Wednesday, 30 April 2014

'So Bad It's Good' Month

'So Bad It's Good' Month
Plan Nine From Outer Space
Bangkok's Jam Cafe is hosting a 'So Bad It's Good' season this month, as part of its regular Cult Movie Night event. Tonight's film is Edward D Wood's trash masterpiece Plan Nine From Outer Space, one of the most notorious of the 1950s sci-fi B-movies. (Previous Cult Movie Night seasons include Philip Seymour Hoffman Month and Noir Month.)

Plan Nine has had an undeserved reputation as the worst film ever made ever since it was named as such in Michael and Harry Medved's book The Golden Turkey Awards. (Aside from mocking bad films, Michael Medved is also a religious critic of liberal media values; his Golden Turkey Awards is significant only because it inadvertently drew attention to the obscure Ed D Louie film Him.)

Edward D Wood's reputation has been reappraised following Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood and the Plan Nine documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood. The Incredibly Strange Film Book, by Jonathan Ross, devotes a chapter to Wood, and another to Wood's bizarre exploitation film Glen Or Glenda. Ross was presumably influenced by Jim Morton's essay on Wood in the Re/Search book Incredibly Strange Films.

Monday, 14 April 2014


Darren Aronofsky's new film, Noah, stars Russell Crowe as the antediluvian patriarch who built the ark and survived the flood. The Biblical story of the flood is told in less than five pages, though Aronofsky has expanded it into a 138-minute epic. Noah, like The Fountain, opens with a quotation from Genesis. Its budget was more than twice that of all Aronofsky's five previous films (Pi, Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan, and The Wrestler) combined, though Aronofsky is better suited to low-budget indie films rather than bloated studio projects.

With its apocalyptic flood, Noah could have been the ultimate disaster movie, but instead of emphasising the deluge itself, Aronofsky has added new elements in an attempt at dramatic tension. The entire third act, with Noah becoming increasingly deranged after his daughter-in-law's pregnancy, is an un-necessary embellishment. The most bizarre additions are the Warriors, giant rock-creatures who look like leftovers from the Lord Of The Rings.

The film is being released in 2D and IMAX DMR in English-language territories, with some screenings in Dolby Atmos. It has also been retrofitted into 3D and IMAX DMR 3D for foreign-language markets.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Typewriter Art

Typewriter Art
Typewriter Art: Modern Anthology, by Barrie Tullett, features examples of figurative drawing, geometric abstraction, and visual typography, all produced using manual typewriters. (More famous examples of typographic art - such as the mouse's tail in Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, or Guillaume Apollinaire's 'concrete poems' - are not included, as they were printed rather than typed.) The book, published by Laurence King, begins with the earliest instance of 'art-typing', a small profile portrait of a man's head from Pitman's Typewriter Manual (1893). Just a few years after this primitive example, artists were creating much more sophisticated typewriter art: a butterfly by Flora Stacey (1898), and a flower by GM Patterson (1895). Tullett dismisses these intricate drawings, however: 'Although... historically interesting - and even influential - they were created in a way that simply used the typewriter as a substitute for pen and paper, rather than responding to the limitations and opportunities offered by the machine.' Thus, Tullett's primary interest is in art that acknowledges, rather than disguises, its typewritten origins. Typewriter Art is clearly intended as a successor to Alan Riddell's 1975 book of the same name, and it's organised in the same way as Riddell's book, with chapters on pioneers and contemporary works. Tullett praises Dom Sylvester Houedard, who produced semi-abstract 'typikon' drawings, as 'The single most important figure in the history of typewriter art'. Houedard was working in the 1960s, the 'golden age' of typewriter art, and his contemporaries included Peter Kubelka, who created 'paperfilms' such as Arnulf Rainer (1960) by typing patterns onto paper strips.
[Typed on a 1923 Remington Portable no. 1.]

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

For Monkeys Only

For Monkeys Only
The Dazed & Confused website is currently streaming For Monkeys Only, a new short film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The film, just over a minute in length, features a static shot of a stone monkey statue, with a garish, flashing eye symbol superimposed over it. Apichatpong's previous online short films are 2013, Cactus River, Ashes, For Alexis, Phantoms Of Nabua, Mobile Men, and Prosperity For 2008.

I interviewed Apichatpong last year for Encounter Thailand magazine. He is most famous for his feature films Syndromes & A Century (censored in Thailand) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. He has hosted two retrospectives of his short films in Bangkok: Apichatpong On Video Works and Indy Spirit Project. His other works include A Letter To Uncle Boonmee and Mekong Hotel, both related to his Primitive art installation.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

301 Greatest Movies Of All Time

Vote For The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time
Vote For The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time
Empire magazine has launched another Greatest Movies Of All Time readers' poll. The survey closes on 4th May, and a list of the top 301 films will appear in the July issue of the magazine.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A History Of Film Music

A History Of Film Music, by Mervyn Cooke, is a comprehensive history of film scores and soundtracks. Unlike previous works on the subject, the book's scope extends beyond Hollywood and also covers film music from France, the UK, the Soviet Union, Italy, Japan, and India.

Cooke discusses the use of music to accompany silent films, the transition to sound film, and the subsequent development of the Hollywood musical. He also profiles the major film composers, and highlights the stylistic trends in the evolution of film soundtracks, such as the Wagnerian leitmotif, the epic score, and the appropriation of jazz, pop, and classical music.

Cooke writes that Max Steiner's score for King Kong, rather than his work on Gone With The Wind, is "universally acknowledged as his most important achievement, one that almost single-handedly marked the coming-of-age of non-diagetic film music". Similarly, he notes that Bernard Herrmann's Psycho score is "universally acknowledged to be one of the most original and influential in cinema history". (Surprisingly, Herrmann's cameo in The Man Who Knew Too Much is not mentioned.) John Williams, whose scores include Jaws and Star Wars, is cited as the primary exponent of "the new symphonism", the contemporary revival of the traditional symphonic score.

Stanley Kubrick is singled out as as the director who "engaged most thoroughly and influentially with classical music". Most famously, Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathrustra became "inextricably associated with outer space in the popular imagination" after Kubrick used it in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In an uncharacteristic digression, Cooke dismisses Eyes Wide Shut as a "dreary sex melodrama that quickly collapses under the weight of its own pretensions". (He overlooks Eyes Wide Shut's subversion of Kubrick's penchant for classical compositions, when an apparently non-diagetic Shostakovich waltz is interrupted by switching off a diagetic hi-fi.)

The book's subheadings contain some unfortunate neologisms, such as "postlude" (the opposite of 'prelude') and "glocal" (a combination of 'global' and 'local'); and the odd choice of cover photo (Jaws 3D) was presumably a compromise because the publisher couldn't get the rights to the original Jaws. But with full coverage of Hollywood films, and a uniquely international scope, A History Of Film Music is the history of film music.

"Acts of the prime minister
that are unconstitutional..."

It seems increasingly likely that Yingluck Shinawatra will become the third prime minister affiliated with Thaksin Shinawatra to be disqualified by the Constitutional Court. (Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat were both dismissed in 2008. The Court disqualified Thaksin himself in 2007, though he had already been removed by a military coup.)

Twenty-seven senators signed a petition asking the Constitutional Court to rule on Yingluck's removal of Thawil Pliensri as head of the National Security Council. The Court accepted the petition yesterday, and Yingluck now has fifteen days to defend herself against a charge of violating the constitution. Thawil claims that his transfer "involves acts of the prime minister that are unconstitutional".

Yingluck demoted Thawil in 2011, replacing him with the chief of police, then appointed Priewpan Damapong as the new police chief. Thawil was secretary of CRES (the Council for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation which launched the military massacre in 2010), and Priewpan is Thaksin's brother-in-law, thus the Court petition argues that Thawil's replacement was politically motivated. The constitution prohibits "the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer... of a Government official" if such action is performed "for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party" (article 266).

If the Constitutional Court found Yingluck guilty, she would automatically face dismissal as Prime Minister. This scenario is highly likely, as the Central Administrative Court has already ruled that Thawil's replacement was unconstitutional. That verdict was upheld last month by the Supreme Administrative Court, and Thawil has now been reinstated to comply with the forty-five day deadline imposed by the Court.

The constitution states that, if a prime minister leaves office, the new PM must be a member of parliament: "The Prime Minister shall be a member of the House of Representatives" (article 171). Furthermore, the prime minister must be selected by a majority parliamentary vote: "the appointment of a person as Prime Minister shall be passed by the votes of more than one-half of the total number of the existing members of the House of Representatives" (article 172). If a majority vote is not reached within thirty days, "the person who has received the highest votes" must be selected (article 173). However, the Constitutional Court's nullification of the election means that a prime minister cannot be proposed or voted for, as there are no sitting MPs.

The PAD and PDRC have both called for a royally-appointed prime minister, citing article seven of the constitution, though article seven merely affirms "the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State". In fact, the King unequivocally ruled out an appointed prime minister in 2006: "Article seven does not empower the King to make a unilateral decision... If the King made a decision, he would overstep his duty and it would be undemocratic".

The status of the caretaker cabinet would also be in question following the Prime Minister's dismissal. According to the constitution, the cabinet must remain until the next parliament is in place: "The outgoing Council of Ministers shall remain in office for performing duties until the newly appointed Council of Ministers takes office" (article 181). However, the constitution also states that the cabinet must resign following the prime minister's dismissal: "Ministers vacate office en masse upon... the termination of ministership of the Prime Minister" (section 180).

The Constitutional Court is likely to be one of the primary arbiters in these cases, and in the absence of legal precedents, much will depend on the Court's own interpretation of the constitution. Ominously, the Court's recent judgements have been questionable and arguably biased. It declared the election illegal on 21st March despite having declared it legal on 12th February; and it ruled that the election could be postponed, citing the 2006 election as a precedent, though the 2006 election was not postponed.

Yingluck is not the only prime minister to be found guilty of inappropriately transferring government officials. Abhisit Vejjajiva has been convicted of two such cases: he demoted Piraphon Tritasawit in 2009, and ignored the Administrative Court's verdict requiring reinstatement; and the Court ruled last month that Abhisit's 2009 dismissal of Patcharawat Wongsuwan was also unlawful. However, neither case reached the Constitutional Court, unlike Yingluck's transfer of Thawil.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


Language!: 500 Years Of The Vulgar Tongue
Language!: 500 Years Of The Vulgar Tongue is a history of slang written by Jonathon Green. The book is organised thematically, with chapters on slang topics (crime, sex, and sport), the development of slang in Anglophone territories (Australia and America), and the slang subsets of various minorities and subcultures (Cockney, teenage, gay, and African-American). As Green writes in his preface, the book tells "the story of the language, its development and proliferation".

There are also chapters on slang lexicography, a subject that Green first covered in Chasing The Sun. Green himself is a leading slang lexicographer: his Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang was a worthy successor to Eric Partridge's Dictionary Of Slang & Unconventional English, and his exhaustive Green's Dictionary Of Slang is the definitive slang dictionary.

For its American edition, Language! has been retitled The Vulgar Tongue: Green's History Of Slang. Green's previous books include The Encyclopedia Of Censorship, All Dressed Up, Getting Off At Gateshead, and Slang Down The Ages (which, like Language!, charts the development of slang's major themes, though with less historical context). His essay on the adjective 'cuntal' appeared in the journal SEx [sic], and he has contributed to various TV documentaries including Without Walls: Expletives Deleted.

The Public Enemy

The Public Enemy
The Public Enemy, directed by William Wellman, is one of the greatest and most influential of the early gangster films. It was released only a few months after Little Caesar, though it has aged much better than that earlier film.

The public enemy of the title is Tom Powers, played by James Cagney in his breakthrough performance. The film established Cagney as the archetypal gangster star, and as the most electrifying actor of the 1930s. The intensity of his performance is startling even now. He would later star in Angels With Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties, and the pinnacle of the gangster genre, White Heat.

The film begins with the childhoods of Tom Powers and his friend Matt Doyle, as they graduate from petty theft to organised crime; GoodFellas and The Departed begin with similar flashback sequences. One scene, in which Powers robs a gun shop using one of the shopkeeper's own guns, was imitated in The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. The film's most famous moment, though, is when Powers shoves half a grapefruit into his girlfriend's face, an act that's been parodied many times since (for example, in Some Like It Hot).

Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, both released by Warner Bros., initiated a cycle of gangster films and confirmed social realism as the predominant Warner studio style. The gangster film was one of several cycles that began in the 1930s: horror (Dracula and Frankenstein), musical (42nd Street), western (Stagecoach), and comedy (It Happened One Night) genres were all re-established for the sound era. (Thomas Schatz discusses this in his book Hollywood Genres.)

The Public Enemy was a pre-Code film, and not subject to the strict censorship imposed by the Hays Code in 1934. The film's attitude to sex is therefore surprisingly frank: unmarried couples are seen sharing hotel rooms, which was deemed unacceptable by the censors just a few years later. The film's final scene is also utterly uncompromising, a bleak and powerful ending that would be considered shocking even today.