04 December 2021

25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival


New Abnormal / Please... See Us / Dance of Death

The finalists in the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival will be screened at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya from 18th to 26th December. The programme on 19th December includes three excellent short films, all of which address life-and-death social issues in Thailand: New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่), Please... See Us, and Dance of Death (แดนซ์ ออฟ เดธ).

The satirical New Abnormal, by Sorayos Prapapan, takes aim at Prayut Chan-o-cha and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Phayao Nimma plays an irritable Prayut, annoyed by a civil servant asking about bailouts for businesses affected by the lockdown. Other sequences address the inadequate supply of vaccines earlier in the year.

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s Please... See Us highlights the displacement of ethnic minorities. The film ends with an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a tragic metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand. (It was previously shown this year at Wildtype and Signes de Nuit.)

Dance of Death is a condensed version of Thunska Pansittivorakul and Phassarawin Kulsomboon’s feature-length documentary Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), which juxtaposes accounts of violent deaths with interpretive dance routines. In Thailand’s unequal society, not even death can rupture the social hierarchy, and Dance of Death explores the disparity between the deaths of royals and commoners.

Screenings are free, and the winning films will be announced on Boxing Day. Last year’s event featured equally political entries, such as Sorayos’ Prelude of the Moving Zoo.

30 November 2021

Gothic: An Illustrated History


Gothic

Roger Luckhurst’s Gothic begins with the pointed arch, the archetypal element of the Gothic style, though the book explores the Gothic influence far beyond its architectural and literary origins. As Luckhurst writes in his introduction: “Gothic: An Illustrated History takes up the challenge of building a global history of the Gothic, attempting to glimpse this protean creature as it shape-shifts.”

This is a guide to Gothic geography and cryptozoology, organised thematically rather than chronologically. Gothic motifs and settings are explored, and the book is truly international in scope. Unlike previous histories of the subject, popular culture—especially Gothic cinema—is given serious consideration, and there are around 350 superb historical illustrations.

Famously, Giorgio Vasari described Gothic architecture as “monstrous”, and Luckhurst’s book features a comprehensive bestiary of monsters of all kinds. Like the chapters on monsters, the collection of extended essays on the “Gothic Compass” (southern, western, eastern, and northern Gothic) could stand as a separate book in its own right.

With its shadowy subject matter and the sheer range of material under discussion—from medieval churches to computer games—Luckhurst’s book is similar to Marina Warner’s equally impressive No Go the Bogeyman. Music and fashion are surprising omissions, though: the goth subculture and bands such as the Cure really deserve to be included.

Henri Focillon’s The Art of the West in the Middle Ages (Art d’Occident) was the first comprehensive history of Gothic architecture. More recently, Rolf Toman’s Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting is a lavishly illustrated history of the subject.

28 November 2021

If We Burn, Issue 1: Before


If We Burn

If We Burn, Issue 1: Before, edited by Wassachol Sirichanthanun, is an anthology of short stories, poetry, art, and photography created since the 2014 coup. The title, If We Burn (“...you burn with us”), is a quote from The Hunger Games, the series that also inspired the three-finger salute adopted by anti-coup activists.

The collection includes new writings from Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa and Dawut Sassanapitax, amongst others. Artworks include an infographic documenting the casualties of the 2010 military massacre. The grey cover image is described as “ด้านหลังของภาพขนาดใหญ่ภาพหนึ่ง ณสวนสัตว์เขาดิน” (‘the back of a large portrait at Dusit Zoo’), a similar concept to Wittawat Tongkeaw, who exhibited the back of a painting of that person’s husband—The Masterpiece (มาสเตอร์พีซ)—earlier this year.

27 November 2021

A Life of Picasso: The Minotaur Years, 1933-1943


Guernica

A Life of Picasso: The Minotaur Years, the fourth and final volume of John Richardson’s definitive Picasso biography, was published posthumously this month, some fourteen years after volume III. (Richardson died in 2019, aged ninety-five.) The Minotaur Years covers the decade from 1933 to 1943, during which Picasso created some of his greatest works, most notably the vast anti-war painting Guernica.

Richardson writes that “Guernica would establish Picasso as the world’s most celebrated modern artist.” It has its own chapter in The Minotaur Years, as do Pêche de nuit à Antibes (‘night fishing at Antibes’), the satirical etching Sueño y menitra de Franco (‘dream and lie of Franco’), and—“unquestionably his most celebrated engraving”—La Minotauromachie (‘minotauromachy’).

A Life of Picasso ends in 1943, thirty years before the artist’s death, though one of Richardson’s earlier essays, published in the exhibition catalogue The Mediterranean Years, is effectively a continuation of the biography. The Mediterranean Years covers Picasso’s life from 1945 to 1962, so its chronology matches almost perfectly with The Minotaur Years, leaving a gap of only a single year (1944).

The first three volumes of A Life of Picasso are: The Early Years, 1881-1906; The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916; and The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932. Richardson also wrote and presented the excellent three-part Channel 4 documentary Picasso: Magic, Sex, and Death.

Of the hundreds of monographs on Picasso’s art, Picasso (by Wilhelm Boeck and Jaime Sabartes) stands out as the first extensive survey, though it was never reprinted after its original publication in 1955. Pablo Picasso (by Carsten-Peter Warncke) and The Ultimate Picasso (by Brigitte Leal, Christine Piot, and Marie-Laure Bernadac) are the most comprehensive books on Picasso, and have both been reprinted in various editions.

The Art of Destruction: The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt


The Art of Destruction

The Art of Destruction: The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt is the most comprehensive English-language study of the Vienna Action Group, the transgressive performance artists whose work explored “the body’s determinedly expelled elements: semen, excrement, urine and blood.” The book was first published in 2004, as Art of Destruction: The Films of the Vienna Action Group; the second edition was published last year.

Author Stephen Barber profiles each artist—Otto Muehl, Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler—individually, and analyses the films they made with experimental filmmakers including Kurt Kren. Amusingly, he claims that Brus was “habitually shy and polite,” which is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with the artist’s role in Kunst und Revolution (‘art and revolution’): “Before several hundred spectators, he undressed completely, incised his chest with a razor, urinated into a cup and drank it... he then reclined on his side, coated in excrement, and sang the Austrian national anthem.”

Muehl’s performances were equally provocative, and he was jailed alongside Brus after Kunst und Revolution. In Oh Sensibility, which Barber describes as “Muehl’s most notorious film”, a goose is decapitated. After initially filming various performances (or ‘actions’), rendered semi-abstract by rapid editing, Kren’s role became increasingly participatory, and he appeared with Muehl in orgiastic performances such as Scheißkerl (whose title is a German pejorative).

The book includes a complete filmography, which is essential as most Vienna Action Group films—aside from Kren’s Action Films DVD—remain unavailable. When they were screened at Warwick University twenty years ago, my partner and I were the only ones in attendance, so the projectionist played the 16mm reels in the order we requested, starting with Kren’s notorious 20. September. (That film inspired Vasan Sitthiket’s equally scatological video There Must Be Something Happen [sic].)

EBB



The new photobook EBB features the work of nineteen photographers, documenting the recent anti-government and monarchy-reform protests in Thailand. The title refers both to ‘ebbing away’ (of support for the establishment) and ‘ebb and flow’ (the sense that receding waves—like persecuted protesters—will eventually return).

There are some stunning images, including a phalanx of riot police (photographed by Adsadang Satsadee); a sea of protesters, with a solitary ‘I here too’ placard (Panasann Pattanakulchai); and a lone protester, arms outstretched, on the front line (Asadawut Boonlitsak). In many photographs, fireworks, tear gas, and surreal props add to the phantasmagorical nature of the protests in Bangkok. There are also images of the Calmer Rouge performance event in Chiang Mai.

The book was launched yesterday, on the opening day of the Bangkok Art Book Fair at CityCity Gallery. It’s available in a limited edition of 300 copies, and the photos—selected by Kanrapee Chokpaiboon—are accompanied by anti-government graffiti by street artist BEKOS. The Art Book Fair (making a welcome return after being held online last year due to the coronavirus lockdown) continues until tomorrow.

23 November 2021

Miss Thailand Universe 2021


Anchalee Scott-Kemmis

Anchalee Scott-Kemmis, the winner of Miss Thailand Universe 2021, is facing criminal charges after a complaint against her was filed with the Metropolitan Police in Bangkok today. An online image featuring Anchalee is alleged to have violated the Flag Act, according to the ultra-royalist MP Sonthiya Sawasdee.

The image, showing Anchalee standing on the blue section of the Thai flag design, was posted on the Miss Thailand Universe social media accounts (and has since been deleted). Sonthiya claims that, by appearing to stand on the flag, Anchalee is guilty of “placing the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flags at an inappropriate place or in an inappropriate manner”, which is prohibited by the Flag Act.

Violation of the Flag Act carries a penalty of up to six months in prison, though Sonthiya has also accused Anchalee of breaking article 118 of the Thai criminal code. This criminalises “making any act to the flag or any other emblem to be symbolized the State with the intention to deride the Nation” [sic], and carries a more severe jail sentence of up to two years.

The image in question also shows Anchalee holding a large Thai flag, and Sonthiya has completely mischaracterised this patriotic portrait. Also, Sonthiya seemingly fails to recognise that this is a composite image, and that Anchalee did not physically step on a Thai flag. Sonthiya is a member of the governing Palang Pracharath Party, which is essentially the political wing of the military junta. Earlier this year, two art students were accused of violating the Flag Act by another self-appointed moral guardian.

17 November 2021

A Day


A Day

The new issue of A Day magazine (volume 22, number 250) was published yesterday. The issue is entirely devoted to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, under the theme of “Apichatpong’s Universe”. It includes an interview with me about film censorship, on pages 216-219.

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“I am not a shock artist...”


Brass Against

Florida police are investigating Sophia Urista after she urinated on stage on 11th November during a performance at the Welcome to Rockville festival in Daytona. Urista, lead singer with Brass Against, was performing a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s Wake Up when she told the crowd that she needed to pee. She then invited a volunteer onto the stage, squatted over his face, and urinated over him.

Today, Urista tweeted an apology: “I have always pushed the limits in music and on stage. That night, I pushed the limits too far.” She also insisted that the performance was not only for shock value: “I am not a shock artist. I always want to put the music first.”

video

15 November 2021

“A system in which everyone is equal...”


Pathum Wan

An anti-government protester was shot yesterday while marching from Pathum Wan intersection to the German embassy in Bangkok. Police fired rubber bullets at the crowd, hitting a man in the chest and puncturing his lung. (Riot police have repeatedly deployed rubber bullets against protesters this year. On 17th August, fifteen-year-old Warit Somnoi was hit by a live bullet, and he tragically died on 29th October after spending more than two months in a coma. Police officer Detwit Ledtenson was shot in the head on 7th October during a protest at Din Daeng.)

Protesters gathered at Pathum Wan yesterday afternoon, calling for the abolition of the lèse-majesté law. As shown in an AFP photograph by Pitcha Dangprasith, they also burnt effigies of the Constitutional Court judges who ruled on 10th November that any call for reform of the monarchy was an attempt to overthrow the monarchy itself. The judgement related to speeches by three protesters—Arnon Nampa, Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Panupong Jadnok—on 10th August last year, published in the booklet The Day the Sky Trembled (ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา). (The Constitutional Court has previously ordered the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai, the People Power Party, Thai Raksa Chart, and Future Forward, which were also perceived as threats to the establishment.)

Outside the embassy, an open letter to the German government was read out. The statement highlighted the protesters’ concerns that recent actions by the Thai state are “pulling Thailand away from democracy and back to absolute monarchy,” and that the protest movement’s calls for reform of the monarchy are rooted in the fundamental principle of equality: “This is a fight to insist that this country must be ruled by a system in which everyone is equal.”

12 November 2021

อนาคตคือ


A Na Kod Keu

In the music video for their new single อนาคตคือ (‘the future is...’), Milli and Youngohm play high school sweethearts who are bullied by their classmates and, in a virtual reality simulation, they find themselves surrounded by tear gas and captured by riot police. The video, directed by Putiroj Devakul, also includes split-second images of recent anti-government protests, at which the police have also deployed tear gas.

Thai students have numbers embroidered on their uniforms, though the numbers in the video all have political significance. Milli’s number is 393, the section of the criminal code that forbids public insults. (She was fined ฿2,000 after insulting Prayut Chan-o-cha on Twitter, and the song includes the ironic lyric “I love you two thousand”.) Youngohm’s number, 113, refers to the law against overthrowing the government. The respective numbers of the two school bullies, 250 and 010, refer to unelected senators (250 of whom were appointed by the junta) and King Rama X.

Filmmaker Thunska Pansittivorakul has also used numbers on clothing as a political code. In his music video Remember (วน), a man wears a jumpsuit with the number 1721955, a reference to 17th February 1955, the date when three scapegoats were executed for the murder of King Rama VIII. In his new film Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), two men have the numbers 1702 and 1955 on their respective running shorts.

10 November 2021

‘Millions of Iranians live below the poverty line!’



The Iranian newspaper Kelid (کلید) has been shut down by the government after it published a cartoon criticising Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on its front page on 6th November. Alongside a headline reporting the results of a national poverty survey—“!میلیون‌ها خانوار ایرانی زیر خط فقر” (‘millions of Iranians live below the poverty line!’)—a cartoon showed a hand wearing the Ayatollah’s signet ring, drawing a literal poverty line that denied the poor access to food supplies.

Simply the Best: The Tina Turner Story


Simply the Best Simply the Best

A lawsuit brought by Tina Turner against a tribute act has now reached the Federal Court of Justice, Germany’s highest criminal court. Turner sued the producers of Simply the Best: The Tina Turner Story (Die Tina Turner Story) last year, arguing that the show’s poster falsely implied that Turner herself was the star of the show.

Turner won her case in the Regional Court of Cologne, prompting the producers to add the words “Starring Dorothea Fletcher” to the poster, to avoid any ambiguity. That judgement was then overturned by the Higher Regional Court, and in his preliminary remarks, Federal Court judge Thomas Koch endorsed the Higher Regional Court’s decision. The final verdict is not due until next year.

03 November 2021

Transgressive Cinema


Un chien andalou

Un chien andalou, released almost a century ago, begins with one of the most horrific images in film history. There is a disconnect between the film’s antiquity and its graphic imagery, though what is most shocking is that the violence is clearly authentic: we see a razor slicing a real (bovine) eye.

The breaking of taboos on screen is all the more transgressive if the act is unsimulated. I’ve written an introduction to the representation of real death, sex, and bodily emissions in cinema, followed by a comprehensive filmography.

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28 October 2021

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die


1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

The 2021 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was published this month. The first edition, edited by Steven Jay Schneider in 2003, was reprinted with minor revisions in 2004, and the book has been updated annually ever since (in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020).

Eleven new films have been added to year’s edition, representing only 1% of the total list. With a single exception, the new entries were all released in the last few years: Tenet, The Vast of Night, The Assistant, Rocks, Saint Maud, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Soul, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Lovers Rock, and Nomadland. Again, with one exception, the corresponding deletions are all from the past decade: Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers Endgame (combined into a single entry), Birdman, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, The Handmaiden (아가씨), 13th, Blade Runner 2049, The Favourite, Hereditary, Sorry to Bother You, and Monos.

The exceptions are Lamerica from 1994 and The Blue Kite (藍風箏) from 1993. In last year’s edition, The Blue Kite was mysteriously deleted and replaced by Lamerica. This year, that decision has been reversed: Lamerica is out, and The Blue Kite is back in. Ian Haydn Smith, editor of recent editions, notes in his preface that the coronavirus pandemic resulted in “a multitude of smaller titles from around the world” gaining releases on streaming platforms, though the new entries in this edition are all English-language films (with The Blue Kite again being the only anomaly).

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27 October 2021

Nang Nak


Nang Nak

To celebrate Halloween, there will be a free screening of Nang Nak (นางนาก) at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on 31st October. Nonzee Nimibutr’s horror classic broke domestic box-office records and became one of the key films of the Thai New Wave. It’s also arguably the most famous adaptation of the Mae Nak ghost story. It was shown at Lido Connect last Halloween, though the upcoming Thai Film Archive screening will be a rare opportunity to see it in 35mm.

Peril


Peril

Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, completes a trilogy of Woodward’s books on Donald Trump, following Fear and Rage. Peril examines Trump’s final year in office and the first few months of Joe Biden’s presidency, and its title is taken from Biden’s inaugural address, in which he described a “winter of peril.”

I Alone Can Fix It, by fellow Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, also covers the end of the Trump administration, and shares some of the same sources: William Barr and Mark Milley clearly spoke to the authors of both books. Milley confirmed as much to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, though his description of the 6th January insurrection as a “Reichstag moment”—the standout quote from I Alone Can Fix It—is merely an hors-d’œuvre in Peril.

How to convey the madness of the Trump White House in its final months? Woodward and Costa opt for a cinematic comparison: “The scenes of a screaming Trump in the Oval Office resembled Full Metal Jacket,” and Trump reminded Barr of another Kubrick classic, “the character in the 1964 dark comedy Dr. Strangelove who ruminates about withholding his “essence” from women.”

Barr told Trump the unvarnished truth, that potential voters “think you’re a fucking asshole.” (Biden concurred, in a private White House conversation: “What a fucking asshole”.) Lyndsey Graham was equally blunt, telling Trump: “You fucked your presidency up.” After his election defeat, Trump ignored all such dissenting voices, and embraced Rudy Giuliani’s wild conspiracy theories, clinging desperately to data that Giuliani literally made up out of thin air.

One of Peril’s most extraordinary chapters reveals, for the first time, an Oval Office meeting between Trump and Mike Pence on the evening before the insurrection. This was Trump’s last-ditch attempt to convince Pence to decertify the election results. Trump tempts Pence like the devil, offering all the kingdoms of the world: “wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?” When that fails, he turns into a petulent child: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.”

Peril includes equally dramatic material on the Biden administration, revealing an intelligence briefing that warned Biden of the disastrous consequences of a sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Woodward and Costa summarise the briefing, which now seems remarkably prescient: “The capital, Kabul, and other cities ultimately fall and the Taliban take over, amounting to a collapse of the Afghan state in months to years.” As they demonstrate, “Biden was abandoning Afghanistan to civil war and potential collapse,” contradicting Biden’s claim that he had not received such warnings.

The book also quotes extensively from a phone call between Biden and Vladimir Putin. Rather than the usual diplomatic readout, we see how direct Putin can be when he tells Biden: “I’m upset you called me a killer”. In a later call, Biden warns Putin that Russia is vulnerable to US cyber espionage: “great countries have great responsibilities. They also have great vulnerabilities.” (Trump’s views on Putin are not mentioned in Peril, though he is quoted referring to Angela Merkel, with his usual charm, as a “bitch kraut”.)

Peril is the fifteenth Trump book reviewed here. The others are: Fear, Rage, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, Fire and Fury, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, Too Much and Never Enough, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, and The Cost.

25 October 2021

Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds


Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds

Who is Viriyaporn Boonprasert? She has submitted quite a few films to the Thai Short Film Festival, though the organisers have no idea who she is. Her short films, with their ironic juxtapositions of found footage, satirise the elitism and nationalism of the Thai political establishment.

Viriyaporn’s Ghost of Centralworld, from her Develop Blessing Giant Dhamma in Three Worlds (เจริญพรมหาธรรมใน 3 โลก) series, was made in response to the 2010 military crackdown. It features an emotional account from the father of Kittipong Somsuk, whose death was caused by arsonists who burnt the Zen department store, followed by news footage of the store’s reopening, when tragedy and political controversy were swept away in the name of consumerism.

Viriyaporn Boonprasert is a pseudonym, and presumably she disguises her identity because her work deals with Thai politics and touches on the ultra-sensitive issue of the monarchy. One of her short films, พ่อจ๋าหนูอยากกลับบ้าน (‘daddy, I want to go home’), submitted to Filmvirus Wildtype, was too controversial even for that progressive group, and the organisers reluctantly declined to screen it. (The film features photographs of King Rama X and his youngest son living in Germany.)

The mysterious tale of the anonymous filmmaker is told in the short documentary Develop Viriyaporn Who Dared in Three Worlds (เจริญวิริญาพรมาหาทำใน 3 โลก), which was released on YouTube yesterday. Director Kanyarat Theerakrittayakorn interviewed various film experts—including Chalida Uabumrungjit, Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Jit Phokaew, and Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa—who speculate on Viriyaporn’s real identity. They even begin to suspect each other, as Thai cinephiles are a close-knit group and she seems to be an insider. This leads to bemused denials by some contributors, and Viriyaporn remains an enigma.

22 October 2021

Danse Macabre


Danse Macabre Remember Supernatural

“Thunska who makes everything sexy.”
“But I’m talking about death in this one...”

From Eros to Thanatos: Danse Macabre (มรณสติ) begins with director Thunska Pansittivorakul explaining to a dance choreographer that his new documentary explores darker territory. Unlike his last film, the sexually frank Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์), Danse Macabre juxtaposes accounts of violent deaths with interpretive dance routines.

The film was codirected by Phassarawin Kulsomboon, and will have its world premiere at the Doclisboa film festival in Lisbon on 27th October. Thunska’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา) was named best film at Doclisboa in 2019.

As the proverb says, death is the great leveller. But in Thailand, one of the world’s most unequal societies, not even death can rupture the social hierarchy. Danse Macabre highlights the disparity between the deaths of royals and commoners: kings receive lavish state funerals followed by prolonged periods of enforced national mourning, whereas murder victims become objects of public spectacle as undignified crowds of gawping onlookers gather freely at crime scenes.

The starkest contrast is that between King Rama VIII (who died from a bullet wound in 1946) and Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (a human rights activist nicknamed Billy who was murdered in 2014). The King’s corpse was placed in a golden urn atop a gilded chariot. Porlajee’s body, however, was stuffed unceremoniously into an oil drum. (Pin Sasao’s installation ถังแดง​: ความตายของบิลลี่—‘red barrel: the death of Billy’—also addresses Porlajee’s murder.)

In Thunska’s documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), one interviewee mentions “soldiers getting beaten to death during training” and shortly after that film was completed, army cadet Phakhapong Tanyakan died during a training exercise. Danse Macabre has an equally tragic topicality: on 20th July, just a few days after the rough cut was finished, three people dropped dead on the streets of Bangkok, and their bodies were left in situ for hours. (Thunska added an epilogue highlighting these recent cases.)

Danse Macabre also deals with Thai state violence, from the massacres of October 1976—also covered in The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย)—May 1992, and May 2010, to the recent student protests. Footage of riot police firing water canon last year is cut to the beat of the Subtitle Project’s song Remember. The track’s Thai title, วน, literally translates as ‘loop’, indicating the cyclical nature of violent state oppression. (Thunska directed the music video for Remember when it was released as a single.)

Like Thunska’s Reincarnate (จุติ), Danse Macabre begins with a written prologue explaining the Thai law under which “a film may be banned as unsuitable for public exhibition” and then proceeds to deliberately flout those rules. I interviewed Thunska about this law for Thai Cinema Uncensored, and one of his early features, This Area is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), was the first film to fall foul of it. Thunska uses explicit sexual content as a political commentary in many films, and Danse Macabre is no exception: it includes photos from vintage porn magazines to show how Thailand has since become more culturally—and, by implication, politically—conservative.

Even more provocatively, the indirect allusions to the monarchy in his sci-fi dystopia Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ) are replaced by a direct account of modern Thai royal history, including a subliminal image hinting at an explanation for the death of Rama VIII. Three scapegoats were executed for the King’s murder on 17th February 1955, and coded references to that date appear in Danse Macabre, Supernatural, and the Remember music video.

18 October 2021

Keep in the Dark


Tawan Wattuya’s new exhibition Keep in the Dark features watercolour portraits of pro-democracy protesters and campaigners who have been jailed or abducted, including Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (Rung), Arnon Nampa (Lawyer Anon), and Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (Billy), among many others. The first work in the exhibition is a portrait of Prayut Chan-o-cha, titled I ____ Too: the missing word is ‘hear’, a pun on the protest chant “ai hia Tu”. (Ai hia is a suitably strong insult, and Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) The work that gives the exhibition its title, Keep in the Dark, shows the announcement of Prayut’s 2014 coup.

The lavish exhibition catalogue comes with three postcards, and includes an essay by curator Kritsada Duchsadeevanich outlining Thailand’s recurring political crisis: “Young people take to the streets demanding political transformation. Those in power use brute force to suppress the young protesters mercilessly.” Keep in the Dark opened on 14th October at Silpakorn University Art Centre in Bangkok, and runs until 27th November. Tawan’s previous exhibitions include Amnesia, which coincided with the publication of his monograph Works 2009-2019.

16 October 2021

Uncensored


Uncensored Uncensored Uncensored

Uncensored (ศิลปะปลดปล่อย), a group exhibition curated by Headache Stencil, opened today at the Jam Factory in Bangkok. The original Uncensored was a one-day event, though this new exhibition runs until 22nd November. (There was also a smaller-scale sequel, Uncensored 2, held in Chiang Mai.)

The exhibition features a mix of new and older works, by more than thirty artists. From Uncensored 2, there’s a collage by Spanky Studio featuring the Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper. Also on show again is The Sound of Elite, from the Propaganda Children’s Day (วันเด็กชั่งชาติ) exhibition. Both of these refer to the 6th October 1976 massacre, and in another reference to that event, a folding chair is suspended from the gallery ceiling.

A drawing by director Yuthlert Sippapak is also included, which shows Suthep Thaugsuban trampling on the constitution, a comment on the anti-democratic nature of his ‘Shutdown Bangkok’ campaign. Yellow!, a skateboard displayed on a small plinth, features a painting by Nawat Lertsawaengkit.

13 October 2021

Calmer Rouge


Calmer Rouge Calmer Rouge

Calmer Rouge, a performance art event by Artn’t, is taking place until tomorrow in front of the Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai. The performance began on 6th October, and it marks the anniversaries of Thailand’s two historical October massacres: 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976.

One of the props used throughout the event is a folding chair—in reference to a notorious Neal Ulevich photograph from 1976—splattered with symbolic blue paint. A mock guillotine was similarly painted blue at an anti-government demonstration in Bangkok on 18th July.

Errata: Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories


Errata Errata

The group exhibition Errata: Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories opened at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai on 30th July, and runs until 1st November (subsequently extended to 14th February 2022). Works relating to Thailand’s two notorious October massacres are included: Arin Rungjang’s And Then There Were None: Tomorrow We Will Become Thailand is a series of paintings based on news photographs from 14th October 1973, and Thasnai Sethaseree’s untitled collages feature partially obscured news photos of 6th October 1976.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s video The Class is also included. It was shown previously at two group exhibitions in Bangkok—Crossover and Dialogues—and a transcript of the video appears in Araya’s book Art and Words (ศิลปะกับถ้อยความ).

The Year of the Everlasting Storm


The Year of the Everlasting Storm

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest feature film, Memoria, won the Jury Prize after its world premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film received a standing ovation, after which Apichatpong memorably declared: “Long live cinema!” With coronavirus vaccines in short supply and the registration system in disarray, he also used his Cannes acceptance speech as an opportunity to call on the Thai government to “please wake up, and work for your people, now.”

A promotional clip from Memoria attracted attention in Thailand for its political meaning: Tilda Swinton’s character performs a magic trick with a red, white, and blue handkerchief, making the blue colour disappear. Blue has a symbolic meaning on the Thai flag, and in an online Q&A with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, Apichatpong confirmed: “I chose the colours.” Last week, the film’s distributors announced that it would never be available on any video format, and instead would remain an exclusively theatrical presentation.

Apichatpong’s short film Night Colonies also premiered at Cannes, as part of the anthology film The Year of the Everlasting Storm. Night Colonies combines two of the director’s consistent themes, light and the natural world, as it features insects buzzing around neon lights. The film begins with a poem paying tribute to “distant friends, and those who had disappeared”, a reference to pro-democracy campaigners self-exiled or abducted following lèse-majesté charges.

The poem continues: “The young leaves unfold, flushed with memories in the year of the everlasting storm.” In addition to giving the portmanteau film its title, these lines are also a metaphor for the student protesters campaigning for reform of the monarchy. In fact, the film’s soundtrack includes audio recorded at protests in Bangkok on 27th July and 20th August 2020.

Apichatpong’s exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย)—now on show at 100 Tonson in Bangkok—also addresses the murder of lèse-majesté suspects, and the title of his short film October Rumbles (เสียงฟ้าเดือนตุลา) hints at the rumblings of dissent from the student protesters. He co-directed the video installation Silence—shown at 100 Tonson last week—which refers directly to the tragic “memories” mentioned in the Night Colonies poem.

09 October 2021

Madame X: Music from the Theater Xperience


Yesterday, Madonna released a concert film and live album, edited from a dozen performances of her Madame X Tour in Portugal. Although the Madame X album was available in a range of formats, the Madame X Tour is the first Madonna tour without a physical release. Instead, the film is streaming on Paramount+ and being broadcast on MTV, and the album is available on the major music streaming platforms.

The album track listing is: God Control, Dark Ballet, Human Nature (followed by an a cappella version of Express Yourself), Vogue, I Don’t Search I Find, American Life, Batuka, Fado Pechincha, Killers Who Are Partying, Crazy, Welcome to My Fado Club (incorporating La Isla Bonita), Extreme Occident, Rescue Me (a pre-recorded spoken interlude), Medellín, Frozen, Come Alive, Future (with a new second verse), Like a Prayer, and I Rise. Two songs from the tour—Sodade and Crave—are not included.

07 October 2021

Sun Rises When Day Breaks


Sun Rises When Day Breaks Kraipit Phanvut

The Thai band View from the Bus Tour released their new single Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ) on 5th October, an appropriate date as it was written in support of the 5 ตุลาฯ ตะวันจะมาเมื่อฟ้าสาง (‘5th Oct.: sun rises when day breaks’) campaign and uses the campaign’s slogan as its English title. The song is one of several commemorating the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

The music video for Sun Rises When Day Breaks begins with a recreation of an iconic news photograph from the massacre - not the ubiquitous image of a man hitting a corpse with a chair, but instead a photo by Kraipit Phanvut showing a police colonel (Salang Bunnag) aiming his pistol while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Director Anocha Suwichakornpong restaged the same photo at the start of her film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง), and it has also been reappropriated by artists such as Headache Stencil.

45 ปี 6 ตุลาฯ: ข้อคิดจากคนเดือนตุลา


This year, Thammasat University refused permission for an exhibition commemorating the 6th October 1976 massacre (citing the coronavirus pandemic), though it did publish a book to mark the 45th anniversary of the event. 45 ปี 6 ตุลาฯ: ข้อคิดจากคนเดือนตุลา (‘45 years of 6th Oct.: thoughts from Octobrists’), edited by Kasidit Ananthanathorn, reproduces the notorious Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page that sparked the massacre (on page 80). The Dao Siam page is rarely reprinted, though it did appear in the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine, and in the books Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย) and Moments of Silence.

The Mystery of Picasso


Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic documentary The Mystery of Picasso (Le mystère Picasso) will be shown at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 8th, 9th, 13th, 14th, 18th, 20th, 21st, and 26th October. The film has been screened in Thailand a few times before, at TCDC, Smalls, Warehouse 30, and the Thai Film Archive.

06 October 2021

45 ปี 6 ตุลา


Burning Sky Lucky Leg

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre. There is no official 6th October exhibition at Thammasat University this year (apparently due to pressure from the government), though a large painting by Lucky Leg was displayed on campus today. (It depicts a monk tying a chord around a dead man’s neck, in reference to Kittivuddho Bhikku, the monk who encouraged the killing of Communists.) More of his work is currently on show at the Specter (ปีศาจ) exhibition, and there have been plenty of other artistic responses to the anniversary.

5 ตุลาฯ ตะวันจะมาเมื่อฟ้าสาง (‘5th Oct.: sun rises when day breaks’), the team behind the recent ‘museum in a box’, released a half-hour documentary at midnight this morning. The film, Dawn of a New Day (ก่อนฟ้าสาง), traces the history of the student protest movement from the 14th October 1973 uprising to the 1976 massacre. As in the short film Pirab (พิราบ), the violence of 6th October is represented in sound only, over a blank screen. It ends with footage of water cannon being used against students on 16th October 2020—showing that the mantle of pro-democracy protest has passed to a new generation—and a list of the names of the 6th October victims.

Silence, a three-channel video commemorating 6th October, opened today at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok. The video—co-directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr, Chatchai Suban, and Pathompong Manakitsomboon—is part of Apichatpong’s exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย), and will be on show until 10th October. Silence includes autopsy photographs of 6th October victims, and graphic footage of the desecration of their corpses. It also shows how prejudice is inculcated, with flashcards of pejoratives such as ‘หนักแผ่นดิน’ (‘scum of the earth’) and ‘ควายแดง’ (‘red buffalo’).

Rap Against Dictatorship released a new music video today, which also refers to 6th October. The video—Burning Sky (ไฟไหม้ฟ้า), directed by Skanbombomb—features a hanging corpse shown in silhouette, and ends with a caption commemorating the massacre. The silhouette echoes Rap Against Dictatorship’s most famous video, My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี), which included a mannequin hanging from a tree.

A music video by T_047—ความฝันยามรุ่งสาง (‘dreaming at dawn’), directed by Yanna—also released today, begins with a toddler watching footage of 6th October on multiple TV screens. Another music video released today, หัวใจเสรี (‘free heart’) by TaitosmitH, has no content directly related to 6th October, though it was released in solidarity with the movement to commemorate the massacre; directed under a pseudonym (อัมรินทร์ อินทารักษ์, meaning ‘Ammarin defender’) it features footage of recent anti-government protests in Bangkok, filmed at Siam Square and Democracy Monument.

05 October 2021

Essential Desires: Contemporary Art in Thailand


Brian Curtin, one of Bangkok’s leading art critics, has written a superb guide to the Thai art scene, Essential Desires: Contemporary Art in Thailand. Decade by decade, Curtin surveys the artists and institutions at the forefront of Thai contemporary art. The book documents the emergent art spaces of the 1990s, with rare images of exhibition flyers and installation views, and extensive political context.

One of the book’s central arguments is that “questions of nation and nationalism have been unavoidable in accounting for Thai art”, and Curtin considers how artists respond to the problematic state-imposed notion of ‘Thainess’. Manit Sriwanichpoom, Vasan Sitthiket, and Sutee Kunavichayanont, for example, collaborated on group exhibitions that critiqued modern Thai history to some extent, though Curtin argues that their “avowal of problems within the national status quo did not involve a fundamental questioning of its general terms, symbols, concern with appearances or essential desire for unity.”

Noting that Manit, Vasan, and Sutee all supported the anti-democratic PDRC campaign, Curtin contrasts them with more subversive recent artists such as Pisitakun Kuantalaeng and Jakkhai Siributr, who demonstrate a “post-national sensibility characterized by the challenging of the very possibility of national allegiance.” Vasan’s Blue October (ตุลาลัย) and Jakkhai’s 78 are among the many full-page illustrations. Other works illustrated include Miti Ruangkritya’s Thai Politics III, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s The Class III and In a Blur of Desire (ในความพร่ามัวของปรารถนา), Harit Srikhao’s Chosen Boys, Withit Sembutr’s Doo Phra, and (the cover image) Michael Shaowanasi’s Portrait of a Man in Habits.

The book also examines the various galleries and other cultural institutions established over the past three decades (though not MAIIAM, surprisingly). Most notable among these is the state-funded BACC, host to a series of large-scale survey shows, including Traces of Siamese Smile (รอยยิ้มสยาม) and Thai Trends (ไทยเท), with their “strained and anxious references to local identity and tradition.” Curtin notes that these bloated ‘prestige’ exhibitions were curated by Apinan Poshyananda, a former artist who is now a senior figure at the conservative Ministry of Culture. In an especially astute observation, he laments Apinan’s “assimilation to the machinery of the state”.

Apinan wrote the last extensive monograph on Thai art, Modern Art in Thailand (copies of which are now scarce). Since then, Steven Pettifor’s Flavours and Serenella Ciclitira’s Thailand Eye have featured profiles of individual Thai artists, though Essential Desires is the first survey of the entire landscape of Thai contemporary art for almost thirty years.

04 October 2021

Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship


Written by Cherian George and designed by Sonny Liew, Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship is a guide to the censorship of contemporary political cartoons around the world. The focus is on recent cases, though there are some historical examples of caricature and wartime propaganda. (Victor Navasky’s book The Art of Controversy has a more historical perspective.) Red Lines features cartoons subjected to lawsuits and bans, though it also covers cartoonists who have been harassed, sacked, deplatformed, arrested on trumped-up charges, or otherwise intimidated. The scope is truly global, and the cartoons under discussion are all reproduced, making this an extremely useful survey.

In terms of recent newspaper and magazine cartoons that have faced legal challenges, Red Lines covers all of the major cases though doesn’t include any unfamiliar ones. The examples it cites have all been previously mentioned on Dateline Bangkok: Zunar, Musa Kart (twice), Zapiro, LeMan, Stephff, Mana Neyestani, and Aseem Trivedi. The most explosive issue in political cartooning this century—the depiction of Mohammed—receives extensive coverage in Red Lines, and the twelve Jyllands-Posten cartoons are reproduced alongside others created in solidarity (from Le Monde, the Philadelphia Daily News, and الحياة الجديدة).

There are more than thirty pages devoted to the terrorist attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo, and two of that newspaper’s Mohammed covers (from 2006 and 2011) are included, as is a tasteless 2013 cover mocking the Koran. My only criticism is that the events leading up to the 2015 attack are not fully explained: a timeline in the book juxtaposes the Koran cover and the attack, implying a direct connection, though they occurred more than a year apart. A more likely trigger for the attack—a 2014 cover depicting Mohammed being beheaded—is not mentioned.

03 October 2021

They Will Never Forget


Yesterday, the Thai Film Archive screened the documentary They Will Never Forget on its YouTube channel. (It was previously shown at the Archive in 2017.) The film, which documents a strike by female workers at the Hara factory in Bangkok, was originally released in 1977. Directed by Ooka Ryuuchi, it was a co-production between independent filmmakers in Thailand and Japan.

The circumstances of the film’s production were similar to those of the Thai docudrama Tongpan (ทองปาน). Both films were celebrations of workers’ rights, made during the brief spell of democracy that followed the 14th October 1973 uprising. This period of optimism ended in a violent coup on 6th October 1976, which appears as a tragic epilogue in both films.

Following the 1976 coup, state censorship increased dramatically, though postproduction of They Will Never Forget was completed in Japan, giving the filmmakers more freedom in their political commentary. The film condemns military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn, “whose hands were stained with the blood of at least seventy-six patriots,” and its assessment of the coup is equally honest and unrestrained: “The reign of violence and injustice was back.”

It also includes a surprisingly direct reference to student actors whose mock hanging led to the 6th October massacre. The film mentions media reports that an actor playing a hanging corpse “resembled the Crown Prince,” an issue that remains unspoken in Thailand even today. In contrast, the 2014 documentary Different Views, Death Sentence (ต่างความคิด ผิดถึงตาย ๖ ตุลาคม ๒๕๑๙) claimed only that students were accused of “severe ill-will to the Crown Prince”, without reference to the hanging; and the 2011 film The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) referred only to “the hanging of an important person in effigy.”

In hindsight, They Will Never Forget’s title was somewhat idealistic, because the massacre was indeed forgotten for twenty years, as Thongchai Winichakul discusses in his book Moments of Silence. Unfortunately, the titles of Napat Treepalawisetkun’s short film We Will Forget It Again (แล้วเราจะลืมมันอีกครั้ง) and Vasan Sitthiket’s video Delete Our History, Now! (อำนาจ/การลบทิ้ง) are more accurate comments on the whitewashing of Thai history.

01 October 2021

กล่องฟ้าสาง


This year, the annual commemoration of the 6th October 1976 massacre has been cancelled by Thammasat University, citing the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the organisers have a created a ‘museum in a box’, a package containing dozens of items relating to the optimistic period from the 14th October 1973 uprising until the day before the 1976 massacre.

The กล่องฟ้าสาง (‘box of dawn’) is available in a limited edition of 150. A series of paintings by Thasnai Sethaseree also refers to the eve of the massacre. With its exact facsimiles of vintage documents and photographs, the box recalls the ephemera inserted into Doug Dorst’s novel S.

Thalugaz


Elevenfinger’s new music video Thalugaz (ทะลุเเก๊ซ) includes footage of riot police deploying water cannon against anti-government protesters at Din Daeng in Bangkok. There have been clashes at Din Daeng on an almost daily basis, with the police firing rubber bullets and protesters responding by throwing fireworks and setting fire to police vehicles.

The song is named after Thalugaz, a new and radical group formed in support of the Din Daeng protesters, many of whom are poor and disenfranchised. Nontawat Numbenchapol is currently making a crowdfunded documentary about Thalugaz, Sound of ‘Din’ Daeng, and has released two short prologues to the film online. The second prologue, subtitled Rarely Make History, opens with stunning shots of the fireworks thrown at the police by the protesters, glittering through a haze of tear gas fired by the police.

Elevenfinger’s Thalugaz video includes a live clip of him leading a crowd in the same chant that previously resulted in charges against Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonp. Two of his previous music videos—ไอเหี้ย... ฆาตกร (‘fucking... murderer’) and เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’)—are equally confrontational and were also filmed at recent protests.

28 September 2021

“Distortion that incites youths to be led astray...”


Family Club

The Ministry of Education is investigating a series of eight children’s picture books published this month. A spokesperson for Deputy Minister of Education Kanlaya Sophonpanich announced yesterday that Kanlaya has set up a panel to urgently inspect the books, as she believes they stir up hated and promote “distortion that incites youths to be led astray.” She also threatened the publisher with legal action.

The books were published by Family Club, who advertised them with a knowing wink as suitable for children aged five to 112. (The lèse-majesté law is article 112 of the Thai criminal code.) Rather than spreading hatred, as Kanlaya claims, they promote the opposite: tolerance, freedom, and equality. Three of the titles refer directly to the current anti-government protest movement: The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย); Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?); and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

One of the books, Children Have Dreams (เด็กๆ มีความฝัน), features a quote from protest leader Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul on the back cover. Another title, Hack! Hack! The Fire Dragon (แค็ก! แค็ก! มังกรไฟ), was written by protest leader Sombat Boonngamanong, though its theme is environmental rather than political: he works as a firefighter in Chiang Mai, and his story is about the dangers of forest fires. The others in the series are Who Has No Head? (ตัวไหนไม่มีหัว), The Call of the Birds (เสียงร้องของผองนก), and Chit Phumisak (จ จิตร ชีวิตอัจฉริยะไทยผู้ใฝ่เรียนรู้ จิตร ภูมิศักดิ์).

26 September 2021

Broken Heartlands: A Journey Through Labour’s Lost England


For his new book Broken Heartlands: A Journey Through Labour’s Lost England, journalist Sebastian Payne travelled throughout the ‘red wall’, the traditional Labour heartland constituencies won by the Conservatives in the 2019 election. Payne is a political correspondent for the Financial Times, and presenter of the excellent Payne’s Politics podcast.

In an interview with Payne, Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphasised his (somewhat vague) ‘levelling up’ agenda, and he also seemed to reject the Thatcherite centralisation of economic power: “The Treasury has made a catastrophic mistake in the last forty years in thinking that you can just hope that the whole of the UK is somehow going to benefit from London and the south-east.” Asked about ‘culture war’ debates around statues being removed, he dismissed the issue as “fundamentally bollocks.”

Payne analyses the reasons for the collapse of the ‘red wall’, concluding that Brexit was a major factor: “In every place, in almost every single conversation, Labour’s stance on Brexit and the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn were top of the list of why the party lost its fourth election in a row.” Labour’s support for a second Brexit referendum and “Corbyn’s equivocation on the EU question” contrasted with Johnson’s deceptive yet effective rhetoric (“Get Brexit done”), giving the Conservatives a landslide.

Assessing the challenge for Labour in rebuilding the ‘red wall’, Payne argues that—as Bill Clinton put it—it’s the economy, stupid: “there is a clear consesus about what needs to be done for the people of the red wall. The majority of interviewees have highlighted that the issues are primarily economic, not cultural.” He proposes a reversal of “decades of underinvestment on infrastructure”, and the decentralisation of power: “The House of Lords needs to be scrapped... devolution is going to be critical to rebuilding England after the pandemic into a better society.”

25 September 2021

บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112



The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), one of the key student groups leading the current anti-government protests, has released a new booklet, บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112 (‘speeches on 112’). It features a collection of speeches delivered at past protest rallies, all in support of the UFTD’s campaign to abolish the lèse-majesté law (article 112 of the Thai criminal code). The booklet’s main title is a quote from the 1932 revolutionary manifesto by Pridi Banomyong, ประเทศนี้เป็นของราษฎร ไม่ใช่กษัตริย์ตามที่เขาหลอกลวง (‘our country belongs to the people—not to the king, as has been deceitfully claimed’).

Naturally, in today’s political climate, publishing such a booklet is legally perilous. Copies were given away at Three Kings Monument Square in Chiang Mai on 21st September, and yesterday the UFTD announced online that they planned to distribute it at a rally outside BACC in Bangkok today. This announcement caught the attention of the police, who intercepted some copies that were en route to the rally today. Nevertheless, the booklet was available at the rally, and was handed out in exchange for a token donation.

This is the third booklet on the monarchy to attract unwanted attention from the police. 10,000 copies of Arnon Nampa’s สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย (‘the monarchy and Thai society’) were seized in March, and 50,000 copies of the UFTD’s ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’) were confiscated before they could be distributed at a rally in September 2020. (Arnon’s booklet was later given away at a rally at Ratchaprasong in Bangkok on 3rd September.)

Of course, by announcing their intention to distribute these booklets, the protest groups are essentially daring the police to ban them, and the censorious authorities are only too happy to oblige. Aside from their provocative contents and their brushes with the law, the three booklets also have a common colour scheme: Arnon’s has a blue cover, the first UFTD booklet is red, and the new one is white. These correspond with the colours of Thailand’s tricolour flag, symbolising the monarchy, the nation, and religion respectively.

Thai Soaps: An Analysis of Thai Television Dramas


Gerhard Jaiser begins his book Thai Soaps: An Analysis of Thai Television Dramas by distancing himself from “people who appreciate lakhons as entertainment or even as an art form”, admitting that “I myself do not.” Thai soap operas (known as lakhon or lakorn) are justifiably dismissed as nam nao (‘dirty water’), though they still deserve to be analysed, and Thai Soaps is the first book to do so.

Jaiser’s book (published in 2017) begins with a detailed examination of lakorn narrative structure, character archetypes, and other conventions of the genre. The second chapter makes nuanced comparisons between various original series and their modern remakes, helpfully guiding the reader through the sometimes confusing multiplicity of lakorn versions.

A chapter on lakorn and politics notes how censorship is determined by the political climate. For example, the Thaksin Shinawatra satire เหนือเมฆ (‘beyond comparison’) was uncontroversial in 2010 because “at that time, the Democrat Party, favorable to the Yellow Shirts (and to Channel 3), was in power”, whereas its sequel was censored in 2012, when Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was in office. Ing Kanjanavanit’s film Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) suffered a similar fate for the same reason.

Jaiser is surprisingly uncritical of the deeply problematic representation of minorities in lakorn. He does discuss the asexual nature of gay characters, the increasingly negative stereotyping of Westerners, and the almost total absence of black people, though he doesn’t call this out as homophobic or racist. He even seems reluctant to condemn the reprehensible depiction of rape in lakorn, noting that they portray it as “an act that can even increase the love of the female victim for the rapist” yet criticising this in only mild terms as “questionable”.

Thai Soaps includes a valuable appendix listing major lakorn series, with their Thai titles, plot synopses, and (in most cases) original transmission dates. It’s a good example of not judging a book by its cover—which features a fairly unappealing snapshot—because this is a first-rate study of a second-rate genre.

24 September 2021

Specter


Specter Specter Specter
Specter Specter Specter

Specter (ปีศาจ), an exhibition organised by the protest movement Thalu Fah, opened at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok on 18th September and runs until 14th October. Since the opening, more works have been added to the exhibition, all of which relate to the 6th October 1976 massacre. (Specter marks the 45th anniversary of the massacre, in lieu of the annual commemoration at Thammasat University, which will not take place this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

The additional works all incorporate elements of Neal Ulevich’s infamous photograph of a vigilante hitting a hanging corpse with a folding chair, a single image that has come to stand for the entire massacre. The photo itself is reproduced as part of a collage by Lucky Leg. (Due to the sensitivity of the exhibition, many of the artworks are credited to pseudonyms.) In a drawing by Sinsawat Yodbangtoey, the vigilante and the corpse appear in an hourglass.

Ulevich’s photo is now so iconic that even isolated elements from it are immediately recognisable. In one painting, the man wielding the chair appears in silhouette. In a painting by KKTKKKH, the corpse hangs not from a tree as in the photograph, but from an ornate lamp post with a kinnaree finial. A painting by Rattapob Sirichom shows a crowd of onlookers and a tree trunk. Finally, a painting of a folding chair with a guillotine blade presents the chair as a weapon.

23 September 2021

The Adventures of Little Duck


The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) is one of a series of eight children’s picture books published this month, some of which refer directly to current Thai politics. The title character has become a symbol of the anti-government protest movement after protesters used rubber ducks to protect themselves from water cannon. Since then, yellow ducks have appeared on calendars and coupons, in a painting, and in the short films New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่) and Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship. The author is credited only by the pen name สะอาด (‘pure’). The book series—perhaps inspired by Hong Kong’s similar ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books—promotes values of tolerance, equality, and democracy, and other titles include Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?) and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

10 ราษฎร


10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’) is one of a series of eight children’s picture books published this month, some of which refer directly to current Thai politics. 10 ราษฎร is entirely visual, featuring portraits of ten people charged with lèse-majesté. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, editor of Voice of Taksin, is included alongside leaders of the recent anti-government protests such as Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (who was arrested yesterday), Arnon Nampa, and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan.

10 ราษฎร was illustrated by Chalermpol Junrayab, the political cartoonist who created the Amazing Thai-Land comics. The book series—perhaps influenced by Hong Kong’s similar ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books—promotes values of tolerance, equality, and democracy, and other titles include The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) and Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?).

Mom, Where Are You Going?


Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?) is one of a series of eight children’s picture books published this month, some of which refer directly to current Thai politics. Mom, Where Are You Going? is based on a story by the actress Intira Jaroenpura, who starred in Nang Nak (นางนาก), and shows her at some of the recent anti-government rallies.

Intira not only supports the protesters, but she has also publicly acknowledged that she funded some of the protests. The book series—perhaps influenced by Hong Kong’s similar ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books—promotes values of tolerance, equality, and democracy, and other titles include The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

22 September 2021

Luk Thung: The Culture and Politics of Thailand’s Most Popular Music


Luk Thung: The Culture and Politics of Thailand’s Most Popular Music, by James Leonard Mitchell (published in 2015), is the first English-language study of luk thung, a genre that’s usually characterised as Thai country music. Luk thung takes its name from a 1964 television show, and this period was the genre’s golden age, mostly due to the popularity of Suraphon Sombatcharoen—“the King of Thai Country Song”, whose most famous single was สิบหกปีแห่งความหลัง (‘sixteen years past’)—and the success of the blockbuster musical film Monrak Luk Thung (มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง).

Mitchell’s revisionist history covers the genre’s origins in Isaan during the Phibun and Sarit era, when “censorship combined with better economic conditions encouraged songwriters... to abandon social commentary and move into writing commercial and sometimes nationalistic luk thung.” These included a series of stridently nationalistic songs such as เขาพระวิหารต้องเป็นของไทย (‘Preah Vihear Temple must be Thai’), protesting the 1962 judgement that the Preah Vihear Temple was part of Cambodian soil.

The book concludes with an account of the politicisation of luk thung by the red-shirts and yellow-shirts, and provides a detailed analysis of the pro and anti-Thaksin songs played at their respective protest rallies. This final chapter (expanded from Mitchell’s excellent journal paper Red and Yellow Songs) is both a fascinating study of popular culture as propaganda, and a groundbreaking recognition of luk thung’s political dimension. It also situates luk thung within the tradition of Thai ‘songs for life’ following the 14th October 1973 uprising (a tradition that continues today with protest songs in support of the anti-government movement).

19 September 2021

The Queen’s Gambit


Chess grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili is suing Netflix for defamation, and seeking $5 million in damages. Her lawsuit relates to the final episode of the Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit, released last year. In the episode (titled End Game and directed by Scott Frank), a chess commentator compares the lead character, Beth Harman, to Gaprindashvili: “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.

The lawsuit, filed on 16th September at the Federal District Court of Los Angeles, claims that “Netflix brazenly and deliberately lied about Gaprindashvili’s achievements” and describes the reference to her never having faced men as “manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling.” The episode is set in 1968, by which time Gaprindashvili had played competitive chess against dozens of male players, though The Queen’s Gambit is a drama series, and is thus surely entitled to artistic licence.

18 September 2021

Specter


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A new exhibition marking the 45th anniversary of the 6th October 1976 massacre opened today at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok. Specter (ปีศาจ), organised by the protest movement Thalu Fah, runs until 14th October. Its full title, ปีศาจแห่งกาลเวลา (‘devil of time’), comes from a novel by Seni Sawaphong. Like last year’s Unmuted Project, Specter includes some risqué artworks, and its opening was monitored by the police.

Most provocatively, a crown has been added to Gustav Corbet’s L’Origine du monde (‘the origin of the world’), turning Corbet’s painting into a pejorative (‘cuntface’). To avoid official scrutiny, the work is signed with a pseudonym, Luckyleg. The same anonymous artist also created portraits of protest leaders including Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (who attended the opening) and Arnon Nampa.

Figures from Neal Ulevich’s iconic 6th October photograph inspired many of the artworks, including paintings of the hanging corpse, the man wielding the chair, and the laughing boy. Another 6th October press photo is exhibited on the floor, and a mannequin and folding chair are suspended from a tree. There is also a small painting of Choomporn Thummai and Vichai Kasripongsa, the two men whose extrajudicial hangings precipitated the 6th October massacre.