Thursday, 28 February 2019

Thailand Casino

Thailand Casino
Y Card
Beautiful 6th Oct
Anonymous street artist Headache Stencil's exhibition Thailand Casino opened on 24th February at WTF Gallery, and runs until 31st March. It includes Beautiful 6th Oct, a stencil of the vigilante from Neal Ulevich's famous photograph showing the lynching of a student on 6th October 1976. Most provocatively, "Y" Card depicts the king of spades playing card with the face of coup leader and current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The exhibition's centrepiece is an installation featuring busts of Prayut and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra playing a high-stakes poker game for the future of Thailand. The installation is replete with symbolic references to the country's political, royal, and military power structures. Prayut is concealing the four of clubs and four of spades, a reference to his unlimited authority under article 44. The cards on the table include the nine of clubs (Rama IX) and ten of hearts (Rama X).

Behind Thaksin's bust is 8th Feb '19, a calendar marking the extraordinary day when one of Thaksin's proxy parties nominated Prince Ubolratana as its candidate for prime minister in the upcoming election. Prayut's backdrop is a map of Thailand featuring the word โกง ('cheat'). Merchandise on sale at the gallery includes the election campaign slogan "STOP DICTATORSHIP", though as the exhibition makes clear, the game is rigged: while Thaksin has more chips (indicating his personal wealth), Prayut has numerous hidden cards.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

"contemptuous by reason of
it scandalising the Court..."

Herald Sun
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in the state of Victoria, Australia, has written to dozens of journalists, accusing them of contempt of court in relation to the trial of George Pell, a former Catholic archbishop accused of child abuse. Pell was convicted of five counts on 11th December last year, though the guilty verdict could not be reported by Australian media due to a gagging order imposed to prevent coverage potentially prejudicing a subsequent trial.

The reporting restrictions effectively amounted to a superinjunction, as even the existence of the gagging order could not be reported. On the day after Pell's conviction, the Sun Herald newspaper ran the banner headline "CENSORED" on its front page, describing the case in general terms as "a very important story that is relevant to Victorians." Similarly, other news outlets referred to the conviction of a high-profile figure on unspecified charges.

The restrictions were lifted yesterday, after Pell's second trial was dismissed, though DPP Kerri Judd warned journalists that they faced "substantial imprisonment" for contempt. In letters to individual reporters, she claimed that indirect coverage of the case had "a definite and real tendency to interfere with the administration of justice and therefore constitutes sub judice contempt, is contemptuous by reason of it scandalising the Court, and aided and abetted contempts by overseas media".

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Wonder Women

Wonder Women
By the Time It Gets Dark
The Island Funeral
To celebrate International Women's Day on 8th March, the Thai Film Archive will be showing a month of movies from female directors. The Wonder Women (เมื่อผู้หญิงทำหนัง) season's highlights are the first and last days' screenings: Kanittha Kwunyoo's Karma (อาบัติ) on 1st March, and Anocha Suwichakornpong's By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and Pimpaka Towira's The Island Funeral (มหาสมุทรและสุสาน) on 31st March. All screenings are free.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Clouzot Retrospective

Clouzot Retrospective
The Mystery of Picasso
The Wages of Fear
Several venues have teamed up to organise a season of films directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. The Clouzot Retrospective begins on 5th March and runs until 17th March, and includes his documentary The Mystery of Picasso (Le mystère Picasso), his suspense thriller The Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur), and his horror classic Diabolique (Les diaboliques).

The Mystery of Picasso will be shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on 10th March. It will have an extended run at Warehouse 30's Doc Club Theater, screening on 8th, 10th, 14th, 16th, 19th, 22nd, 25th, 29th, and 31st March; 1st, 5th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 25th, and 29th April; and 3rd and 10th May. (It played last week at Smalls, and in 2013 at TCDC.) The Wages of Fear will be screened on 9th March at two venues: the Thai Film Archive and Cinema Oasis. (It was also shown at the Archive last year, and at Alliance Française in 2017.) Diabolique is at the Thai Film Archive on 10th March and at Bangkok Screening Room on 13th March. (It was screened at Alliance Française last year.)

Tuesday, 19 February 2019


The Nation
Yesterday, army chief General Apirat Kongsompong invoked arguably the darkest period in Thailand's history when he recommended a song associated with violence and intolerance. At a press conference, Apirat was asked to comment on the Pheu Thai party's manifesto pledge to reduce military spending after the 24th March election. In response, he said that they should listen to หนักแผ่นดิน ('burden of the land'). He then issued an order for military radio stations to play the song, though the directive was rescinded shortly afterwards.

หนักแผ่นดิน, composed by Boonsong Hakritsuk in 1975, denounces anyone not affirming their loyalty to the nation, religion, and monarchy as traitorous 'scum of the earth'. The ultranationalist song fomented anti-Communist violence when it was repeatedly broadcast in the days before 6th October 1976. It was the anthem of the Village Scouts, a paramilitary group that stormed Thammasat University on 6th October. Forty-six students were killed by paramilitary and state forces, and their corpses were desecrated by a baying mob.

The song was also the theme tune to a film of the same name, directed by Sombat Methanee in 1977. The Village Scouts are the heroes in this anti-Communist propaganda movie. (Rachel V. Harrison discusses this and similar films in a chapter of Cultures at War.) Apirat's invocation of หนักแผ่นดิน despite (or because of) its incendiary legacy sends a disturbing signal that the army has barely changed in the past forty years. (Apirat's father, General Sunthorn, led the coup that resulted in the 1992 'Black May' massacre. The apple didn't fall far from the tree.)

Thunska Pansittivorakul's documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล) examines the nationalist fervour stoked by state propaganda such as หนักแผ่นดิน. In one sequence, filmed at a recent Village Scout ceremony, the Scouts all pledge to defend the monarchy. Cut to: historical footage of Village Scouts attacking the students on 6th October. In Planetarium, Chulayarnnon Siriphol's segment of Ten Years Thailand, a fictional leader and her minions all wear Scout uniforms, in an echo of the Village Scouts: in Chulayarnnon's dystopian vision, the entire country has been taken over by this royalist militia.

Apirat's resurrection of such a divisive song has overshadowed the issue of military spending that Pheu Thai highlighted. As The Nation reveals today, the military's budget has increased by almost a quarter since the 2014 coup. Much of this money has been spent on sophisticated equipment that is entirely redundant, as the Thai army's primary specialisms seem to be massacring Thai civilians and launching coups. (Paul Chambers and Napisa Waitoolkiat discuss military expenditure and corruption in Khaki Capital.)

"Such action must be
deemed transgression..."

8th February was one of the most extraordinary days in Thailand's political history. That morning, in the first of the day's unprecedented developments, the Thai Raksa Chart party formally nominated Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for prime minister ahead of the 24th March election.

The nomination caused an immediate sensation, as it indicated an apparent deal between Ubolratana (and, by extension, the royal family) and Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is loathed by Thai royalists, and Ubolratana's association with Thai Raksa Chart, a party linked to Thaksin, caused profound shock. Prime Minister and coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha had long been expected to contest the election himself, and Ubolratana's nomination immediately put his political ambitions in doubt.

The junta's constitution allows the military to appoint all 250 members of the Senate, gives senators the right to vote for the prime minister, and permits a non-politician (namely, Prayut) to be PM. With 250 votes from the Senate, Prayut would require only 126 additional votes from the 500 elected MPs. The constitution also introduced a proportional representation system, seemingly designed to prevent a single party (namely, Thaksin's Pheu Thai) from achieving a landslide.

Parties controlled by Thaksin have won every election since 2001. The 2006 and 2014 coups were both launched with the express purpose of eradicating his influence, though Pheu Thai remains one of the main contenders in the upcoming election. Thai Raksa Chart, led by former Pheu Thai politicians backed by Thaksin, was created as part of a pincer movement: a potential Pheu Thai and Thai Raksa Chart coalition that could subvert the constitution's restrictions on an absolute Pheu Thai majority.

Even if Thaksin's strategy succeeded, the Senate votes would almost certainly ensure that Prayut remained PM. Hence the remarkable nomination of Princess Ubolratana: Thaksin recognised that only a royal nominee could defeat Prayut. (Ubolratana is not technically a member of the royal family, as she became a commoner in 1972 in order to marry an American. After their divorce, she resumed her royal engagements, albeit without a formal title.)

At first, the bombshell announcement seemed like a masterstroke. However, by the evening, it looked more like an act of desperation. King Vajiralongkorn, Ubolratana's brother, issued a written statement confirming his unequivocal disapproval of her nomination: "Any attempt to involve a high-level member of the Royal Family in the political process - by whatever means, would be tantamount to breaching time-honoured royal traditions, customs and national culture. Such action must be deemed transgression and most inappropriate."

The King's intervention was as unprecedented and unexpected as Ubolratana's. In addition to instantly terminating the nomination, it publicly signalled that Thaksin remained persona non grata. (The statement also noted that legal immunity, constitutionally granted only to the King, could be extended at his discretion: "Such provisions should no doubt apply to the Queen, the heir to the throne, and those members of the Royal Family close to the person of the Monarch".)

Following the King's statement, the Election Commission recommended that the Constitutional Court dissolve Thai Raksa Chart. The Court is currently considering the case, though it has previously dissolved two other parties run by Thaksin (Thai Rak Thai and the People Power Party).

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Mystery of Picasso

The Mystery of Picasso
The Mystery of Picasso
Henri-Georges Clouzot's documentary The Mystery of Picasso (Le mystère Picasso) will be shown on 17th February at Smalls. The screening, on the rooftop of the Bangkok bar, is free of charge. The documentary was previously shown at TCDC, and Clouzot also directed the classic suspense thriller Les diaboliques.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

World Class Cinema

World Class Cinema
The Seventh Seal
Some Like It Hot
The Thai Film Archive's World Class Cinema season continues this year with Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) on 17th March, and Billy Wilder's classic comedy Some Like It Hot on 16th June. As in 2017 and 2018, screenings will take place at Bangkok's Scala cinema.

Monday, 4 February 2019

BKKSR Cinémathèque

The 400 Blows
This week, Bangkok Screening Room is launching BKKSR Cinémathèque, a monthly programme of classic French films. The inaugural film is François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups), showing on 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th, and 17th February.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

"The secret life of Melania..."

The Telegraph Magazine
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph has paid "substantial damages" to Melania Trump in settlement of a defamation lawsuit filed by the First Lady last week. The newspaper printed a correction on 26th January (on page two), apologising for "a number of false statements which we accept should not have been published."

The lawsuit relates to the cover story from The Telegraph Magazine, published on 19th January. The article, by Nina Burleigh, appeared on pages fourteen to twenty, and was based on her book Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump's Women, which was released in the US last year. (The book's publishers avoided a lawsuit, as American libel law requires proof of 'actual malice', a high bar intended to protect freedom of speech.)

The article was reprinted by the Irish Sunday Independent on 20th January, on page twenty. It has since been deleted from the Telegraph and Independent's websites, and is "suppressed for editorial and/or legal reasons" on the PressReader digital archive.

Ironically, following the Telegraph's retraction, Burleigh has also filed a defamation case against the newspaper, claiming that its apology damaged her journalistic reputation. Yesterday, in a letter to the Telegraph Media Group (TMG), her lawyer argued that "fear of Mrs Trump's lawyer Mr Harder, "the Gawker slayer", caused TMG to capitulate abjectly". This is a reference to Charles Harder, who represented Hulk Hogan in a privacy lawsuit that bankrupted the Gawker website. Harder also won $3 million in damages from the Daily Mail in a previous Melania Trump defamation case.


Friday, 1 February 2019


Bencharong: Chinese Porcelain for Siam, by Thai ceramics expert Dawn F. Rooney, is a guide to Bencharong, enamelled Chinese porcelain made for export to Thailand. As the author writes in her preface, it's the first book to provide a general survey of Bencharong porcelain: "Bencharong as an art form has received little attention and few details about its origins, production, and symbolism have been published. This book addresses that gap."

The first chapter is a largely unnecessary account of Thailand's early development and Sino-Thai relations. Chapter two describes the origins of Bencharong, and chapter three explains the technical aspects of its production. The book's main interest lies in chapters four, five, and six: illustrated examples of a wide range of Bencharong decorative motifs and objects, with extended captions.