Thursday, 28 January 2021

ร่างของปรารถนา

Uthis Haemamool
Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), published in 2017, follows the sexual and political awakenings of an art graduate from Silpakorn University (where Uthis himself studied painting). The novel’s frank sexual content is combined with commentary on Thailand’s three most recent coups (1991, 2006, and 2014).

Some passages are printed in a new typeface—ปรารถนา (‘desire’)—commissioned especially for the novel, with letter forms that resemble sexual positions. In a nod to the book’s risqué content, its pages are sealed with a perforated strip that must be torn off before reading.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

A Promised Land

Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, was published in November last year, barely a week after Joe Biden won the US presidential election. This is the first of two volumes, and covers most of Obama’s first term as President, ending with the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. As Obama explains, the book was intended to cover both terms of office in under 500 words, though this first volume alone is more than 700 pages long: “It’s fair to say that the writing process didn’t go exactly as I’d planned. Despite my best intentions, the book kept growing in length and scope—the reason why I eventually decided to break it into two volumes.”

Obama’s literary talents were evident long before his presidency, having already written two best-selling and highly acclaimed memoirs. So, as expected, A Promised Land is a remarkable book. One chapter, for example, ends with Obama musing on the fates of the letters he wrote: “Eventually the letter would fall into a drawer somewhere, forgotten under the acculumation of the new joys and pains that make up a life.” What other presidential memoir could describe correspondence in such poetic terms? (Certainly not George W. Bush’s Decision Points.)

It comes as no surprise that Obama distrusts Vladimir Putin, describing him as “the leader of what resembled a criminal syndicate as much as it did a traditional government”. As for Donald Trump and his disgraceful ‘birtherism’ lie, Obama is refreshingly direct: “the conspiracy theory he was promoting was racist.” A Promised Land is a reminder of the total contrast between Obama and his successor, a man not even fit to shine Obama’s shoes, let alone to fill them.

Monday, 25 January 2021

1410

1410
1410
1410
Like several other Thai filmmakers, Yuthlert Sippapak has become more politically engaged as a result of the long-running political crisis that has polarised Thai society for more than a decade. (This political consciousness is known in Thai as ta sawang.) When I interviewed Yuthlert for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he said: “I never gave a shit about politics. But right now, it’s too much.”

Yuthlert’s ta sawang moment came when the military withdrew its support for his film Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ). Far from the propaganda vehicle the military was expecting, the film instead exposed military corruption in southern Thailand. As Yuthlert told me: “Money is power. And the person who created the war is the military. I said that, and I don’t want to take that out. That’s the truth. And they don’t want the truth. I want the truth.”

Since then, Yuthlert has turned to political activism, campaigning against Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. On 27 August 2019, he criticised the Constitutional Court on Twitter—“สงสัยว่าศาลรัฐธรรมนูญ เสือกอะไรกับประชาชน ก็ได้เหรอ?” (‘what gives the Constitutional Court the right to intrude on its citizens?’)—and he was summonsed to apologise for contempt of court.

Last year, he faced a Computer Crime charge after criticising minister Puttipong Punnakanta via another Twitter account on 20 April 2020: “รัฐมนตรีเฟคนิวส์ อยู่เบื้องหลังสาเหตุของการตายของม้าในประเทศไทย” (‘the minister of fake news is behind the horse deaths in Thailand’). That tweet was from his NMG (No More General) campaign against Prayut.

Yuthlert’s latest provocation is 1410, a proposed new political science-fiction film starring Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, whose hit single 12345 I Love You was appropriated by anti-government protesters. Yuthlert held a press conference with Chaiamorn on 18th January at the Jam Factory in Bangkok, announcing a plan to crowdfund the budget for 1410 through online donations.

He is also currently working on two political satires: Seven Boy Scouts (a horror film in which the evil characters share their nicknames with Thai politicians) and The Last Dictator (อวสาน ร.ป.ภ; a comedy in which a filmmaker dying from COVID-19 vows to assassinate a coup leader). Whereas Seven Boy Scouts is almost complete, The Last Dictator seems to be on the back burner. Yuthlert is also working on another (shorter) edit of Fatherland, for a future Netflix release, though real-life political protests are taking up most of his time.

1410’s title is a reference to the 14th October 1973 student protest that led to the (brief) restoration of democracy, though Yuthlert hasn’t revealed any specifics about its characters or plot. The tagline for the film’s teaser poster is “ภาพยนตร์บันทึกอดีตอันเลวร้าย ถ่ายทอดความเสื่อมทรามของปัจจุบัน เพื่อต่อต้านเผด็จการโสมมในอนาคต” (‘a film about a terrible past and a worsening present, to prevent corrupt dictators in the future’).

A 1410 exhibition is on show at the Jam Factory from 18th to 27th January. A large mural (with stylised typography by PrachathipaType) features the slogan “ศักดินาจงพินาศ ประชาราษฎร์จงเจริญ” (‘may feudalism be defeated; may the people prosper’), and a dartboard uses Headache Stencil’s portrait of Prayut as a bullseye. This is Yuthlert’s third appearance at the Jam Factory: he was a guest speaker at the Uncensored event there in 2019; and The Land We Call Home, an exhibition of Sira Twichsang’s photos from Fatherland, was held there in 2014.

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Irréversible (DVD)

Irreversible
Irreversible
Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible is notorious for its real-time rape sequence, its brutal (CGI) fire extinguisher murder scene, and its reverse-chronology narrative structure (though the latter was heavily influenced by Memento). Irréversible (like most of Noé’s films) is sexually explicit and intentionally confrontational; to see it on its theatrical release in 2002, I had to drive to a cinema thirty miles away (as local cinemas wouldn’t screen it) and read a notice warning viewers that it contained disturbing images.

Last year, Noé recut the film, putting it into conventional chronological order. This new version was released on DVD and blu-ray in France and Germany by Studio Canal in 2020, and will be available on blu-ray in the UK from Indicator later this year.

The recut version is actually shorter than the original, losing almost ten minutes of footage, notably from the S&M club sequence: explicit shots of sexual activity both outside and inside the club have been removed. Another change occurs after the end credits: the caption “LE TEMPS DETRUIT TOUT” (‘time destroys everything’) has been replaced by a new, more optimistic maxim: “LE TEMPS RÉVÈLE TOUT” (‘time reveals everything’).

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Hakom

Hakom
Remembrances of Red Trauma
Charuphat Petcharavej’s short story Hakom (ห่าก้อม) was first published in an anthology of Isaan literature, มวลดอกไม้ในยุคมืด (‘flowers in a dark age’). It was translated into English last year, and reprinted in Remembrances of Red Trauma: The Tenth Anniversary of the Political Violence of 2010 (1 ทศวรรษ พฤษภาฯ เลือดปี ’53), a collection of articles reflecting on the 2010 massacre and “Thai society’s deep-rooted culture of impunity.” (Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s Ten Year project also commemorated the tenth anniversary of the massacre.)

Hakom is a supernatural tale of a phi pob spirit possessing an Isaan villager, though the story is also a political metaphor. The fictional village of Dong Bong is a microcosm of Thailand, and its former headman, Wan, is a proxy for Thaksin Shinawatra. Charuphat writes that Wan became persona non grata: “A group of villagers had driven him out of the village, forcing him to make a new home for himself on a hill, far away from the village.” This mirrors Thaksin’s self-exile following the 2006 coup against his government.

Wan’s sister, Buaphan, thus represents Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, and the story describes her futile efforts to protect the village from its attackers: “Against these poisonous animals and fierce beasts out on the streets in a show of full force, the villagers [had] little at their disposal to fight back. So many of them went to see Nang Buaphan for help. But she had nothing to match the power of the attackers. She could only tell the villagers to endure this crisis until one day, the monsters would run out of energy and leave.”

This vivid description of a village under siege echoes the military massacre of red-shirt protesters in 2010, and the 2014 coup against Yingluck’s administration. Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s short film The Pob’s House (บ้านผีปอบ) also employs a phi pob as a metaphor for political violence. In Ukrit’s film, an elderly woman is beaten by her fellow villagers, who believe her to be possessed by a phi pob. Like Hakom, The Pob’s House was also a response to the 2010 massacre.

How to Swear

How to Swear
How to Swear: An Illustrated Guide, by Stephen Wildish, features etymologies and derivations of seven swear words in infographic form. (The chosen words are not the same as George Carlin’s famous septet, with more emphasis on British slang.) Chapter seven is devoted to the c-word, which Wildish calls “the most offensive word in the English language and one of the last words that still has the power to shock.”

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

The Making of a Masterpiece

The Making of a Masterpiece
The Making of a Masterpiece
The Making of a Masterpiece
Taschen published The Stanley Kubrick Archives as a collector’s edition in 2005, and last year they launched a new series—The Making of a Masterpiece—based on material from that still-definitive work. Each book in the series is essentially a reprint of an individual chapter from The Stanley Kubrick Archives, reformatted to a square 12” format (the same size as an LP sleeve), and bundled with a DVD and poster.

There are three titles in the series so far: A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The LP-sized format allows for some impressive full-page illustrations, and the authorised poster reproductions are a welcome bonus. The inclusion of the DVDs is more surprising, though, as most readers will either already own them, or prefer to stream the films online. Also, the DVDs are vanilla discs with no bonus features.

While the essays and images are almost entirely the same as the original chapters in The Stanley Kubrick Archives, completists should note that the new books do feature a small amount of new material. In the 2001 book, this includes two letters from Kubrick to Arthur C. Clarke, and a few additional photographs of Kubrick on the set. (On the other hand, Kubrick’s 1968 Playboy interview is missing.)

The A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon books include slightly more new material, each adding a handful of on-set photos and a few script pages. Barry Lyndon also has an additional letter from Kubrick, to a studio executive in Japan. In the letter, Kubrick attempts to assuage the Japanese censor’s concerns that pubic hair is visible in the film’s bathtub scene. (Any depiction of pubic hair is forbidden in Japan.) Kubrick reassures the executive that the actress in question was wearing a bikini to preserve her modesty.

Friday, 1 January 2021

ปฏิทินพระราชทาน

Khana Ratsadon
Yesterday, a member of the pro-democracy group Khana Ratsadon was arrested at home and charged with lèse-majesté. Police also confiscated 174 desk calendars, which had been sold online by the group since Boxing Day.

The calendars feature cartoon drawings of yellow ducks, which became a pro-reform symbol after protesters used inflatable rubber ducks to defend themselves against water cannon on 17th November last year (as seen in Sorayos Prapapan’s short documentary Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship). Khana Ratsadon’s fake banknotes featuring a similar yellow duck symbol are also under investigation.

The lèse-majesté charge stems from the calendar’s title and two of its illustrations. According to the police, the title—ปฏิทินพระราชทาน (‘royal calendar’)—implies that the calendar is an official publication rather than a parody. One drawing features the words “กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ” (‘very brave, very good, thank you’), spoken by King Rama X during a walkabout on 23rd October last year. The other controversial picture shows a yellow duck with a bead of sweat on its beak: a reference to King Rama IX, who was photographed with a bead of sweat on his nose, symbolising his hard work.

This is the fourth calendar to be investigated by the Thai authorities in recent years. Wall calendars featuring greetings from Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawawtra were seized in 2018 and 2016. In 2010, a wall calendar by the beer company Leo, featuring models in body paint, was accused of promoting alcohol in contravention of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.