Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Thailand’s Movie Theatres

Thailand's Movie Theatres
Thailand’s Movie Theatres: Relics, Ruins and the Romance of Escape features photographs of more than fifty vintage Thai cinemas. The book, by Philip Jablon, also includes a brief history of film exhibition in Thailand. (A Century of Thai Cinema, by Dome Sukwong, also covers Thai film exhibition, though Jablon goes into a bit more detail.)

As the book’s subtitle suggests, many of these stand-alone cinemas have been abandoned; in his preface, Kong Rithdee laments this “glorious dereliction”. Notoriously, Siam Theatre was destroyed by arsonists in 2010, a great cultural loss (as it was the first venue to draw crowds to Siam Square in downtown Bangkok), and—to add insult to injury—its demolition gave developers an ideal opportunity to build yet another shopping mall (Siam Square One). Fortunately, the Scala cinema, which Jablon calls “Bangkok’s last movie palace”, is still open for business. Others have been repurposed, such as the Prince Theatre, which was converted into an impressive movie-themed hotel.

Thailand’s Movie Theatres also examines the social history of film exhibition, profiling poster artists such as Piak Poster and voice dubbers like Sirichai Duangphatra. It includes a fascinating account of Sirichai’s dubbing of a Hollywood thriller in 1973: “He had a penchant, moreover, for using his role as dubber to address the day’s top political scandals, both at the national and local level. And corrupt politicians were his number one target. With Serpico, making political satire for Sirichai was like shooting fish in a barrel; it turned out to be his voice-over magnum opus.”

This book, however, is not the magnum opus on Thailand’s movie theatres. That label belongs to Once Upon a Celluloid Planet (สวรรค์ 35 มม.: เสน่ห์วิกหนังเมืองสยาม), by Sonthaya Subyen and Morimart Raden-Ahmad. Once Upon a Celluloid Planet is a more comprehensive guide to Thailand’s stand-alone cinemas, with multiple interior photographs of each venue. It’s also more than twice as long as Thailand’s Movie Theatres, and was published five years earlier (though the two projects were developed in parallel).

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Bangkok Screening Room

Nang Nak
The Exorcist
To celebrate Halloween, Bangkok Screening Room will be showing a season of horror films this October and November. Highlights include Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho, Nonzee Nimibutr’s Thai classic Nang Nak (นางนาก), and William Friedkin’s horror blockbuster The Exorcist.

Psycho will be screened on 29th, 30th, and 31st October; and 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th November. Nang Nak is showing on 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, and 15th October. There will be a single screening of The Exorcist, on 11th October.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Transmissions of Unwanted Pasts

Transmissions of Unwanted Pasts
In Prabda Yoon’s short film Transmissions of Unwanted Pasts (วงโคจรของความทรงจำ), the THEOS satellite malfunctions and begins transmitting images that seem inexplicable until Pang, a young engineer, discovers that they represent “many important historical events in Thailand.” The mysterious images are never shown, though Pang lists the dates that they refer to: “2014, 2010, 2008, 1992, 1976, 1973, 1932..."

Of course, those are precisely the years that Thailand’s military would like us all to forget: the 2014 coup, the 2010 red-shirt crackdown, the 2008 police violence against yellow-shirt protesters, ‘Black May’ 1992, the 6th October 1976 and 14th October 1973 massacres, and the 1932 abolition of absolute monarchy. Pang excitedly suggests that historians could use the satellite data to study these events: “They might discover many new things, things that they were previously unaware of, or things that were never documented.” But her boss has other ideas, and three soldiers destroy all the material she’s gathered.

The science-fiction dystopia of Transmissions of Unwanted Pasts is, like the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand and Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), also a comment on present-day Thailand. Like the soldiers erasing satellite images of ‘unwanted pasts’, Thailand’s successive military governments have sought to suppress discussion of these events. School history courses emphasise royalist-nationalist legends, while the secret history cited in the film is excluded from the curriculum. A plaque commemorating the 1932 revolution was removed without explanation. Bhandit Rittakol’s The Moonhunter (14 ตุลา สงครามประชาชน) describes 14th October as an event “that many would like to erase from history”.

The result of this whitewashing is a cycle of nascent democratic reforms repeatedly reset by military coups, as forgotten history is destined to repeat itself. In Prabda Yoon’s previous film, Someone from Nowhere (มา ณ ที่นี้), this cycle is symbolised by a violent argument between a condo owner and an interloper. The two figures represent military and civilian governments jostling for power, though their roles are later reversed, and they have no memory of their previous confrontation.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Madame X Tour

Madame X Tour
Madonna’s Madame X Tour began last night. Her previous world tours (Who’s That Girl, Blond Ambition, The Girlie Show, Drowned World, Reinvention, Confessions, Sticky and Sweet, MDNA, and Rebel Heart) were all held in stadiums or arenas, though Madame X is a theatre tour. This makes each concert a far more intimate experience, and Madonna interacted with the audience throughout last night’s show. She has experimented with smaller-scale performances before: she debuted her Tears of a Clown cabaret show in Melbourne and Miami in 2016, and played one night at the Paris Olympia during The MDNA Tour in 2012.

The new tour includes live performances of almost the entire Madame X album (Medellín, Dark Ballet, God Control, Future, Batuka, Killers Who Are Partying, Crave, Crazy, Come Alive, I Don't Search I Find, and Extreme Occident) and a handful of classics (Human Nature, an a cappella Express Yourself, Vogue, Papa Don’t Preach, American Life, La Isla Bonita, Frozen, and Like a Prayer). There are two cover versions (Fado Pechincha and Sodade), and the encore is I Rise.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Tropical Malady: The Book

Tropical Malady: The Book, published this month, is a deluxe facsimile of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (สัตว์ประหลาด) shooting script. The full-size reproduction includes the film’s dialogue, directions, and storyboards, all annotated by the director. In addition to the lavishly reproduced screenplay, it also features an interview with Apichatpong and a booklet of English and Japanese translations. (A different copy of the script was featured in the exhibition The Serenity of Madness.)

Internationally, Tropical Malady is one of Apichatpong’s most acclaimed films, though it had only limited distribution in Thailand. When I interviewed him in 2017, he discussed its disappointing domestic theatrical release: “I think, from Tropical Malady, there’s this issue of releasing the film, and marketing, that I don’t like. And also the studio was not interested in the film, anyway, because there’s no selling point: there’s no tiger, there’s no sex, so it’s very personal.” Tropical Malady: The Book is an attempt to raise the film’s Thai profile.

As in the novel S., simulations of various documents have been inserted between the pages: a handwritten letter (from Keng, one of the film’s protagonists), a Risograph print of a fantastically lurid comic (สมิงมนต์คนอาคม/‘possessed by a tiger’), a temple booklet (พื้นเสือสมิง/‘tiger spirit tales’), a magazine serial (นารายณ์ทรงปืน/‘Narai with a gun’), and a poster. The premium edition also comes with a sticker and tote bag, both featuring the book’s calligram logo. The book is housed in a custom cardboard box with the same design.

Tropical Malady: The Book was edited by Sonthaya Subyen and Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa. This superb tribute to one of Thailand’s greatest films is the last of Sonthaya’s Filmvirus books, a long-running series that also includes Once Upon a Celluloid Planet (สวรรค์ 35 มม.: เสน่ห์วิกหนังเมืองสยาม) and another Apichatpong Weerasethakul monograph, Unknown Forces (สัตว์วิกาล).

Monday, 9 September 2019


Roar: Sulak Sivaraksa and the Path of Socially Engaged Buddhism, by Matteo Pistono, is an authorised biography of one of Thailand’s most respected and controversial public intellectuals. The book was published in the US; it’s on sale in Thailand, though it would surely be withdrawn if government censors ever read it. It includes a quote from Sulak’s interview with the Toronto Star newspaper (published on 3rd August 2011), which Pistono accurately describes as “a statement no newspaper in Thailand has ever been willing to print for fear of lèse-majesté.”


Terminal 21
Popularity 2
Popularity 1
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Popularity 3
Paintings depicting the Buddha as Ultraman (พระพุทธรูปอุลตร้าแมน) have been removed from an exhibition in Nakhon Ratchasima. The works, part of a series titled Popularity, were put on display at the Terminal 21 shopping mall on 3rd September, though they were withdrawn following allegations of blasphemy. The exhibition, เต๊อ=เติ๋น (literal translation: ‘too much=terrace’), is scheduled to close on 11th September.

Far from being blasphemous, the paintings present the Buddha as a heroic figure for young Ultraman fans. Nevertheless, the student artist, Suparat Chaijangrid, was required to issue a tearful public apology at a Buddhist temple on 7th September. (This ritual, in which transgressors of social convention must repent and plead for forgiveness, is a regular media spectacle in Thailand.)

The case recalls that of Withit Sembutr’s painting of Buddhist monks from 2007, Doo Phra (ดูพระ), which was withdrawn from a Bangkok mall under similar circumstances. Depictions of the Buddha in Thai art are generally reverential and thus uncontroversial, though an exception was Vasan Sitthiket’s Buddha Returns to Bangkok (พระพุทธเจ้าเสด็จกรุงเทพ 2535), a response to the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre. Vasan has also painted the Buddha shooting corrupt politicians with a machine gun.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Prism of Photography

Prism of Photography
Prism of Photography: Dispersion of Knowledge and Memories of the 6th October Massacre (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย: การแตกตัวขององค์ความ รู้และความทรงจำว่าด้วยเหตุการณ์ 6 ตุลา) is a visual archive of the 6th October 1976 massacre at Thammasat University, “one of the bloodiest massacres in the history of modern Thailand.” It includes Thai newspaper front pages, photographs taken by journalists at Thammasat, and autopsy photographs of the massacre victims. The images are primarily sourced from the Documentation of Oct 6 (บันทึก 6 ตุลา) website.

Surprisingly, the most iconic image from 6th October, Neal Ulevich’s picture of a man preparing to beat a hanging corpse with a chair, is not included. Nevertheless, the book has a more comprehensive collection of photographs than previous publications on the massacre, such as สมุดภาพเดือนตุลา: ประมวลภาพเหตุการณ์ 14 ตุลาคม 2516 และ 6 ตุลาคม 2519 (‘picture book of 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976’).

Most significantly, it’s the first book to reprint the notorious Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page from 6th October 1976. Dao Siam’s headline and accompanying photo have been much discussed though seldom, if ever, reproduced. For example, the headline appears in พลกแผนด นประวตการเมองไทย 24 มย 2475 ถง 14 ตค 2516 (‘overturning the history of Thai politics from 23rd June 1932 to 14th October 1973’), though the photograph was blacked out. Exceptionally, the complete front page appeared in the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine (on pages 76 and 86).

Prism of Photography, by Thanavi Chotpradit and Kornkrit Jianpinidnan, is available at the Bangkok Art Book Fair 2019, at CityCity Gallery from 5th to 8th September. (Kornkrit also produced a photobook for लिंगम् Project 2018/‘linga project 2018’.) The book is free, though it’s limited to 500 copies.

Sunday, 1 September 2019


The group exhibition Rifts (รอยแยก) features thirteen Thai artists who came to prominence over the last thirty years, in what was arguably the first wave of postmodern Thai art. Each artist is represented by a single work, and one of the highlights is Reading for One Female Corpse, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s first piece of video art.

Rifts: Thai Contemporary Artistic Practices in Transition, 1980s-2000s opened at the BACC in Bangkok on 30th August, and will close on 24th November. Feeling the 1990s, part of the permanent collection at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai, features Thai art from the same period.