Friday, 30 April 2021

The Film Book

The Film Book
The second edition of Ronald Bergan’s The Film Book was published last month, ten years after the first edition, with a slightly tweaked subtitle (A Complete Guide to the World of Movies). The earlier edition included a list of 100 essential films (which first appeared in Bergan’s book Film), and the new edition adds an additional eight recent films to the list.

The extra titles in the “Must-See Movies” list are There Will Be Blood, White Material, Inception, Twelve Years a Slave, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Black Panther, and Parasite (기생충). Bergan also wrote Understanding Cinema and co-wrote 501 Must-See Movies (which has been updated in second, third, fourth, and fifth editions).

Wisit Sasanatieng

Tears of the Black Tiger
Citizen Dog
The Red Eagle
Senior
The Unseeable
Reside
Nang Nak
Slice
Next month, the Thai Film Archive at Salaya has programmed a complete retrospective of films directed by Wisit Sasanatieng. (The Archive held a mini Wisit retrospective in 2010.) The season begins in style with 35mm screenings of Wisit’s classic Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร), tentatively scheduled for 4th and 16th May. The other planned screenings in May are as follows: Citizen Dog (หมานคร) on 16th and 25th, The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง) on 11th and 19th, Senior (รุ่นพี่) on 21st and 30th, The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) on 20th and 26th, and Reside (สิงสู่) on 22nd and 27th.

Two films written by Wisit will also be shown in the month-long season: Nang Nak (นางนาก) on 11th and 22nd, and Slice (เฉือน) on 14th and 30th. Wisit also wrote the screenplay for Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง), though it’s not included in the retrospective as it was screened at the Archive only a few months ago. All screenings are free, though the schedule will be delayed, as cinemas and other entertainment venues are currently closed until 14th June due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thai Film Archive

Rashomon
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
The June screening schedule at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya includes two masterpieces, released sixty years apart. Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (羅生門) was originally scheduled to be shown in 16mm on 13th and 30th June. Screenings of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ) were planned for 12th and 24th June. All screenings are free, though the dates will be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, as all entertainment venues are currently closed until 14th June.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Pink Man Story

Pink Man Story
Pink Man Story (พิ้งค์แมนสตอรี่), an exhibition of selected photographs from Manit Sriwanichpoom’s long-running Pink Man (พิ้งค์แมน) series, was due to open today at BACC and run until 16th May. The opening has now been delayed, following the government’s announcement of a shutdown of entertainment venues from 26th April to 14th June due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Each Pink Man photo features the incongruous figure of Sompong Tawee wearing a bright pink suit, a symbol of consumerism and superficiality. For the Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู) series, Manit digitally inserted Sompong into news photographs of three massacres from recent Thai history. Horror in Pink was first shown at the History and Memory (ประวัติศาสตร์ และ ความทรงจำ) exhibition, and later at From Message to Media (มองสารผ่านสื่อ) and Phenomena and Prophecies (ท้าและทาย).

The forthcoming exhibition was largely designed to promote a book of the same name: the Pink Man Story catalogue includes a complete collection of every Pink Man image, a (heavily edited) reprint of Ing K’s essay Poses from Dreamland (ท่าโพส จากแดน ช่างฝัน), and an analysis of Horror in Pink by Iola Lenzi. The book was published earlier this week, and the exhibition will open after the lockdown ends in June.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Kintsugi

Kintsugi
Seppo
Tomotsugi, the Japanese technique whereby urushi (lacquer) is used as a bonding agent to repair broken ceramics, has been practised for as long as 3,000 years. Archaeological excavations reveal that, rather than attempting seamless repairs, the tomotsugi craftsmen decorated the seams with grit.

Gold dust was later used to further accentuate the urushi seams, a technique known as kintsugi. When silver is sustituted for gold, the process is called gintsugi. Replacing missing pieces with fragments from other vessels is known as yobitsugi, and was first practised by Furuta Oribe. Repaired ceramics decorated with figurative maki-e art, produced for export, were known as makienaoshi.

Although kintsugi has a 400-year history in Japan, it has only gained recognition in the West in the last ten years or so. Most books on the subject reappropriate kintsugi as a philosophy rather than a craft, using it as a (somewhat tenuous) metaphor to represent triumph over adversity: just as kintsugi beautifies a vessel’s imperfections, so we should wear our scars with pride.

Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend, by Bonnie Kemske, is the first comprehensive book on the art and history of kintsugi. Kemske traces its origins to a sixteenth century teabowl—Seppō (‘snowy peak’), by master craftsman Hon’ami Kōetsu—which she describes as “the birth of kintsugi.” She also shows how contemporary Western artists utilise kintsugi techniques. The book is beautifully illustrated, and includes an extensive bibliography.

Monday, 26 April 2021

The Patani Art of Struggle

The Patani Art of Struggle
The Patani Art of Struggle
Violence in Tak Bai
Violence in Tak Bai
Jehabdulloh Jehsorhoh has led a burgeoning of contemporary art in Pattani and the other provinces near Thailand’s southern border, and The Patani Art of Struggle (ศิลปะปาตานี วิถีแห่งการดิ้นรน), a monograph on Jehabdulloh’s work, was published last year. (‘Patani’ refers to a formerly independent Malay Muslim sultanate that is now part of Thailand. Today, therefore, ‘Patani’ is a political term with separatist connotations.)

Jehabdulloh first came to prominence with Violence in Tak-Bai (ความรุนแรงที่ตากใบ): wooden grave markers arranged in a circle, commemorating the protesters who died in the 2004 Tak Bai massacre. The book reproduces a watercolour painting of the concept, and three versions of the installation in situ. It was first installed, just a few days after the massacre, at the Prince of Songkla University campus in Pattani, and the grave markers were accompanied by rifles wrapped in white cloth. In 2017, it was recreated at Patani Art Space and exhibited on a plinth containing Pattani soil at the Patani Semasa (ปาตานี ร่วมสมัย) exhibition. (The exhibition catalogue gives it a milder alternative title, Remember at Tak-Bai.)

Since 2013, Jehabdulloh has incorporated images of weapons such as guns and hand grenades into his paintings, a reminder of the continuing conflict between the Thai military and separatist insurgents. The book highlights the financial and human cost of the military operation: “The Thai government has spent 206,094 million baht to solve and alleviate the conflicts in Southern Thailand over the past ten years... Is fighting violence with violence an effective solution?” Yuthlert Sippapak’s film Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ) poses the same question, as he explained when I interviewed him: “‘เหตุการณ์สงบงบไม่มา’—‘if no war, no money’. Money is power. And the person who created the war is the military.

The Patani Art of Struggle, housed in a die-cut slipcase, was edited by Apichaya O-in and Ekkarin Tuansiri. Its Malay title is سني ڤتاني چاراو او سها.

Friday, 23 April 2021

The Making of Raging Bull

The Making of Raging Bull
The Making of Raging Bull
The UK went into almost total lockdown in March last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the year that followed, Jay Glennie researched, wrote, and published his impressive new book on the making of Raging Bull.

Glennie has interviewed all of the film’s key cast and crew, including director Martin Scorsese and star Robert De Niro (both of whom also gave him access to their archives). Even co-star Joe Pesci, now somewhat reclusive, agreed to an interview. As Glennie says in his introduction: “This is the story of the making of Raging Bull, by those who conceived it.”

Glennie’s comprehensive record of the film’s production is supplemented with handwritten notes, script drafts, and (mostly black-and-white) photographs, all magnificently reproduced. Richard Schickel wrote an excellent feature on the making of Raging Bull for Vanity Fair’s March 2010 issue, though Glennie’s book is the definitive account.

Perhaps we should expect nothing less, as the book costs £100 (albeit limited to 1,980 signed and numbered copies, mine being no. 125). Although The Making of Raging Bull (or Raging Bull: The Making of?) is a lavish publication, its layout is rather unconventional, with no contents page or individual chapters.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Lets Kill

Thai experimental noise band Gamnad737’s album Lets Kill [sic] includes several tracks with anti-government titles: Kill the Government, Kill the Dicktatorship, and Kill the Section 44. Section 44 is a reference to article 44 of the interim constitution, which granted absolute power to the 2014 military junta. Similarly, P9d’s rap album RAW Jazz Effect includes the track Section 44, which begins with the unambiguous line “Fuck the section 44”.

Lets Kill is available on cassette and CD, and in a unique CD edition splattered with founding member Arkat Vinyapiroath’s blood. (The blood-splattered edition also comes complete with two vials of Arkat’s blood, and it remains unsold almost three years after its release.) Gamnad737’s latest release is the Drilling Technique cassette EP (which includes a grisly photo of a Jeffrey Dahmer victim). Arkat is also the bassist for thrash metal band Killing Fields, whose most recent EP is Death to Dictator.

การเมืองโมเบียส

Wad Rawee
Wad Rawee’s book การเมืองโมเบียส: การเมืองและเรื่องเล่าว่าด้วย ศีลธรรมที่ไม่มีด้านตรงข้าม (‘Möbius politics: politics and narratives, morality without opposition’) examines Thai politics and the monarchy since the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. The cover illustration shows Bangkok’s Democracy Monument as a military complex in a dystopian future. Jakkapan Kangwan’s new novel Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า) also features the Monument on its cover. On the cover of the second edition of Sulak Sivaraksa’s book หกทศวรรษประชาธิปไตย (‘six decades of democracy’), the Monument is represented as a jigsaw with one piece—containing the constitution—missing.

Death to Dictator

Death to Dictator
Death to Dictator, the latest EP by Thai thrash metal band Killing Fields, was released last year on cassette. The cover illustration, by Slaughterhouse21, depicts the skeleton of the army chief with a bullet hole through his head, and a cobwebbed Democracy Monument. The Monument has appeared on several previous album covers, such as the สามัญชน (‘commoner’) EP by The Commoner, ดอกไม้พฤษภา (‘May flower’) by Zuzu, and the compilation ตุลาธาร ๑๔ คน ๑๔ เพลง ต้องห้าม (‘14th October: 14 artists, 14 forbidden songs’).

The Death to Dictator EP includes a live version of 6th October, a track from the band’s previous album, Gigantrix Extinction. The cassette features the Dolby logo, though this is presumably an error, as Dolby noise reduction is no longer licensed to cassette releases. Bassist Arkat Vinyapiroath is also the founding member of experimental noise band Gamnad737.

Monday, 19 April 2021

Altai Villa

Altai Villa
Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า: เรื่องราวขำขื่นในนครขื่นขม), the new novel by Jakkapan Kangwan, was published last week. Like Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’) and Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘indescribable fiction’), it makes direct reference to recent Thai politics.

Altai Villa is a new community of self-described ‘good people’ (a loaded phrase in Thailand, as it refers to establishment figures who are portrayed as paragons of virtue), established following a coup, and the rights of its citizens are imperceptibly eroded. Just in case any readers failed to grasp the satirical metaphor, the subtext is clarified in chapter twenty-six when one of the ‘good people’ pledges to return happiness to the population, a reference to the 2014 junta’s propaganda song Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย).

The novel features Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on its cover, with a tank in the foreground. (Throughout the book, illustrations show the Monument in various stages of completion.) Similarly, the cover of Wad Rawee’s book การเมืองโมเบียส (‘Möbius politics’) shows Democracy Monument as a military complex. On the cover of the second edition of Sulak Sivaraksa’s book หกทศวรรษประชาธิปไตย (‘six decades of democracy’), Democracy Monument is represented as a jigsaw with one piece—containing the constitution—missing.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

ไข่แมวX

Khai Maew
ไข่แมวX, by the anonymous Facebook cartoonist Khai Maew, was released this month. The book features the best of Khai Maew’s satirical cartoons from the past four years, including several parodies of the 2019 election campaign. Minimal context is provided alongside each cartoon (as Khai Maew’s work is usually presented without captions, to allow for multiple interpretations), including a reprint of the manifesto for monarchy reform also published in ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’).

At the back of the book are a handful of new cartoons that are too sensitive to publish on the artist’s Facebook page (though even the cover illustration is also potentially taboo-breaking, albeit indirectly). The book’s final image borrows a motif from The Last Monument by another anonymous satirist, Headache Stencil.

Like Chalermpol Junrayab’s Amazing Thai-land series, Khai Maew combines superhero characters and political figures in his satirical cartoons. Both artists’ works are distributed primarily on Facebook, and they have both branched out with exhibitions, calendars, and books. Khai Maew’s first exhibition, Kalaland, was held in 2018, and Chalermpol’s took place a year later.

Khai Maew has also produced satirical merchandise, including soft toys and other items based on his recurring Thaksin Shinawatra and Prayut Chan-o-cha characters. He even created Happy Boy, a plastic model of the smiling child seen in Neal Ulevich’s photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Come and See

Come and See
After Nottapon Boonprakob submitted his documentary Come and See (เอหิปัสสิโก) to the Thai censorship board, they phoned him and explained that some board members had reservations about it. Would he mind if they rejected the film, they asked. Naturally, he did mind, so they invited him to a meeting. After the phone call, the Thai Film Director Association publicised the case online, and the stage was set for another Thai film censorship controversy. However, when Nottapon met the censors on 10th March, they told him that there was no problem, and the film was passed uncut with a universal ‘G’ rating.

It’s likely that the censors capitulated as a result of the publicity generated by their rather naïve phone call. The earlier case of Nontawat Numbenchapol’s Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง) was very similar: that film’s ban was swiftly reversed following online publicity about it. (Nontawat’s film was subject to a token cut, imposed to save the face of the censorship board who had originally banned it.)

Come and See and Boundary are both documentaries about controversial temples. In Boundary’s case, the controversy was territorial, with Thailand and Cambodia both claiming ownership of the disputed Preah Vihear on the border between the two countries. Come and See, on the other hand, examines the cult-like practices of the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple complex (in Pathum Thani province, near Bangkok) and its former abbot, Dhammajayo, who has long been suspected of money laundering.

Dhammakaya is a Buddhist sect recognised by the Sangha Supreme Council, though it closely resembles a cult. Dhammakaya supporters are encouraged to make large financial donations in return for their salvation, and thousands of followers have given their savings to the temple. (Come and See interviews both current devotees and disaffected former members.) After Dhammajayo was accused of corruption, a declaration of his innocence was added to the temple’s morning prayers. (The film shows temple visitors reciting this like a mantra.)

The Dhammakaya complex itself is only twenty years old, and its design is inherently cinematic. The enormous Cetiya temple resembles a golden UFO, and temple ceremonies are conducted on an epic scale, with tens of thousands of monks and worshippers arranged with geometric precision. The temple cooperated with Nottapon, though his access was limited. Come and See doesn’t investigate the allegations against Dhammajayo, though it does provide extensive coverage of the 2016 DSI raid on the temple and Dhammajayo’s subsequent disappearance.

One of the film’s interviewees, a Buddhist scholar, hits the nail on the head when he argues that the long-running Dhammakaya scandal is not an anomaly; rather, Dhammakaya is simply a more extreme version of contemporary Thai Buddhism, which has become increasingly capitalist. Come and See also hints at the institutional corruption and hidden networks of influence that characterise the modern Thai state.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

จวบจันทร์แจ่มฟ้านภาผ่อง

Thanavi Chotpradit
Thanavi Chotpradit’s จวบจันทร์แจ่มฟ้านภาผ่อง: ศิลปะและศิลปินแห่งรัชสมัยรัชกาลที่ 9 (‘when the moon is high, the sky turns bright and blue: art and artists in the reign of King Rama IX’) was published last year by Same Sky Books. The book is from the same series as Nattapoll Chaiching’s ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ (‘I dream an incredible dream’). Thanavi has also written Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย), a visual record of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

จวบจันทร์แจ่มฟ้านภาผ่อง includes chapters on specific exhibitions, such as Rupture (whose Thai title, หมายเหตุ ๕/๒๕๕๓, was changed to minimise any reference to the May 2010 military crackdown), Prapat Jiwarangsan’s I’ll Never Smile Again (a song title, though also a pun on The King Never Smiles), and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Green (a reference to Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue series of abstract paintings). It also examines art made in response to the lèse-majesté law.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

“Thailand’s complainer-in-chief...”

Chian Mai University
Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Fine Arts has been criticised for censoring political artworks created by a pair of students. The row is centred on a banner representing the Thai flag, with the central blue stripe replaced by transparent material. The flag’s blue stripe symbolises the monarchy, thus the banner could be interpreted as a republican statement. It was removed by the dean of the Faculty on 22nd March.

Two days later, the University issued a statement in support of the dean, noting that the banner was a potentially illegal alteration of the flag. On 26th March, Srisuwan Janya, head of the Constitution Protection Association pressure group, filed a complaint with Chiang Mai police accusing the artists of violating the Flag Act of 1979. Lèse-majesté charges are also likely. The Flag Act prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. Srisuwan, a self-appointed moral guardian, was dubbed “Thailand’s complainer-in-chief” by the Bangkok Post in a headline on 18th March 2019.

The banner is similar to an artwork by Mit Jai Inn shown at last year’s Status in Statu exhibition. Mit’s installation, titled Republic of Siam, was a large roll of fabric with a pattern of red and white stripes: like the student’s banner, it resembled a Thai flag without the blue stripe.