Friday, 30 October 2015

The Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour

The Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour
The Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour
The Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour, a travelling exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Coke bottle, arrived at Bangkok's EmQuartier mall yesterday, and runs until 5th November. The exhibition's subtitle, Inspiring Pop Culture For 100 Years, has three different meanings: the brand is part of pop (i.e. popular) culture, Coke is fizzy pop (in the UK), and the bottle was depicted by several Pop artists.

Visitors enter the exhibition in groups of twenty, with a tour guide who gives an introduction in the first room. (He emphasises that a work by the "famous artist Andy Warhol" is included; later, as I'm looking at the Warhol piece, another guide reminds me that it's by "famous artist Andy Warhol".) In the next room, twenty complimentary Coke bottles are arranged on illuminated plinths, one per visitor. Another tour guide then introduces a short video. Then, in the main gallery, visitors can finally explore the rest of the exhibition independently.

Many of the exhibits are interactive, though there are also posters, prints, and sculptures inspired by the Coke bottle. At least two of these are mislabelled, however. Peter Blake's Summer Days is labelled as a collage, though it's actually a silkscreen print. Eduardo Paolozzi's Refreshing & Delicious is labelled as a 1949 collage, though it's actually a 1972 lithograph. It seems likely that they were labelled incorrectly to make them appear more 'original' than they really are.

The glass bottle, contoured to distinguish it from Coke's competitors, was patented in 1915. It was designed by a team from the Root Glass Company, including Alexander Samuelson and Earl Dean. (The design was inspired by the shape of the coca bean, a 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica illustration of which is included in the exhibition.) The bottle has since become an icon of packaging design, and is included in Phaidon Design Classics (#109).

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Unlawful Killing

Unlawful Killing
Unlawful Killing, directed by Keith Allen, is a documentary that seeks to expose a cover-up surrounding the inquest into Princess Diana's death: as Allen says in his voice-over narration, it is "the inquest of the inquest". The film was funded by Mohamed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi was killed in the same car crash as Diana. He believes that Diana and Dodi were murdered by the British Royal Family, and the film perpetuates this conspiracy theory.

The film's narration includes a series of generalisations about "the establishment", alleging that "there were an awful lot of people who wanted Diana, and her Muslim lover, dead." The only real evidence for this is a note supposedly written by Diana in 1993 to her butler, Paul Burrell: "my husband is planning "an accident" in my car... in order to make the path clear for him to marry Tiggy. Camilla is nothing but a decoy". While this seems prescient, it's also paranoid and illogical: Charles was free to remarry after their divorce, and in fact he married Camilla Parker-Bowles rather than Tiggy Legge-Bourke.

Diana made similar comments to her lawyer, Victor Mischon, who made a note of their conversation. The documentary highlights the phrase "her being or life was threatened" from Mischon's note, though it doesn't highlight the next sentence: "I frankly could not believe that what I was hearing was credible."

Diana's campaign against land mines is presented as a possible motive for her murder: "Many investigators believe that this is the real reason Diana was killed." The film's argument is that Diana was murdered shortly before the 1997 treaty banning land mines was signed, because Bill Clinton would have supported the ban had Diana lived, and the 'establishment' wanted to sabotage the treaty. Again, this is illogical, because Diana's death actually increased calls for a ban, as the BBC reported at the time: "The Princess's death re-focused attention on the issue, and pushed governments to take action to show that they were serious about banning landmines."

The documentary accuses the media of "seriously misreporting the verdict" of the inquest, as the media reported that the inquest blamed the paparazzi for Diana's death. However, the documentary itself also significantly misrepresents the verdict. At the inquest, the jury foreman stated: "The crash was caused or contributed to by the speed and manner of driving of the Mercedes, the speed and manner of driving of the following vehicles, the impairment of the judgment of the driver of the Mercedes through alcohol." The film quotes only three words - "the following vehicles" - from this verdict, and thus omits any reference to the culpability of Diana's driver.

The most controversial and implausible claims in the documentary involve Prince Philip: al-Fayed discusses "Prince Philip's Nazi background" and argues that the Royal Family are "racist". Allen repeats these statements in his narration, demonstrating that his film is merely a reflection of al-Fayed's agenda. Allen interviews psychologist Oliver James, who describes Philip as a "psychopath" despite never having met him. The voice-over states that Philip "grew up in Germany" and "studied for a while under the Nazi curriculum". In fact, he spent less than a year in Germany, and an individual pupil can hardly be held responsible for the national curriculum.

The film was shown at several trade screenings in 2011, though it has never received commercial distribution as it would require numerous cuts for legal reasons. (These are largely due to potential libels against Prince Philip.) Its only real significance is that it includes the infamous photograph of Diana at the scene of the car crash.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015


Paparazzi! is the catalogue of an exhibition held last year in Paris. (Famously, the term 'paparazzo' was coined by Federico Fellini for his film La Dolce Vita.) Edited by Clement Cheroux (author of Henri Cartier-Bresson: Here & Now and a supplement to The Decisive Moment), the book features interviews with paparazzi photographers, images of the most-photographed celebrities, and examples of paparazzi photographs appropriated by contemporary art (hence the subtitle: Photographers, Stars, Artists).

In the interview chapter, veteran paparazzo Ron Galella discusses Windblown Jackie, his famous portrait of Jackie Onassis, calling it "my most sensational photo... my best photo - the most incredible, my favorite, the most sold, and the most published. It is my Mona Lisa." The book also includes nude photographs of Onassis taken by Settimio Garritano, though its most notorious photo is perhaps a 1962 image of Elizabeth Taylor kissing Richard Burton, by Marcello Geppetti.

In his introductory essay, Cheroux identifies the paparazzi style: "there exists perhaps not a paparazzi art but a paparazzi aesthetic. This is the product of a group of technical determinants (the telephoto lens, the flash, the grain due to excessive enlargement)... and gestural habits (the hand in front of the face, the surprised look or averted gaze)." He concludes by recognising the significance of this paparazzi aesthetic: "Today, paparazzism has become a genre, a full-fledged stylistic category, and perhaps even one of the "-isms" of contemporary art."

Paparazzi photographs are often the subject of legal dispute (such as the recent lawsuits against Closer by Kate Middleton and Julie Gayet), and the book discusses the privacy implications of long-lens photography. This is starkly illustrated by a series of images of celebrities photographed on their deathbeds, in open caskets, or at the scenes of fatal accidents. These include the notorious photo of Princess Diana after her car crash, and its inclusion in this book marks its first appearance in print in the UK.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Cinema Scarehouse

A Week Of Scares
The Shining
Bangkok's Cinema Winehouse is showing a season of horror double bills in the week before Halloween. Cinema Scarehouse: A Week Of Scares begins tomorrow, and includes a screening of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining on Halloween night (31st October).

Friday, 23 October 2015

An Anthology Of Decorated Papers

An Anthology Of Decorated Papers
An Anthology Of Decorated Papers: A Sourcebook For Designers, by PJM Marks, includes more than 200 examples of marbled, pasted, brocaded, block-printed, and lithographed sheets of ornamental paper. Most examples are taken from the Olga Hirsch collection at the British Library in London, though the book's historical introduction also includes illustrations from other sources.

Each decorating technique has its own chapter, and the decorations are stunningly reproduced in colour, with many full-page, full-bleed images. Japanese block-printing (chiyogami) and stencilling (katagami and katazome) are included, alongside European, Chinese, and American papers. The book itself is beautifully designed, with marbled boards and a decorated, multi-layered paper jacket. (Graphic Design Before Graphic Designers, also published by Thames & Hudson, has a similar jacket and also includes examples of printed ephemera.)

Marbling (Phoebe Jane Easton) was the first comprehensive study of marbled paper. Washi includes reproductions of decorated Japanese paper. The Papered Wall (Lesley Hoskins) and 20th Century Pattern Design discuss wallpaper patterns. Ornament (Stuart Durant) is a history of modern decoration. The classic studies of decorative motifs are The Grammar Of Ornament (Owen Jones) and L'Ornement Polychrome (Auguste Racinet; reprinted as The World Of Ornament).

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

'Finland Plot'

Today, the Supreme Court upheld a previous ruling by the Criminal Court against Manager Daily columnist Pramote Nakornthap. Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra sued Pramote for libel in 2006 after Manager published a series of articles concerning a so-called 'Finland Plot', which the newspaper alleged was a republican conspiracy orchestrated by Thaksin. No evidence of such a conspiracy has ever been uncovered.

Pramote's articles were part of a campaign by Manager owner Sondhi Limthongkul to discredit Thaksin by questioning his loyalty to the monarchy. Sondhi was one of the leaders of the PAD yellow-shirt movement, organising street protests against Thai Rak Thai and provoking the army into staging a coup.

Pramote was found guilty of libel by the Criminal Court in 2009, and given a one-year prison sentence which was suspended for two years. The verdict and sentence were upheld by the Appeals Court in 2013, and confirmed again by the Supreme Court this afternoon. (Earlier this year, Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra also sued Manager Daily, after it printed an article satirising his remarks about potential flooding in Bangkok.)


Saturday, 17 October 2015

อย่าจองเวรจองกรรม ซึ่งกันและกันเลย

อย่าจองเวรจองกรรม ซึ่งกันและกันเลย
อย่าจองเวรจองกรรม ซึ่งกันและกันเลย
Film director Kanittha Kwunyoo took part in a discussion about censorship and artistic freedom earlier today at BACC in Bangkok. อย่าจองเวรจองกรรม ซึ่งกันและกันเลย was held in response to the banning of Kanittha's new film Karma. BACC organised two similar events in 2013: Freedom On Film (a seminar on film censorship) and งานมอบรางวัลหนังน่าจะแบน (a festival of films that tested the limits of Thai censorship).

Kanittha revealed that she had received abusive messages from some monks who hoped that she would die. She explained that, following the ban, she had cut three minutes from the film, and that this shortened version had been passed by the censor.

The film was released in cinemas yesterday, though the Thai title was altered from อาบัติ to อาปัติ. According to Kanittha, she was required to change the title, as the film could not be released with the same name under which it was previously banned. (Other Thai films have also had their titles changed for censorship reasons: the horror film ก๋วยเตี๋ยว เนื้อ คน was re-titled เชือด ก่อน ชิม to avoid damaging the Thai meatball industry!)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Bangkok Post

Bangkok Post
The Bangkok Post has revealed that it was contacted by the Ministry of Information & Communication Technology earlier today, regarding an article by Wassana Nanuam. According to the Post, the Ministry requested the newspaper's co-operation in removing the article, and the Post complied. Consequently, the article has been deleted from the Post's website.

The article highlighted the rivalry between Udomdej Sitabutr (the former army commander) and Theerachai Nakwanich (Udomdej's successor). Wassana has well-placed military sources, so the story is credible. In fact, she has written several similar articles in the Post recently, describing the generals' rivalry in stronger terms, though MICT did not ask for their removal.

The deleted article was presumably singled out because it revealed the extent of the army's wasteful spending. The story noted that camouflage uniforms ordered by Udomdej had been scrapped by Theerachai, even though "half the army's soldiers have been issued the new suits costing 2,000 baht each." (According to those figures, the total cost of the uniforms could be almost half a billion baht.)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015


Karma, a horror film directed by Kanittha Kwunyoo, is the latest film to be banned in Thailand. Its theatrical release was scheduled for this Thursday, with a press screening planned for tomorrow, though the Ministry of Culture announced today that the film could not be shown. Five other Thai films are also currently banned: Boundary (banned, then released, then prohibited by the military junta this year), Insects In The Back Yard, This Area Is Under Quarantine, and Shakespeare Must Die.

According to the censors, Karma was banned due to the 'inappropriate' behaviour of its main character, a novice monk: he has a potentially romantic relationship with a girl, and he is depicted drinking alcohol, fighting, and smoking. The censors were particularly concerned about a scene in which a monk rolls a cigarette - as the tobacco could be mistaken for cannabis - and a scene in which a Buddha statue is lifted up by its head.

The censor's over-reaction to such innocuous material recalls the case of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes & A Century. Thai censors felt that playing frisbee and guitar were inappropriate activities for a monk, and insisted that these sequences be removed. Apichatpong launched the Free Thai Cinema Movement in response, and eventually released his film with silent leader footage in place of the cut scenes, to highlight the censorship.

Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Headshot was also censored for its depiction of monks, though this time the censorship was more subtle. In one sequence, 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 with a gun. Pen-ek told me in an interview that the effect of censoring the gun was counter-productive: showing an empty bowl made the man look more like a real monk, thus his actions seemed even more shocking. (Shadow Of The Naga features similarly contentious scenes, and was shelved for two years before its Thai release; and Parkpoom Wongpoom was required to add a disclaimer to his student film Luang Ta, in which a monk feigns disability to obtain donations.)

Representation of monks has long been a sensitive subject in Thailand. Vasan Sitthiket's painting Buddha Returns To Bangkok (1992) caused protests as it depicts monks raping women, and his ตัวใครตัวมันนะโยม (2011) depicts two monks fighting and having sex. There were also demonstrations in protest at Anupong Chantorn's Perceptless (2007), a painting of monks with beaks. His Hope In The Dark (2009) has a similar theme, and his Moral Boundary (2010) depicts a monk with an erect phallus. Withit Sembutr's Doo Phra, a painting of monks crowding around an amulet-seller, was withdrawn from a Bangkok exhibition in 2007.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Enter The Void

Jam Cine Club
Enter The Void
Bangkok's Jam Cafe will be screening Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void on 14th October, as part of its weekly Jam Cine Club event. The Memento Mori? exhibition is also currently on show at Jam, until 23rd October.

1001 Movies
You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Steven Jay Schneider's 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die has been updated for 2015. The cover of the hardback edition features a collage of classic film posters, while the paperback version follows the format of recent editions with a still from a new film (Birdman). The tenth anniversary edition was substantially revised, though this year's edition (as in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014) substitutes only a handful of recent films.

There are ten new entries this year: Ida, Under The Skin, Citizenfour, Leviathan, Boyhood, Birdman, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Whiplash, The Theory Of Everything, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Therefore, ten films have also been deleted: The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, Gomorrah, The White Ribbon, The Kid With A Bike, Blancanieves, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, A Touch Of Sin, and (inexplicably) The Tree Of Life.


Radio Times Guide To Films 2016

The Radio Times Film & Video Guide (edited by Derek Winnert in 1993, though subsequently withdrawn for plagiarism) was the first film guide I ever bought. More than twenty years later, the Radio Times Guide To Films is now the only annual film guide available. Its last remaining competitor, Leonard Maltin's film guide, ceased publication last year; VideoHound is still in production, though it's restricted to films released on video. (The Virgin Film Guide was last published in 2005, Halliwell's Film Guide in 2008, and the Time Out Film Guide in 2012.)

Instead of scaling back on print in favour of online content, this year's Radio Times Guide To Films (edited by Sue Robinson) is even bigger than last year's, with almost fifty extra pages. The new sixteenth edition includes reviews of 24,027 films, a substantial increase compared to the 23,099 last year, 23,077 in 2013, and 23,068 in 2012. Unlike previous editions, older entries have not been deleted to make room for new ones, though previews of forthcoming films still appear: of the 502 new entries, more than 100 are previews (including Blade Runner II, which is still in pre-production).

Like other recent editions, this year's cover - a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor - again indicates that the Radio Times Guide To Films is aimed at an older demographic, an audience less likely to use online film resources. (Personally, I prefer the Jaws cover from last year.) New entries this year include Interstellar ("this majestic film retains a human heart") and The Interview ("naughty, dumb and patchily funny"), and the "hugely entertaining, refreshingly subversive" Whiplash receives five stars.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Art Of Typewriting

The Art Of Typewriting
Vista de la Catedral i el Pia de la Seu
The Art Of Typewriting, by Marvin and Ruth Sackner, is the first truly comprehensive survey of typewriter art. It has a foreword by Steven Heller (author of Illustration, amongst many other books on graphic design), and begins with an excellent history of typewriter art. It's an especially well-designed book: each copy has a different cover design - mine is Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt's Introverse, also reproduced on page 162 - and it includes a bookmark that resembles a typewriter ribbon.

A taxonomy of typewritten artworks, comprising more than 200 full-page plates (mainly, though not entirely, from the Sackners' archive), is followed by illustrated biographies of key typewriter artists. The book contains numerous examples of typewritten concrete poems and 'poesia visiva' (visual poetry), though it doesn't differentiate between these two overlapping styles; instead, the authors coin the umbrella term "typed artpoe" (a combination of 'art' and 'poetry').

Barrie Tullett's similar Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology was published only last year, though The Art Of Typewriting is far superior: it's twice as long, and it includes a bibliography. Tullett makes only passing references to pioneers of typewriter art such as Julius Nelson, Paul Smith, and Montserrat Alberich (and omits George Flanagan), though The Art Of Typewriting includes multiple illustrations of their works. The most impressive is Alberich's incredible typewritten picture of a cathedral, an image supplied by the Museu d'Historia de Barcelona.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Memento Mori?

Memento Mori?
Momento Mori?
Memento Mori?
Memento Mori?
Memento Mori? (misprinted as Momento Mori? on the poster) opened at Bangkok's Jam Cafe on 25th September and runs until 23rd October. The exhibition consists of images of dead animals (mostly small birds and reptiles), photographed by Dhanainun Dhanarachwattana, and each photograph is displayed behind a black wooden shutter.

Approaching each of the twenty-six boxes creates a sense of both anticipation and trepidation: what unfortunate creature will be behind the next door? The coffin-like boxes, dead flowers, and velvet drapes blocking out any daylight create an appropriately funereal atmosphere.


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

30,000 Years Of Art

30,000 Years Of Art
The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living
30,000 Years Of Art: The Story Of Human Creativity Across Time & Space, published by Phaidon in 2007, featured 1,000 artworks from cave paintings to conceptual art. Each work was illustrated by a full-page, colour photograph, and accompanied by a few paragraphs of explanatory text. Other Phaidon books based on the same format include The Art Book, The Photography Book, The Design Book, The Pot Book, and The 20th Century Art Book.

The second edition of 30,000 Years Of Art, published this week, includes an additional twenty-five contemporary artworks, thus it has better coverage of the 1990s and 2000s. (Damien Hirst's iconic shark, The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, is one of the additions.) However, almost 400 entries have been removed from the new edition, leaving a new total of 600 works. With its bright yellow cover, it resembles a slightly smaller volume of Phaidon Design Classics.

Phaidon's The Art Museum and Art In Time are also profusely illustrated art surveys. The Story Of Art (by EH Gombrich; also published by Phaidon), A World History Of Art (by John Fleming and Hugh Honour), and Art Through The Ages (by Helen Gardner) are the best single-volume art histories.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Je Suis Charlie

The new documentary Je Suis Charlie is a profile of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in the aftermath of the terrorist attack against it this January. The film was co-directed by Daniel Leconte (who also made a previous authorised Charlie Hebdo documentary, "C'est dur d'etre aime par des cons") and his son, Emmanuel.

The documentary includes interviews with most of the editorial staff who survived the attack, with the exception of Renald Luzier (known as Luz). Luzier drew a defiant Mohammed cover illustration only a week after the murders, though he recently announced that he is leaving Charlie Hebdo.

(One of the original 2005 Mohammed cartoons was reprinted last month. Kurt Westergaard's caricature, first published by Jyllands-Posten, was reprinted by the Chinese newspaper Global Times on 28th September.)