
  • Easy Rider
  • Last Tango In Paris
  • Raging Bull
  • American Beauty
(Note that Some Like It Hot is the Billy Wilder version rather than the 1939 comedy of the same name. Also, The Ten Commandments is Cecil B de Mille's sound version, not his earlier silent version.)