Friday, 31 July 2020

The Essentials (volume 2)

The Essentials 2
Jeremy Arnold’s book The Essentials, a guide to fifty-two classic films, was published in 2016. The second volume (52 More Must-See Movies and Why They Matter) will be released later this year. Volume two features another fifty-two classics; as in volume one, the films are listed chronologically, and there are no entries from the last thirty years.

The book rectifies some of the first volume’s significant omissions, with entries for Psycho and 2001. On the other hand, the list is too heavily skewed towards 1930s Hollywood and, from that period, relatively minor screwball comedies (Twentieth Century and Ball of Fire) are included whereas screwball classics (Bringing up Baby and His Girl Friday) are missing.

The 52 More Must-See Movies are as follows:
  • Sunrise
  • Steamboat Bill Jr
  • Freaks
  • Gold Diggers of 1933
  • Twentieth Century
  • Top Hat
  • Mutiny on the Bounty
  • Dodsworth
  • The Awful Truth
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Stagecoach
  • The Women
  • The Great Dictator
  • The Philadelphia Story
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Ball of Fire
  • Sullivan’s Travels
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • Cat People
  • Laura
  • Mildred Pierce
  • Brief Encounter
  • Notorious
  • The Ghost and Mrs Muir
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  • The Asphalt Jungle
  • Rashomon
  • A Place in the Sun
  • An American in Paris
  • The Quiet Man
  • High Noon
  • Kiss Me Deadly
  • The Night of the Hunter
  • Pather Panchali
  • Rebel Without a Cause
  • A Face in the Crowd
  • Sweet Smell of Success
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • Vertigo
  • Pillow Talk
  • The Apartment
  • Psycho
  • Ride the High Country
  • The Battle of Algiers
  • The Producers
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The Sting
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Harlan County, USA
  • Network
  • Hannah and Her Sisters
  • Field of Dreams

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Absolute Coup

Absolute Coup
Absolute Coup
Absolute Coup
Artist and musician Pisitakun Kuntalaeng’s new album Absolute Coup, released today, features seven tracks, named after seven sectors of society that, according to Pisitakun, created the conditions for Thailand’s many coups. The album is available on a gold-coloured, bullet-shaped USB drive (limited to fifty copies), symbolising the Thai military’s vast wealth and lethal force. It’s also available on cassette (limited to eighty copies).

The album’s first three tracks are also the most controversial: MoMoNarNar!!Chy, ArArMyMy, and ConConStituStitutionalCourt. (Disregard the repeated syllables, and the subjects become clear.) There are laws protecting each of these institutions from criticism in Thailand (namely lèse-majesté, article 44, and contempt of court), so Pisitakun is walking a legal tightrope.

MoMoNarNar!!Chy (and the album itself) begins with the Thai royal anthem played on a traditional phin (a type of lute), in a rare (and perhaps unique) appropriation of the anthem. ArArMyMy features samples of a speech by junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, and a roll call of cadets such as Phakhapong Tanyakan who died during military training. The album also comes with seven highly provocative stickers, based on paintings by Pisitakun, representing the subjects of the seven tracks as bug-eyed monsters.

Pisitakun’s work is currently on show at WTF Gallery as part of the group exhibition Conflicted Visions Again. His 10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic] box set (limited to fifty copies, available at WTF) commemorates the tenth anniversary of the military massacre of reds-hirt protesters in 2010. The first issue of his Risographed comic zine Future of Cunt (limited to thirty copies) is available at another Bangkok gallery, Speedy Grandma.

Monday, 27 July 2020

The Making of Alien

J.W. Rinzler has written quite a few books on the making of (mostly science-fiction) New Hollywood blockbusters, including The Making of Alien, which was published last year. Like Rinzler’s previous books (and, presumably, his forthcoming work on The Shining), The Making of Alien is an exhaustive scene-by-scene account of the film’s production.

There have been several previous books on the making of Alien, though Rinzler’s is easily the most comprehensive, with hundreds more images (including many concept sketches by director Ridley Scott, shaped like CRT screens and known as ‘Ridleygrams’). Unlike other books on the film, The Making of Alien also includes an interview with Scott, who “kindly took a couple of hours to talk about long-ago experiences making Alien”.

Although commissioned by the studio (20th Century Fox) to celebrate the film’s fortieth anniversary, the book doesn’t shy away from the production’s numerous creative and budgetary disagreements. A brief epilogue covers the Alien ‘quadrilogy’, though not Scott’s prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Wat Nong Tao

Wat Nong Tao hit the headlines last month when it was ordered to remove an image of a transgender celebrity from one of its murals. The temple refused to comply, and the mural remains unaltered, though another painting at the same temple has been censored.

Images of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Prawit Wongsuwan, were removed from a mural at the temple on 3rd June, following a visit from the Department of Provincial Administration. Prawit was depicted with multiple watches on his wrist, in reference to his infamous (and suspicious) possession of numerous luxury watches.

Monday, 13 July 2020


Last month, Bangkok Screening Room showed Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes), and next month they’re screening another Herzog epic, Fitzcarraldo. (Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams documents the making of the film, on location in the Peruvian jungle.) Fitzcarraldo will be shown on 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 18th, 19th, 22nd, and 23rd August.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown

10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown
10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown
10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown
For the current Conflicted Visions Again exhibition, Pisitakun Kuantalaeng created a series of posters and stickers to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the military massacre of red-shirt protesters in 2010. The twenty posters show maps of the protest sites, with markers to indicate the spots at which individual protesters were killed. Pisitakun also drew portraits of each victim, on sixty-three stickers. The project focuses on the last week of the crackdown, from 13th to 19th May 2010. (Tawan Wattuya painted portraits of protesters killed in April 2010.)

Pisitakun’s posters and stickers are available as a box set, limited to fifty signed and numbered copies (mine being no. 2). The set, 10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic], also includes a sticker album and a certificate of authenticity. Pisitakun is also a musician, and his provocative new album Absolute Coup will be released (with more stickers) at the end of this month, as a limited edition cassette and bullet-shaped flash drive.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

A Graphic Novel in Storyboards

Bong Joon-ho’s satirical black comedy Parasite (기생충) was the first South Korean film to win the Cannes Palme d’Or, and the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Bong’s screenplay and storyboards were published in South Korea last year, in two volumes (기생충 각본집 and 기생충 스토리보드북), and have now been translated into English as Parasite: A Graphic Novel in Storyboards. The book features a foreword by the director, who notes the “small differences between the storyboards and the film”, and indeed the storyboards do include a few deleted scenes.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Conflicted Visions Again

Conflicted Visions Again
Program Will Resume Shortly
Program Will Resume Shortly
Six years ago, WTF Gallery staged the group exhibition Conflicted Visions, an examination of Thailand’s political polarisation. The exhibition was held at the height of the 2014 political crisis, opening on the same day that the Constitutional Court began its investigation of Yingluck Shinawatra. Today, the political atmosphere is less volatile—due to the military government’s emergency decree, enacted on 24th March to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, but extended as a means of suppressing dissent—though Thailand remains as polarised as before.

Conflicted Visions Again, which opened at WTF on 2nd July, reunites the artists from the original exhibition, to offer a reflection on six years of political tensions since the 2014 coup. Prakit Kobkijwattana appropriates the phrase ‘new normal’ to describe not coronavirus social distancing but Thailand’s political status quo: painting the phrase on silhouettes of guns, a soldier, and a skull, he shows that militarism has become Thailand’s de facto system of government. A work from Miti Ruangkritya’s Thai Politics series is also included: visitors are invited to decorate a screengrab from Prayut Chan-o-cha’s weekly propaganda broadcast Return Happiness to the People (คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ) with emoticon stickers.

Manit Sriwanichpoom’s installation Program Will Resume Shortly reproduces the caption broadcast by cable TV company TrueVisions to censor coverage of the Thai monarchy by international news channels. Manit shows the caption on a three-minute loop, to demonstrate that, in fact, the program will not be resuming. (The video is also projected onto a wall opposite the gallery entrance.) The exhibition also features posters by Pisitakun Kuantalaeng: his 10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic] series documents the victims of the final week of the massacre of ‘redshirt’ protesters in May 2010. (His prints are available as a box set, and his new album, Absolute Coup, will be released at the end of this month.)

Conflicted Visions Again runs until 23rd August, and marks the tenth anniversary of WTF, one of Bangkok’s most fearless galleries. Last year, WTF hosted a series of bravely provocative exhibitions of political art: More or Less, Thailand Casino, and Never Again (หยุด ย่ำ ซ้ำ เดิน).

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Too Much and Never Enough

For the second time in a fortnight, an injunction has been sought to prevent publication of a book criticising Donald Trump. After failing to stop the release of John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, Trump tweeted on 23rd June that Bolton “is a lowlife who should be in jail”. Last week, Trump’s brother, Robert, began legal proceedings against their niece, Mary, over her forthcoming book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. (Both books are published by Simon & Schuster.)

The lawsuit against Mary Trump was filed by Charles Harder, who has previously represented President Trump and the First Lady. Harder won libel cases against The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail on behalf of Melania Trump (winning “substantial damages” in the former case, and $3 million in the latter), and famously bankrupted the Gawker website. After his initial filing, on 23rd June, was rejected by the Queens County Surrogate’s Court of New York, he sought a restraining order from New York’s Dutchess County Supreme Court on 26th June.

That order was granted yesterday, preventing Mary Trump from making any public comment about the contents of her own book. However, the restraining order on the book’s publishers was lifted on appeal today, meaning that the book can be sold. (Mary Trump is prohibited from discussing Trump family matters, as she signed a non-disclosure agreement in 2001 as part of a settlement surrounding her father’s will. The publishers, not being signatories to the NDA, are therefore not bound by it.)

The book is a lengthy psychoanalysis of the President by his niece, who writes in one passage: “Donald’s monstrosity is the manifestation of the very weakness within him that he’s been running from his entire life.” (Mary Trump has a doctorate in psychology, but she has had little contact with her uncle over the past twenty years, so this is still essentially armchair psychology.) It was due to be published on 28th July, though (like Fire and Fury) its publication has been brought forward due to the publicity surrounding the lawsuit. It will now be released on 14th July.

“Bangkok’s last movie palace”

This weekend, the curtains will close on the Scala cinema’s screen for the last time. After more than fifty years, the cinema will show its final film on 5th July.

The Scala was the last of three prestige cinemas in Bangkok’s Siam Square operated by the Apex Group. Their first venue, Siam Theatre, opened in 1966; damaged by arsonists in 2010, it was demolished to make way for a shopping mall. Apex Group’s Lido cinema closed its doors in 2018, after fifty years, though it reopened the following year as Lido Connect, a cinema and performance venue.

Its Modernist exterior and elegant Art Deco lobby (designed by Jira Silpakanok in 1969) made the Scala an architectural landmark. With its velvet curtains, veteran ushers, and vast auditorium, it evoked the golden age of film exhibition.

The building’s fate had been in the balance since 2012, when landowners Chulalongkorn University first attempted to redevelop the area into yet another mall. Continued pressure from Chulalongkorn, combined with a recent two-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, made the cinema’s closure a sad inevitability.

In his book Thailand’s Movie Theaters, Philip Jablon called the Scala “Bangkok’s last movie palace”. The building was also photographed for the Filmvirus book Once Upon a Celluloid Planet.