18 May 2024

Tawee Ratchaneekorn:
A Retrospective Exhibition 1960–2022


Tawee Ratchaneekorn

Tawee Ratchaneekorn: A Retrospective Exhibition 1960–2022 (ทวี รัชนีกร: ปรากฏการณ์แห่งอุดมการณ์) was held at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in 2022, accompanied by a lavish exhibition catalogue signed by the artist. The catalogue includes an interview with Tawee, and essays (in Thai and English) on his art and its political context.

Throughout his sixty-year artistic career, Tawee’s work has consistently drawn attention to socio-economic inequality. Walking around the exhibition, a surprising motif became apparent: many paintings, none of which were flattering portraits, featured golden crowns. Other paintings satirise self-serving Thai politicians and military generals.

Tawee Ratchaneekorn

The catalogue includes an erratum slip correcting a mistake in one of its essays: both the Thai and English versions mention the ‘14th and 16th October incidents’. As the erratum slip makes clear, this should refer to 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976, the dates of two historical massacres. Another essay in the catalogue makes a similar error—citing the ‘16th and 19th October incidents’—though this has not been corrected.

Highlighting these errors might seem like nitpicking, but they are not mere typos. Although the two massacres are among the most notorious events in modern Thai history, they have been whitewashed to such an extent that many people cannot tell them apart. The title of Aomtip Kerdplanant’s short film 16 ตุลา (‘16th Oct.’) comments on this by conflating the two dates. Similarly, the book Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย) describes “accounts which confuse the two events, often fusing them into one”.

15 May 2024

The Politics of Nordsploitation:
History, Industry, Audiences


The Politics of Nordsploitation Let the Right One In

The Politics of Nordsploitation: History, Industry, Audiences, published in 2021, is the fourth volume in the Global Exploitation Cinemas series. Pietari Kääpä and Tommy Gustafsson coined ‘Nordsploitation’ as an umbrella term referring to the exploitation cinema of the Nordic region (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden). The book offers an alternative history of Nordic cinema, focussing on marginalised and censored films: “The Politics of Nordsploitation is primarily interested in ‘forgotten’ films that are typically categorized as cheap and irrelevant by cultural authorities”.

The authors discuss the excesses of 1970s exploitation movies, and the moral panic over VHS horror films in Sweden, which took place in parallel with the UK ‘video nasties’ controversy. Gustafsson even consulted a doctor to verify a notorious moment of eyeball violence in Thriller: A Cruel Picture (En Grym Film) that was rumoured to utilise a real human body. (The GP “leaned towards it being fake”.) But, surprisingly, it’s the austere Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) that they cite as “in many ways the quintessential Nordic exploitation film”.

11 May 2024

The Magic Eye:
The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick


The Magic Eye

Banned by Stanley Kubrick! Finally released after more than fifty years! In this case, the hyperbole is true: Kubrick blocked the publication of Neil Hornick’s The Magic Eye: The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick in 1969, and it was published for the first time last month.

Hornick was commissioned by Peter Cowie’s Tantivy Press to write the first book on Kubrick’s films, and Kubrick agreed to cooperate, though he drew up a prohibitive contract giving him the right to veto anything in the manuscript that he disliked. Famously, Kubrick was a control freak, and he was demanding final cut on Hornick’s book.

Cowie had planned to release a series of books on major filmmakers, modelled on A Ribbon of Dreams, his own monograph on Orson Welles. He would eventually commission and publish works on a handful of (mostly European) directors, though Kubrick would not be among them.

Once Hornick had finished his manuscript and submitted it to Kubrick, he received a lawyer’s letter informing him that the director “does not approve” of its contents. Months went by, with Kubrick declining to clarify his objections, and refusing to return the manuscript. As Cowie was bound by the contract, Hornick was forced to abandon the project.

At the same time that Kubrick was stalling over Hornick’s manuscript, film critic Alexander Walker was also writing a book about the director. Unlike Hornick’s, Walker’s work—Stanley Kubrick Directs—was just the puff piece Kubrick was looking for, and he cooperated extensively with Walker. Stanley Kubrick Directs was published with Kubrick’s endorsement, while The Magic Eye was shelved until this year.

Kubrick’s decision to abruptly turn his back on one author (Hornick) and switch his attention to a rival (Walker) would be repeated years later during the preproduction for AI. Kubrick worked with several collaborators on the AI script, one after the other, cutting off contact with each in turn. Ian Watson, Brian Aldiss, and Sara Maitland have all subsequently revealed how Kubrick summarily dispensed with their services once he had found a replacement writer.

The Magic Eye now includes a timeline of the protracted legal case, and a foreword by Filippo Ulivieri, author of 2001 Between Kubrick and Clarke (2001 tra Kubrick e Clarke) and Stanley Kubrick and Me (Stanley Kubrick e me). Ulivieri notes that Kubrick’s delaying tactics were similar to his treatment of Arthur C. Clarke: he refused to approve the manuscript for Clarke’s novel 2001 until after the film was released, keeping Clarke and his publisher in limbo.

30 April 2024

Cannibal Error:
Anti-Film Propaganda and the ‘Video Nasties’ Panic of the 1980s


Cannibal Error

David Kerekes and David Slater followed Killing for Culture, their definitive history of real death on screen, with See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy, a comprehensive account of the ‘video nasty’ phenomenon, published in 2000. Both books have since been expanded and updated, more than twenty years later: a new edition of Killing for Culture appeared in 2016, and a second edition of See No Evil was released last month, retitled Cannibal Error: Anti-Film Propaganda and the ‘Video Nasties’ Panic of the 1980s.

‘Video nasty’ was a pejorative coined by the UK press in the early 1980s, when violent horror movies like Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust were released uncensored due to a lack of regulation over the emerging videocassette industry. After a campaign by the tabloids, police began charging video distributors under the Obscene Publications Act, and a list of thirty-nine actionable films was compiled by the Director of Public Prosecutions. In 1984, legislation was introduced requiring certification of all videos by the British Board of Film Classification.

See No Evil was the only book to cover every aspect of the ‘video nasties’ controversy: the films themselves, the moral panic whipped up by the media, the police prosecutions, the debate surrounding the influence of film violence, and state censorship of films on videotape. There have been other books on the subject—notably the academic study The Video Nasties, edited by Martin Barker; and John Martin’s chronology of press coverage, The Seduction of the Gullible—but See No Evil told the full story for the first time.

The second edition, Cannibal Error, is almost 200 pages longer than See No Evil. The main text has not been updated, but there are some new appendices, including a guide to the current availability of the original ‘video nasty’ films (by David Hinds) and interviews with senior BBFC staff. The new title—which will take some getting used to—is a pun on the film Cannibal Terror (Terreur cannibale), and a reference to the misinformation surrounding the ‘video nasties’.

Kerekes also edited the influential counter-culture journal Headpress, and his other books include Sex, Murder, Art (a monograph on director Jörg Buttgereit). Jake West (Video Nasties) and David Gregory (Ban the Sadist Videos!) have both made ‘video nasty’ documentaries, the Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 51, no. 610) published an analysis of the DPP’s list by Julian Petley and Kim Newman, and Newman wrote a concise history of the ‘video nasties’ in Sight and Sound (vol. 31, no. 5).

This Is What a Feminist Slut Looks Like:
Perspectives on the SlutWalk Movement


This Is What a Feminist Slut Looks Like

In 2011, the first SlutWalk was held in Toronto, launching a feminist campaign to assert female sexual autonomy and reclaim the epithet ‘slut’. In a Guardian op-ed published a few weeks later (9th May 2011), Gail Dines and Wendy J. Murphy argued that the SlutWalk movement was fighting a lost cause: “The term slut is so deeply rooted in the patriarchal “madonna/whore” view of women’s sexuality that it is beyond redemption. The word is so saturated with the ideology that female sexual energy deserves punishment that trying to change its meaning is a waste of precious feminist resources.”

Writing in The Daily Telegraph (12th May 2011), Germaine Greer supported the SlutWalkers, though she cautioned that it is “difficult, probably impossible, to reclaim a word that has always been an insult.” (And she should know, having attempted a similar reappropriation of the c-word in the 1970s.) Greer pointed out that, although ‘slut’ has always been a pejorative, it previously referred to slovenly women rather than promiscuous ones: “Yes, I am a slut. My house could be cleaner. My sheets could be whiter. I could be without sexual fantasies too—pure as the untrodden snow—but I’m not. I’m a slut and proud.”

Katharine Whitehorn was the first feminist to confront slut-shaming and reappropriate ‘slut’ as a positive term. Writing sixty years ago in The Observer (29th December 1963), she self-identified as a slut in the word’s original sense: “Have you ever taken anything back out of the dirty-clothes basket because it had become, relatively, the cleaner thing?... Honest answers should tell you, once and for all, whether you are one of us: the miserable, optimistic, misunderstood race of sluts.”

This Is What a Feminist Slut Looks Like: Perspectives on the SlutWalk Movement, edited by Alyssa Teekah, Erika Jane Scholz, May Friedman, and Andrea O’Reilly, was published in 2015. It includes a chapter by Nancy Effinger Wilson, Dirty Talk, an excellent cultural history of ‘slut’. The book also features yes i am a slut (written entirely in lower-case) by Clementine Morrigan, who proudly (but unconvincingly) proclaims herself a slut in the sexual sense: “yes i am a feminist and yes i am intelligent and yes i do choose to say yes i am a slut.”

22 April 2024

Alfred Hitchcock Storyboards


Alfred Hitchcock Storyboards
Saul Bass

Alfred Hitchcock Storyboards, published earlier this year, contains storyboards and production illustrations from some of Hitchcock’s most famous films, including classics such as Vertigo. But the main attraction of Tony Lee Moral’s book is its chapter on Psycho, with a four-page spread of storyboards by Saul Bass. Although some of the Bass drawings have been reproduced elsewhere, Alfred Hitchcock Storyboards includes more than 100 of them, some of which are previously unpublished.

The Bass storyboards for the Psycho shower scene are “undoubtedly the most widely discussed sequence in the history of storyboarding,” according to Chris Pallant and Steven Price in their book Storyboarding, which includes a chapter on Hitchcock’s storyboards. Cinefantastique magazine (vol. 16, no. 4–5) printed a set of shower scene storyboards, and the same sketches appeared on the cover of Fionnuala Halligan’s book The Art of Movie Storyboards.

Alfred Hitchcock Storyboards doesn’t address the authorship controversy surrounding the shower scene. Bass claimed that he not only storyboarded the sequence, but also directed it, though this was refuted by Psycho’s cast and crew. Cinefantastique challenged the Bass claim (in an article by Stephen Rebello), though Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham endorsed it in their book Saul Bass.

18 April 2024

Ten Years to Save the West:
Lessons from the Only Conservative in the Room


Ten Years to Save the West

Liz Truss is, by a country mile, the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister in history, in office for only forty-nine days. The Economist magazine (15th October 2022) calculated that the Truss premiership had “roughly the shelf-life of a lettuce”, and the Daily Star newspaper proved that an actual lettuce could stay fresh throughout her entire term of office. (Harry Cole and James Healey wrote an excellent Truss biography, Out of the Blue.)

Truss has written a new memoir, Ten Years to Save the West: Lessons from the Only Conservative in the Room (subtitled Leading the Revolution Against Globalism, Socialism, and the Liberal Establishment in the US). But it’s not a conventional account of her premiership: “I do not see it as simply a chance to tell the detailed inside story of my time in government and justify every decision I made while I was there.” (Similarly, Theresa May wrote that her book was “not an attempt to justify certain decisions I made in office or to provide a detailed retelling of historical events.”)

Instead, Truss expresses her grievances about everything from the trivial (why would nobody help her book a haircut?) to the critical (why did economic institutions oppose her reckless fiscal policies?). Apparently, nothing was her fault: even though she asked Jeremy Hunt to become Chancellor before informing her close friend Kwasi Kwarteng that he was being sacked, she blames a leaker for revealing Hunt’s appointment on Twitter, where a shocked Kwarteng read about his replacement.

Summarising her premiership, Truss writes: “Things did not work out as I had hoped. My time in Downing Street was brief, and I did not have the chance to deliver the policies I had planned.” That first sentence brings to mind Hirohito’s famous understatement, when his country surrendered in 1945: “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”

02 April 2024

Outstanding!
The Relief from Rodin to Picasso


Outstanding!
Outstanding!

Outstanding! The Relief from Rodin to Picasso, held last year in Frankfurt, was the first exhibition since 1980 to survey the modern history of relief sculptures. Its scholarly catalogue (edited by Alexander Eiling, Eva Mongi-Vollmer, and Karin Schick) is only the second English-language book on the subject, and the first—Relief Sculpture by L.R. Rogers—was published fifty years ago.

Outstanding! begins with an explanation of the three traditional categories of relief (bas-relief, haut-relief, and relief en creux), though the exhibition defined the relief more broadly: the impressive collection of works on display included examples of mixed-media assemblage and trompe-l’œil paintings. The catalogue was originally published in German as Herausragend! Das Relief von Rodin bis Picasso.

27 March 2024

Analogue:
A Field Guide


Analogue Polaroid SX-70

“It’s only now the analogue world is effectively over that we can grasp its extraordinarily rich legacy,” writes Deyan Sudjic in the introduction to his new book Analogue: A Field Guide (published in the US as The World of Analog: A Visual Guide). Sudjic features 250 of “the most ingenious consumer artefacts ever produced,” gadgets made possible by the vacuum tube and the transistor, and rendered obsolete by the smartphone. (He cites the release of the iPhone as “a kind of mass extinction event for a vast range of analogue products”.)

Analogue includes numerous industrial design classics: the Polaroid SX-70 instant camera, the Sony TR-610 handheld radio, and the JVC RC-M90 boombox. There are devices made from Bakelite (the Ericsson DBH 1001 telephone) and plastic (the Panasonic Panapet portable radio), and once-familiar product ranges from former consumer technology giants like Sony (Walkman, Watchman, and Handycam) and Kodak (Brownie and Instamatic). Each product is beautifully photographed against a white background, and the images are so clear that the buttons and dials are all legible.

Some of the featured objects also appear in the Phaidon Design Classics series, and in design histories by Charlotte and Peter Fiell (Design of the 20th Century, A–Z of Design and Designers, Plastic Dreams, and Industrial Design A–Z). A History of Industrial Design (by Edward Lucie-Smith) features a chapter on consumer technology, and Extinct (which includes an essay by Sudjic) and Essential Retro (by James B. Grahame) also cover vintage devices, though Analogue is the first book to feature such an extensive guide to analogue design and technology.

26 March 2024

Kubrick:
An Odyssey


Kubrick

Two rival biographies of Stanley Kubrick were published almost simultaneously in 1997. John Baxter and Vincent LoBrutto’s books were both unauthorised accounts, though LoBrutto’s was considerably more accurate than Baxter’s. They are now joined by a third major Kubrick biography, Nathan Abrams and Robert P. Kolker’s Kubrick: An Odyssey, which was released earlier this year.

The previous biographies were published before the release of Eyes Wide Shut—the subject of another Abrams and Kolker book—making Kubrick the first biography to cover the director’s entire career. Kubrick has the same strengths and weaknesses as their Eyes Wide Shut book: impressive research, some questionable opinions, and imprecise referencing. (The authors previously dismissed that film’s state of incompletion at the time of Kubrick’s death as “ultimately irrelevant”, though in their biography they take it more seriously, calling it “the most serious controversy of Kubrick’s career”.)

Kubrick is particularly significant as the first biography based on material from the Kubrick Archive, making it more reliable than its predecessors. When Kolker and Abrams occasionally veer into speculation, though (“perhaps...”), they are on shakier ground, and their regular references to the significance of Kubrick’s Jewish identity (a thesis developed by Abrams) feel extraneous.

Kolker and Abrams are also the first Kubrick biographers to receive cooperation from the director’s family. The book benefits substantially from this level of access, but it’s also a double-edged sword: Kubrick’s brother-in-law, Jan Harlan, who acted as a liason, sometimes attempted to steer the authors in directions that contradicted their own research. (All the writers can do is to ask rhetorically, “as with so much in Kubrick’s life, which version is true?”)

The biography has a bibliography and a comprehensive index, but there are no footnotes, and quotes often appear in the text without attribution. This makes it needlessly difficult to identify the sources of quotations, beyond those that are familiar from other publications. (Kubrick joins more than sixty other Kubrick books on the Dateline Bangkok bookshelves.)

10 March 2024

Eros Reinterpretation


Eros Reinterpretation

Eros Reinterpretation was the inaugural exhibition at Ming Artspace, a new Bangkok gallery founded by Vichai Imsuksom. The group exhibition featured photography, installations, and video art from thirteen Thai artists, linked by their exploration of erotic imagery.

The show’s most daring artwork was produced by Vichai himself, with Kittisak Tongprasert. Their video installation Eros: The Secret Room consists of three videos of themselves (each around five minutes long) that blur the line between art and pornography. The only comparable works in Thai art are perhaps Thunska Pansittivorakul and Harit Srikhao’s documentary Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์), and Ohm Phanphiroj’s short film The Meaning of It All.

Eros Reinterpretation opened on 12th January and closed on 3rd March, though its lavish exhibition catalogue, limited to 1,000 copies, also serves as a survey of Thai contemporary erotic art. Some (explicit) sections of the book are sealed with perforations, which is reminiscent of Uthis Haemamool’s novel Silhouette of Desire (ร่างของปรารถนา) and the sealed sections in magazines such as Bizarre.

Shotbyly Vintage Magazine

The catalogue is beautifully printed, with a debossed (and somewhat suggestive) cover design, foldouts, selected translucent pages, two notebooks, and several items of ephemera (postcards, stamps, and a flyer) laid in. Alongside other recently published works, such as Ark Saroj’s Lust and Love and Shotbyly’s Vintage Magazine series, Eros Reinterpretation signals a new frankness in Thai art publishing.

In fact, the new issue of Shotbyly’s Vintage Magazine (vol. 2) was printed by the same company as the Eros Reinterpretation catalogue, after the printer of the first issue refused to handle the more explicit imagery in the second one. The second issue of Vintage Magazine, limited to fifty copies, is a portfolio of photographs of model Theeraphat Khajornsuwan.

12 February 2024

The Sarawak Report:
The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé



British journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown has been sentenced in absentia to two years in jail by a Malaysian court. She was sued for defamation by Nur Zahirah, Sultanah of the Malaysian state of Terengganu, on 21st November 2018, a few months after the publication of her book The Sarawak Report: The Inside Story of the 1MDB Exposé.

Rewcastle Brown’s investigative reporting exposed the 1MDB scandal that led to the imprisonment of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak on corruption charges. Less than a week before Rewcastle Brown’s conviction on 7th February, Razak’s twelve-year sentence was reduced by half.

The Sultanah—wife of Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin—had originally sought 100m ringgit in libel damages, though the High Court ruled in Rewcastle Brown’s favour, dismissing the case. The Court of Appeal overturned that decision on 12th December last year, and awarded damages of 300,000 ringgit.

The case stems from a single sentence in The Sarawak Report implying that the Sultanah was instrumental in the establishment of 1MDB, referring to “the wife of the sultan, whose acquiescence was needed to set up the fund” (p. 3). After the initial lawsuit, Rewcastle Brown clarified that she should have named the Sultan’s sister rather than his wife, and the text was changed in later editions. She also explained that the ambiguous pronoun “whose” referred to Sultan Mizan himself.

04 February 2024

2475
นักเขียนผีแห่งสยาม
(‘1932:
the ghost writer of Siam’)


2475 Graphic Novel Rama VII

In the years following the 2014 coup, the military government set about removing public reminders of the 1932 revolution, when Thailand transitioned from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy. In the catalogue for his exhibition The L/Royal Monument (นิ/ราษฎร์), Wittawat Tongkeaw describes the disappearance of “physical components—names, plaques, monuments” commemorating the revolution. Similarly, in his chapter in Rama X (edited by Pavin Chachavalpongpun), Chatri Prakitnonthakan discusses “the destruction of significant buildings and monuments related to the memory of the People’s Party”.

Most notoriously, a plaque in Bangkok’s Royal Plaza was covertly replaced in 2017 with a new plaque honouring the monarchy. Leaders of the recent student protest movement created a new plaque with a democratic inscription, and installed it at Sanam Luang on 20th September 2020, though it was removed by the authorities almost immediately. Reproductions of the new plaque have been shown at various exhibitions, including Wittawat’s 841.594, and it appears prominently in Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s film 100 Times Reproduction of Democracy (การผลิตซ้ำประชาธิปไตยให้กลายเป็นของแท้).

The new plaque is an indication of a political awakening among young Thais—known as ta sawang—and a renewed interest in the 1932 revolution specifically. One of the groups organising the recent protests is called Khana Ratsadon, in tribute to the political party of the same name that led the 1932 revolution. A new library of pro-democracy books is called 1932 People Space Library, its name referring to the year the revolution took place. Souvenir items from 1932 were displayed at the Revolutionary Things (ของ [คณะ] ราษฎร) exhibition in 2018. Charinthorn Rachuratchata’s exhibition Museum 2032 (พิพิธภัณฑ์ ๒๕๗๕) looked forward to the revolution’s centenary.

This revival of interest in the events of 1932 is a relatively recent phenomenon. In 2010, vox pop interviews for Abichon Rattanabhayon’s short film The Six Principles (สัญญาของผู้มาก่อนกาล) demonstrated the public’s apathy towards the revolution. But a few years later, in 2013, the change in attitudes was apparent when Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s documentary Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย) achieved unexpected box-office success. (Paradoxocracy features an extended discussion of the revolution, and begins by reproducing the text of a 1932 manifesto railing against King Prajadhipok.)

The 1932 revolution is central to the plot of a new book, 2475 นักเขียนผีแห่งสยาม (‘1932: the ghost writer of Siam’), by Tanis Werasakwong (known as Sa-ard) and Podcharakrit To-im. The book tells the full story of the revolution in the form of a graphic novel, featuring prominent politicians of the period—and even King Prajadhipok—among its main characters. The project’s website describes the revolution as “an event in Thai history that has been erased from collective memory”, a point also made in Prabda Yoon’s short film Transmissions of Unwanted Pasts (วงโคจรของความทรงจำ).

31 January 2024

The Showman:
Inside the Invasion That Shook the World and Made a Leader of Volodymyr Zelensky


Time / The Showman

Simon Shuster’s superb new book The Showman: Inside the Invasion That Shook the World and Made a Leader of Volodymyr Zelensky, published last week, is a unique profile of Ukraine’s President, from a writer who has spent more time with Zelensky and his inner circle than any other journalist. Shuster has reported on Zelensky for Time magazine since 2019, and his dispatches throughout the Russia-Ukraine war have been essential reading. He was embedded in the presidential compound for months on end, yet his reporting on Zelensky has remained scrupulously objective.

Zelensky cooperated with Shuster to such an extent that the President’s staff raised objections to it, as the author explains in his prologue: “Some of Zelensky’s aides, in particular the ones responsible for his security, did not always appreciate the access the president gave me, especially on the days when he invited me to travel with him to the front. He never explained his reasons for doing that. His staff only said that he trusted me to write an honest account.” When Shuster initially proposed the book—under the working title The Fight Is Here: Volodymyr Zelensky and the War in Ukraine—the President, with a degree of modesty, “felt he had not lived or achieved enough to be the focus of a biography.”

Shuster praises Zelensky’s bravery as a wartime leader, and admires the President’s genuine and selfless concern for his people. But although this is an authorised biography, it’s certainly not a hagiography. Shuster makes clear, for example, that Zelensky was at fault for Ukraine’s lack of preparedness when the war began: “He had spent weeks playing down the risk of a full-scale invasion and assuring his people that all would be fine. He had refused the advice of his military commanders to call up all available reserves and use them to fortify the border. Apart from the calamity of the invasion itself, the president would need to face his own failure to foresee it.”

Rather than the exaggerated Churchillian comparisons made by some other journalists, Shuster’s assessment of Zelensky is surprisingly ambivalent. He even admits to being “worried” about the President’s potential commitment to democracy in a post-war Ukraine, once restrictions on the media are eventually lifted: “I don’t know how Zelensky will handle that fraught transition, whether he will have the wisdom and restraint to part with the extraordinary powers granted to him under martial law, or whether he will, like so many leaders throughout history, find that power too addictive.”

14 January 2024

Pac-Man:
Birth of an Icon


Pac-Man

The Japanese arcade video game Pac-Man (パックマン), designed by Tōru Iwatani, was released by Namco in 1980, at the height of the so-called golden age of video arcades. In the 1970s, Atari’s Pong and Taito’s Space Invaders (スペースインベーダー) had defined video games in the public consciousness, though Pac-Man would supersede them both to become arguably the most iconic video game in history.

Pac-Man’s initial appeal came from Iwatani’s creation of what Steven Poole (in his book Trigger Happy) calls “[t]he first videogame ‘character’ of all”. In their book Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon, Arjan Terpstra and Tim Lapetino argue that the game’s distinctive mascot is now a ubiquitous cultural symbol: “Pac-Man’s appeal as a character transcended arcades and moved into the wider realm of popular culture.”

Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon, published in 2021, is the definitive history of Pac-Man, covering every aspect of the game’s development and release. It’s both a coffee-table book with beautifully-reproduced illustrations (including numerous documents from the Namco archive) and a meticulously researched, comprehensive account of the game’s history.

Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon

One indication of the book’s attention to detail is that its title also appears in Japanese (パックマン:アイコンの誕生). Appendices include a complete Pac-Man gameography and the first English translation of Iwatani’s Japanese-language memoir, Pacman’s Method (パックマンのゲーム学入門).

Retro Gamer magazine (no. 61) also covered the making of Pac-Man (which it called “gaming’s most iconic videogame character”), but Pac-Man: Birth of an Icon is the first book on the history of the entire Pac-Man phenomenon. Leonard Herman’s Phoenix was the first general history of video games, and Tristan Donovan’s Replay is the most comprehensive guide to the subject. Push > Start was the first visual history of the medium.

12 January 2024

Lust and Love


Lust and Love

Ark Saroj’s photobook Lust and Love was released yesterday. The book was inspired by New York photographer Peter Hujar’s monograph Love and Lust and, like Hujar, Ark photographs his friends and former lovers: “They are real people and with some of them I have shared intimate moments.” One of Lust and Love’s most explicit images—a black-and-white double-page spread—was shown at the KinkyBKK exhibition at Silom’s Pulse Gallery from 8th to 30th September last year.

An essay by artist Oat Montien in Lust and Love compares Ark and Hujar’s nude portraits: “They give us the license to really meditate on their very graphic material on a deeper level beyond the immediate shock and taboo.” The same also applies to other photographers, such as Ohm Phanphiroj and Shotbyly, whose work demonstrates the increasing visibility of LGBT representation in contemporary Thai art.

04 January 2024

Pat Yingcharoen:
Collective Convalescence


Pat Yingcharoen: Collective Convalescence

Collective Convalescence is the first monograph on the young Thai artist Pat Yingcharoen, whose paintings combine tragic images of violence from art history and photojournalism. The elegantly designed book features an essay by Panu Boonpipattanapong and an interview with the artist by Korn Karava. (Korn also edited and published the book, which is the second volume in a series that began with No God No King Only Human.)

Like many artists of his generation, Pat experienced a political awakening following the 2014 coup. It was this newfound awareness, known in Thai as ta sawang, which first led him to transition from “conducting painting experiments to focusing more on the historical aspects.” (Novelists Uthis Haemamool and Veeraporn Nitiprapha have also discussed their ta sawang experiences, and it was a recurring theme in interviews with film directors for Thai Cinema Uncensored.)

In particular, Pat often incorporates elements from photographs of the 6th October 1976 massacre, which he regards as “among the most iconic depictions of Thai history”. In his essay, Panu explains that these images of hanged and desecrated bodies are juxtaposed and decontextualised, so that “new dimensions of history that may have been previously suppressed are discovered.”

Images of the 1976 massacre are depicted prominently in several of Pat’s works. In Sacred Punishment, one of the victims is transposed into a reproduction of William-Adolphe Bouguerau’s Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (La flagellation de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ). In Beater, Neal Ulevich’s infamous image of a man holding a folding chair is superimposed over a detail from the same Bouguerau painting. In Martyrs, another victim is placed in the centre of Andrea del Sarto’s Disputation on the Trinity (Disputa sulla Trinità).

The artist’s other visual references to the massacre are more subtle. Onlookers from the background of Ulevich’s photograph appear in Under the Blue Moon (shown at his Blue Rhapsody exhibition at Number One Gallery last year) and From Jesus to the Void. The distinctive tree trunk from which a victim was hanged in Ulevich’s picture appears in the backgrounds of Imaginary Horizon—a reproduction of Bouguerau’s First Mourning (Premier deuil)—and Cain and Abel. (Another young Thai artist, Pachara Piyasongsoot, also painted the same tree trunk, in The Garden.)

Pat Yingcharoen: Collective Convalescence was published last month, in an edition of 300 (mine being no. 294). Each copy is numbered and signed with a flourish by the artist. (Curiously, he spells his first name Patt, while the book uses an alternative English spelling, Pat.)

29 December 2023

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand


Apocalypse Now

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand, by Neil Pettigrew and Philip Jablon, is—to borrow the adjective from its title—an amazing book. Featuring more than 500 posters, including many full-page reproductions, it’s the most extensive guide to Thai film posters ever published.

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand includes a brief history of Thai film poster production, paying particular tribute to Somboonsuk Niyomsiri (also known as Piak Poster), “[t]he father of Thailand’s style of hand painted movie posters”. The Thai poster for Apocalypse Now, painted by Tongdee Panumas, is singled out as “a contender for being the greatest film poster of all time. Not just from Thailand but from any country.”

The book also features the most comprehensive roster of Thai poster artist biographies ever compiled. The entry for Somboonsuk highlights his design for the French film Temptation (L’Île du bout du monde), which “revolutionised the look of Thai cinema posters in 1959 by using an offset printer which allowed for more richly colourful artwork.” (An exhibition of Somboonsuk’s work was held at the Thai Film Archive last year.)

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand / Thai Movie Posters / Bai Pid / Starpics

The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand is published by the founder of the horror film magazine The Dark Side, thus it focuses heavily on horror and exploitation posters. The final few chapters are devoted to gory and erotic posters, including one for the Hong Kong film A Gambler’s Story (邪斗串), described as “perhaps the all-time most explicit movie poster ever produced in Thailand.” (These posters—displayed in seedier cinema lobbies, not on public view—were more graphic than the films they advertised, as discussed in Thai Cinema Uncensored.)

Co-authors Pettigrew and Jablon are both Thai poster collectors. (Jablon is also a dealer.) Pettigrew has previously written about Thai horror and sexploitation posters in The Dark Side (no. 167, 168, and 180). Jablon organised a poster exhibition at this year’s Singorama Film Festival, and wrote the excellent Thailand’s Movie Theatres.

Gilbert Brownstone’s Thai Movie Posters (Affiches de cinéma thaï/โปสเตอร์ภาพยนต์ไทย), published in 1974, was the first survey of Thai film posters. After almost fifty years, another book on the subject was long overdue, and The Amazing Movie Posters of Thailand was well worth the wait.

Starpics magazine released a special issue (no. 3) on the history of Thai film posters in 1997, which is also a great resource. There are catalogues to the Bai Pid (ใบปิด) and Thai Film Posters (ใบปิดหนังไทย) exhibitions, and other poster exhibitions include Eyegasm and Rare Thai Movie Posters (ลับแลโปสเตอร์ ภาพยนตร์ไทย). There is a short essay on Thai film posters in Thai Cinema (Le cinéma thaïlandais), and vintage posters are illustrated in Dome Sukwong’s A Century of Thai Cinema.

26 December 2023

The Art of Origami Books:
Origami, Kirigami, Labyrinth, Tunnel and Mini Books —
By Artists from Around the World


The Art of Origami Books / The Art of Cutting / The Art of Pop-Up

The Art of Origami Books: Origami, Kirigami, Labyrinth, Tunnel and Mini Books by Artists from Around the World, by Jean-Charles Trebbi, was originally published in French (as L’art du livre origami) in 2021. It includes numerous examples of origami books by contemporary artists, though the most interesting chapter, by Jacques Desse, gives a brief illustrated history of ‘leporello’ books. The chapter on ‘tunnel books’ also includes illustrations of vintage examples.

Trebbi’s previous books include The Art of Cutting (L’art de la découpe) and The Art of Pop-Up (L’art du pop-up). The Century of Artists’ Books, by Johanna Drucker, covers the related topic of books designed by artists, and John Smith’s Notes on the History of Origami is a concise history of origami as an art form.

Britain’s Best Ever Political Cartoons


Britain's Best Ever Political Cartoons
The Plum-pudding in Danger

Tim Benson, Britain’s leading authority on political cartoons, compiled an anthology of Britain’s Best Ever Political Cartoons in 2021. Almost 200 cartoons are included (mostly in black-and-white), from the satirical prints of James Gillray (such as The Plumb-pudding in Danger) to The Guardian’s Steve Bell. Benson’s introduction gives a concise history of British political cartoons, and he cites David Low as “[t]he greatest political cartoonist of the twentieth century”. The book concludes with a selection of recent cartoons, reproduced in colour.

Rude Britannia, The Offensive Art, and The History of Press Graphics 1819–1921 also feature examples of classic British political cartoons. The Rude Britannia exhibition catalogue includes one of Gerald Scarfe’s best Margaret Thatcher caricatures. (Thatcher is underrepresented in Britain’s Best Ever Political Cartoons, and Scarfe’s work is omitted.) Victor S. Navasky profiled key political cartoonists in The Art of Controversy.