01 July 2024

The 12-Hour Film Expert:
Everything You Need to Know about Movies


The 12-Hour Film Expert

The 12-Hour Film Expert: Everything You Need to Know about Movies, by brothers Noah and James Charney, has a reductivist title, but the book itself is a reasonably detailed history of American cinema. On the other hand, foreign-language films are squeezed into a single chapter, which the writers admit—and demonstrate—“is well-nigh impossible to do”.

The book is organised into twelve chapters, each of which begins with a list of a few key films, “the most important ones to watch.” An appendix, The Movie Playlist, lists further genres and subgenres, each with twelve recommended films. At the end of the Playlist, the “rule of twelve” gives way to a list of directors from various countries outside the US, each represented by their best-known films.

There’s a general emphasis on more recent films, and there are some odd omissions: numerous genres, such as war, gangster films, period dramas, documentaries, and animation, are excluded. Stanley Kubrick’s films are conspicuously absent from any of the book’s lists.

These are the twelve chapters and their key films:

The Invention of the Movies —
  • A Trip to the Moon
  • The Great Train Robbery
The Golden Age of Silent Movies —
  • The Gold Rush
  • Sunrise
Classic Hollywood —
  • Casablanca
  • Citizen Kane
The Western —
  • Stagecoach
  • The Searchers
  • Red River
Film Noir —
  • Double Indemnity
  • Out of the Past
  • Touch of Evil
  • Chinatown
Comedy —
  • Bringing up Baby
  • Airplane!
  • When Harry Met Sally
Musicals —
  • Top Hat
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Moulin Rouge!
Suspense —
  • The Wages of Fear
  • The Birds
  • The Italian Job
Horror —
  • Cat People
  • Halloween
  • The Babadook
Action —
  • The Bourne Identity
  • Nobody
  • Run Lola Run
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Superhero Films —
  • X-Men
  • Star Wars IV–VI
  • The Lord of the Rings I–III
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
International Art House —
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • Seven Samurai
  • Nostalghia

26 June 2024

The Movie Book (2nd edition)


The Movie Book

The Movie Book was first published in 2015 as a guide to the most influential films from cinema history: “The movies gathered here are those that the authors feel... to have had the most seismic impact on both cinema and the world.” The book was written by a team of authors (Louis Baxter, John Farndon, Kieran Grant, and Damon Wise), led by Danny Leigh.

116 films were included, cross-referenced and arranged chronologically, with entries ranging from a single page to six pages per film. There was also an appendix of eighty-eight extra films, “a selection of the movies that came close to being included in the main section, but did not quite make the final cut.”

The second edition appeared in 2022, with minimal changes. It included only one additional film, Parasite (기생충), making a new total of 117 main entries. Five films were deleted from the appendix, replaced by five new entries. The deletions from the appendix are Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler), The Jazz Singer, Rosemary’s Baby, Good Bye, Lenin!, and Times and Winds (Beş Vakit); the additions are The Exorcist, Twelve Years a Slave, Black Panther, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Nomadland.

These are the 117 main entries in the second edition:
  • A Trip To The Moon
  • Intolerance
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  • Battleship Potemkin
  • Sunrise
  • Metropolis
  • Steamboat Bill Jr
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc
  • The Blue Angel
  • People on Sunday
  • City Lights
  • M
  • Duck Soup
  • King Kong
  • Zero for Conduct
  • The Bride of Frankenstein
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • The Rules of the Game
  • Gone with the Wind
  • His Girl Friday
  • Citizen Kane
  • Casablanca
  • To Be or Not to Be
  • Ossessione
  • Laura
  • Children of Paradise
  • La belle et la bête
  • A Matter of Life and Death
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets
  • The Third Man
  • Rashomon
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • The Night of the Hunter
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Tokyo Story
  • The Wages of Fear
  • Godzilla
  • All That Heaven Allows
  • Rebel Without a Cause
  • Pather Panchali
  • Kiss Me Deadly
  • The Searchers
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Vertigo
  • Ashes and Diamonds
  • Some Like It Hot
  • The 400 Blows
  • La Dolce Vita
  • Breathless
  • Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
  • Last Year at Marienbad
  • La jetée
  • The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
  • Black God, White Devil
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • The Sound of Music
  • The Battle of Algiers
  • The Chelsea Girls
  • Playtime
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Easy Rider
  • Le boucher
  • The Godfather
  • Aguirre: The Wrath of God
  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
  • Don’t Look Now
  • The Spirit of the Beehive
  • Chinatown
  • Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
  • Jaws
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • Taxi Driver
  • Annie Hall
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • Alien
  • Stalker
  • Das Boot
  • Blade Runner
  • Blue Velvet
  • Wings of Desire
  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
  • sex, lies, and videotape
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Raise the Red Lantern
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Three Colours: Red
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Toy Story
  • La haine
  • Fargo
  • The Sweet Hereafter
  • Central Station
  • Festen
  • The Ring
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Spirited Away
  • Amelie
  • Lagaan
  • The Lord of The Rings I: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • City of God
  • Oldboy
  • The Lives of Others
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Man on Wire
  • The White Ribbon
  • Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
  • Gravity
  • Boyhood
  • Parasite
These are the eighty-eight films in the appendix:
  • The Great Train Robbery
  • Nosferatu
  • Un chien andalou
  • Freaks
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Sullivan’s Travels
  • Meshes of the Afternoon
  • Double Indemnity
  • Brief Encounter
  • Murders Among Us
  • Out of the Past
  • The Red Shoes
  • All About Eve
  • Los Olvidados
  • The Big Heat
  • La strada
  • Seven Samurai
  • Rififi
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • Touch of Evil
  • Elevator to the Gallows
  • Peeping Tom
  • Psycho
  • West Side Story
  • The Innocents
  • Jules et Jim
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Dry Summer
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • Onibaba
  • I Am Cuba
  • Closely Observed Trains
  • Persona
  • The Graduate
  • Belle de jour
  • Salesman
  • Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Kes
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Harold and Maude
  • Land of Silence and Darkness
  • Walkabout
  • The Harder They Come
  • The Exorcist
  • A Woman Under the Influence
  • Sholay
  • Xala
  • Eraserhead
  • Dawn of the Dead
  • Days of Heaven
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Raging Bull
  • The Shining
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • Scarface
  • Blood Simple
  • Paris, Texas
  • Come and See
  • Brazil
  • Down by Law
  • Jesus of Montreal
  • Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse
  • Hard Boiled
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Naked
  • Short Cuts
  • Heavenly Creatures
  • Drifting Clouds
  • Breaking the Waves
  • Taste of Cherry
  • Werckmeister Harmonies
  • Amores Perros
  • In the Mood for Love
  • Mulholland Drive
  • Tsotsi
  • Caché
  • Ten Canoes
  • There Will Be Blood
  • The Secret in Their Eyes
  • The Kid with a Bike
  • Holy Motors
  • Twelve Years a Slave
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Black Panther
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  • Nomadland
(Note that Some Like It Hot is the 1959 Billy Wilder classic, Scarface is the 1983 remake, and The Maltese Falcon is the 1941 remake.)

24 June 2024

BBC News Thai


BBC News Thai

I was interviewed for an online video from BBC News Thai, published today, which examines the current state of film censorship in Thailand. (Twenty years ago, on 5th February 2004, I was interviewed on BBC3 television.)

23 June 2024

‘Guilty Landscapes’


Remembrance

The Dutch artist Armando coined the phrase ‘guilty landscapes’ to describe tranquil spaces that bore silent witness to past violence. Thai artists and directors have produced work that echoes Armando’s concept, even though they were not directly inspired by it. For his Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ) exhibition, for example, Pachara Piyasongsoot painted bucolic landscapes with traumatic histories linked to the Cold War. (Pachara was not initially aware of Armando’s concept, but when we discussed it, he immediately identified with it.)

Several Thai films also depict guilty landscapes whose violent legacies are connected to the Cold War. Taiki Sakpisit’s Seeing in the Dark, Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม) were filmed in Khao Kho, Santikhiri, and Nabua, respectively, all of which are locations previously associated with anti-Communist violence. (Thai Cinema Uncensored includes an analysis of guilty landscapes in Thai films.)

Other films by Thai directors have evoked sites of more recent state violence. Taiki’s A Ripe Volcano, Thunska’s Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), Panya Zhu’s White Bird (นกตัวนั้นยังสบายดีไหม), and Weerapat Sakolvaree’s Zombie Citizens all include shots of the Royal Hotel in Bangkok, which was used as a field hospital during the ‘Black May’ massacre in 1992. Taiki’s Dark Was the Night and Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s Planking were filmed at Thammasat University, where a massacre took place in 1976. Weerapat’s Nostalgia, and Chai Chaiyachit and Chisanucha Kongwailap’s Re-presentation (ผีมะขาม ไพร่ฟ้า ประชาธิปไตย ในคืนที่ลมพัดหวน), refer to multiple guilty landscapes.

The artists and directors discussed so far have all used the concept of guilty landscapes to draw attention to state violence against pro-democracy protesters or suspected Communists. Charit Pusiri, on the other hand, is an artist from the opposite end of the political spectrum: his work promotes a royalist-nationalist ideology. For his Remembrance (รฦก) exhibition in 2013, he created composite photographs that show carefree present-day scenes juxtaposed with historical images of warfare and fallen soldiers. These split-screen compositions are the most direct illustrations of the guilty landscape concept in Thai art.

22 June 2024

Skyline Film
Annie Hall


Annie Hall

Woody Allen’s classic romantic comedy Annie Hall will be shown on 20th July, on the rooftop of River City Bangkok, as part of a regular programme of monthly outdoor screenings organised by Skyline Film. Annie Hall was previously screened at Thailand Creative and Design Center in 2013, and at Scala in 2020.

21 June 2024

House 20th


House 20th

House Rama, Bangkok’s first arthouse cinema, opened at Royal City Avenue in July 2004. It showed Thai films, including the director’s cut of Love of Siam (รักแห่งสยาม), and foreign titles such as Taxidermia (in an uncut screening under the censor’s radar). In addition to the cinema, House had a shop selling DVDs and posters, and even a small library.

House celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2014, at which point it was still Bangkok’s only independent cinema. RCA was once a popular nightlife destination, but it became increasingly neglected, and House relocated to the Samyan Mitrtown mall in 2019.

Next month is House’s twentieth anniversary, and there will be a season of classic films—all previous box-office hits at House—to mark the occasion. Highlights include Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver on 5th, 14th, and 21st July; Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction on 13th and 20th July; and the key New Queer Cinema film My Own Private Idaho on 12th July.

Pulp Fiction was previously screened at Neighbourhood last year, at House and Bangkok Screening Room in 2019, and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018 and 2015. Taxi Driver was shown at House last year, at BKKSR in 2019, and at Scala in 2018. My Own Private Idaho was shown at House in 2022, and at BKKSR in 2019.

Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards 2023


Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards 2023
A Love Letter to My Sister

The short films on the shortlist for the Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards 2023 (รางวัลภาพยนตร์ไทยยอดเยี่ยม ชมรมวิจารณ์บันเทิง ครั้งที่ 32 ประจําปี 2566) will be screened at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok next month. Napasin Samkaewcham’s A Love Letter to My Sister, a deeply moving film about the volatile relationship between his parents, is one of the nominees for best documentary short, and will be shown on 7th July.

A Love Letter to My Sister was previously screened at this year’s Doc Club Festival, and as part of their Selections series. It was also shown in last year’s Short Film Marathon 27 (หนังสั้นมาราธอน 27), and at the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27).

Pup


Pup

Sarawut Intaraprom is a director with a particularly niche claim to fame: he has made the only two films featuring erections that have been passed by Thai censors. Don’t blink during his science-fiction film Father and Son (พ่อและลูกชาย), or you’ll miss an explicit shot lasting only four frames. And in his new film Pup (สุนัข และ เจ้านาย), two characters are seen baring all, in a way that would probably fail the ‘Mull of Kintyre test’ (an unofficial rule applied by the UK film censors, based on a map of the flaccid-looking peninsula).

Pup, rated ‘20’, is being shown at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok. At its first screening yesterday, three staff from the Ministry of Culture were present to ensure that the cinema was rigourous in verifying patrons’ ages. (Viewers are required to show their ID cards before watching films rated ‘20’, though it’s unusual for the Ministry to supervise this process.) Thai Cinema Uncensored discusses these rules, and the history of Thai film censorship, in more detail.

Other Thai directors have included equally graphic images in their films, those these have always been censored: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours (สุดเสน่หา) and Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s Insects in the Backyard (อินเซคอินเดอะแบ็คยาร์ด) were both cut for this reason by the Thai censorship board. (Apichatpong and Tanwarin were interviewed about this in Thai Cinema Uncensored.) Similarly, Ekachai Uekrongtham’s Pleasure Factory (快乐工厂), made in Singapore, was cut for its Thai and Singaporean theatrical releases.

18 June 2024

A Sleepless Entity
(or The Thai’s Prometheus)


A Sleepless Entity Watcharin Niamvanichkul
BangLee Everything Everywhere Horror in Pink No. 2
Hidden Agenda No. 5 Spanky Studio
Sun Rises When Day Breaks By the Time It Gets Dark
Deja vu Selfie Series

Naphat Khunlam’s short film A Sleepless Entity (or The Thai’s Prometheus) is a dystopian fantasy about a student filmmaker who dreams of expressing her creative freedom but is oppressed by the conformist education system. The film is notable for its references to photographs of war and political conflict, in both Thailand and Vietnam: the gunman who hid his weapon in a Kolk popcorn bag, army snipers shooting people sheltering at Wat Pathum Wanaram, and the famous Eddie Adams photograph of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing the Viet Cong soldier Nguyễn Văn Lém.

A Sleepless Entity

A Sleepless Entity is the latest of several films, videos, and artworks to recreate Kraipit Phanvut’s photograph from 6th October 1976 of police colonel Watcharin Niamvanichkul aiming his pistol while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Manit Sriwanichpoom inserted his Pink Man character into the image for Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู), a technique parodied by Anuwat Apimukmongkon. Spanky Studio superimposed a clown’s head over Watcharin’s face. In Déjà vu (เดจาวู), Headache Stencil replaced the pistol with a futuristic ray gun. For his Selfie Series (เซลฟี่ ซีรีย์), Chumpol Kamwanna depicted himself taking a selfie while adopting the same pose as Watcharin. The pose was also restaged in Anocha Suwichakornpong’s film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and View from the Bus Tour’s music video Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ). Pornpimon Pokha’s Hidden Agenda No. 5 (วาระซ่อนเร้น หมายเลข 5) recreated the image in watercolour.

15 June 2024

Yesterday Is Another Day


Yesterday Is Another Day

Koraphat Cheeradit’s short film Yesterday Is Another Day will be shown at this year’s Isan Creative Festival (เทศกาลอีสานสร้างสรรค์), being held at Khon Kaen between 29th June and 7th July. The festival’s theme is Proud of Isan (สะออนเด้).

Yesterday Is Another Day is part of the Short Film Short Cut programme, taking place from 24th to 30th June as a prelude to the main festival. The films will be shown on a bus travelling around the city, and Yesterday Is Another Day is being screened on 27th June.

Yesterday Is Another Day

In Yesterday Is Another Day, a high school student plays hooky and meets his girlfriend in a woodland. They take a walk, and joke about their future together, seemingly without a care in the world. But there are ominous signs of impending threats: they find a discarded handgun, and Koraphat inserts shots of a JCB digging up the forest.

Eventually, we learn that the student is being charged with lèse-majesté, merely for sharing Facebook posts. His court hearing is the following day, and he is likely to be jailed. (The film doesn’t state directly that he’s facing royal defamation charges, though it’s clear from the couple’s conversation: he explains that the sentence is three years per offence, which is the minimum jail term for lèse-majesté.)

The prospect of criminal charges for posting on social media is a reality for hundreds of people in Thailand today, many of whom are students. As the boy in Koraphat’s film says to his girlfriend, he has to face changing from “being a teenager to being a prisoner.” The film is a powerful and moving reminder of the severe consequences of lèse-majesté, and what it must feel like to be criminalised at a young age for expressing opinions online.

Yesterday Is Another Day was previously shown at the Chiang Mai Film Festival (twice), at Wildtype 2023, and in the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน). It was first screened in Silpakorn University’s programme The Political Wanderer.

From the Moment They Met It Was Murder:
Double Indemnity and the Rise of Film Noir



Alain Silver and James Ursini have dominated film noir scholarship with their Film Noir Reader series and three different books titled Film Noir: an encyclopedia (co-edited with Elizabeth Ward and Robert Porfirio), a recent anthology, and a Taschen guide. They have also written The Noir Style and American Neo-Noir, among other books on the subject.

It’s fitting that the leading experts on film noir should write a book on Billy Wilder’s classic thriller Double Indemnity, which is the quintessential noir film. Their new book From the Moment They Met It Was Murder: Double Indemnity and the Rise of Film Noir, released this year to mark the film’s eightieth anniversary, highlights its unmatched influence on noir cinema: “We cannot overstate the influence of Double Indemnity on the film noir movement. Before 1944 there was a trickle of titles. After there was a flood.”

The book (dedicated to Richard Schickel, who wrote a BFI Film Classics study of the film) also covers the true-crime origins of Double Indemnity’s plot (including the famous Daily News photograph of Ruth Snyder in the electric chair), Wilder’s reluctant co-writer Raymond Chandler, and the film’s production history. Silver and Ursini provide plenty of new analysis, though they also recycle some material from the Double Indemnity entry in their film noir encyclopedia.

13 June 2024

Breaking the Cycle


Breaking the Cycle

Over the past twenty years, every major event in Thai politics was defined by its connection—either in support or opposition—to Thaksin Shinawatra. For millions of pro-democracy voters who rejected the military establishment, Thaksin was the only alternative. But Thaksin is a populist, not a liberal democrat, and since his return from self-exile he has become part of the establishment himself.

In 2018, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit launched a new political party, Future Forward, as a genuinely progressive, democratic challenger to military dictatorship and Thaksin-style populism. Only a year later, Future Forward came third in the 2019 election, after a wave of support for its charismatic leader. But soon afterwards, Thanathorn was disqualified as an MP by the Constitutional Court, due to his ownership of shares in a media company. In 2020, the court dissolved Future Forward, ruling that it had violated party funding rules by accepting a ฿191 million loan from Thanathorn.

Aekaphong Saransate and Thanakrit Duangmaneeporn’s new film Breaking the Cycle (อำนาจ ศรัทธา อนาคต) follows Thanathorn throughout all of these events, though it begins in 2014 with his determination to end the vicious cycle of military coups that has characterised Thailand’s modern political history. This mission gives the film its title, and Future Forward co-founder Piyabutr Saengkanokkul asks: “Why is Thailand stuck in this cycle of coups?” Like Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), Breaking the Cycle features stunning drone shots of Democracy Monument to symbolise the country’s fragile democratic status.

Breaking the Cycle
Homogeneous, Empty Time

The documentary benefits from its extensive access to every senior figure within Future Forward, with intimate fly-on-the-wall coverage of the 2019 election campaign. The directors were even able to film Thanathorn as he reacted to the guilty verdicts being delivered by the Constitutional Court. They also interview him, but he doesn’t clarify his media shares or his party loan. Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich admits that Future Forward was politically naive, a description that arguably applies even more to its successor, Move Forward.

The film ends with the caption “THE CYCLE CONTINUES”, which is sadly accurate. In a carbon copy of the Thanathorn case, Move Forward’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat was also investigated for ownership of media shares. Although Pita was exonerated, history looks likely to repeat itself this year, as Move Forward is facing almost certain dissolution. The Constitutional Court has already ruled that the party’s manifesto pledge to amend the lèse-majesté law constituted an attempt to overthrow the monarchy.

Breaking the Cycle is a complete record of the rise and fall of the Future Forward movement, and the even greater election result achieved by Move Forward last year. The subsequent sustained opposition to Move Forward and its idealistic leader—from Pheu Thai, the military, the Senate, and the Constitutional Court—is even more consequential than the fate of Future Forward, and the story of Move Forward is still unfolding.

As one of the documentary’s interviewees says: “This is the beginning of the next chapter.” If Breaking the Cycle is a prologue to the story of Move Forward, hopefully its eventual sequel will feature a new iteration of the party gaining power after the 2027 election. That’s something Thanathorn half-jokingly predicts in the film: “In three elections we’ll be the government.”

Breaking the Cycle is one of very few feature-length political documentaries to go on general theatrical release in Thailand. Like Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป'ไทย), Breaking the Cycle has been a box-office hit with politically engaged young people, which is hardly surprising given the unprecedented support that Future Forward (and Move Forward) received from Millennials and Gen Z. (There will be a Q&A with Aekaphong and Thanakrit at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 30th June.)

Yesterday, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon filed a complaint at the Central Investigation Bureau in Bangkok, calling for a police investigation into Breaking the Cycle on charges of sedition (article 116 of the Thai criminal code). Mongkolkit, former leader of the Thai Civilized Party (a right-wing microparty), accused the film of presenting a one-sided account of Future Forward. (This is true, but of course it isn’t a crime.)

Mongkolkit also complained that the film discussed the 2014 coup without explaining the reasons why the junta seized power, as if any explanation could justify the military’s power grab. It’s deeply ironic that film directors are facing potential charges for discussing the coup, while the generals who orchestrated the coup have avoided prosecution.

08 June 2024

Gallery Movie Night:
A Night of Cinematic Exploration


Gallery Movie Night

A retrospective of short films by Taiki Sakpisit took place this evening at SAC Gallery in Bangkok, followed by a Q&A with the artist. Gallery Movie Night: A Night of Cinematic Exploration featured four of Taiki’s previous films—Shadow and Act, A Ripe Volcano, Seeing in the Dark, and The Age of Anxiety—and one new production, The Spirit Level. Like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย), The Spirit Level tackles the tragic discoveries of the bodies of murdered political dissidents in the Mekong river.

Shadow and Act

Shadow and Act


Shadow and Act—like Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo and Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Come Here (ใจจำลอง)—features sequences shot at Dusit Zoo, which was closed by royal decree in 2018. Shadow and Act also includes shots filmed at another prestigious institution from a bygone age, the Chaya Jitrakorn photography studio, panning slowly around the studio’s fixtures and fittings, settling upon dusty portraits of Cold War dictator Phibun Songkhram and other kharatchakan (‘civil servants’).

A Ripe Volcano

A Ripe Volcano


Similarly, in A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ), the camera prowls elegiacally through the empty corridors of the Royal Hotel, another example of Bangkok’s faded glory. The hotel became a makeshift field hospital in 1992 during ‘Black May’, and its lobby was stormed by the military. A Ripe Volcano evokes the violence of the event through indirect signifiers, such as a fire engine (several of which were set ablaze in 1992), creating an uncanny sense of foreboding. Weerapat Sakolvaree’s Zombie Citizens and Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล) also evoke Black May with shots of the hotel.

Seeing in the Dark

Seeing in the Dark


Seeing in the Dark opens with contemplative, static images of Khao Kho, a mountainous region in northern Thailand with a potent political legacy: Phibun hid the country’s gold reserve—and the Emerald Buddha statue—from the Japanese there during World War II, and the area was a base for Communist insurgents throughout the 1970s. There are shots of the Sacrificial Monument compound, which memorialises the ‘sacrifices’ of the soldiers who fought the Communists, rather than the thousands of insurgents who were killed.

Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism website notes that Khao Kho was once “a red area smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies. Khao Kho was considered a forbidden land that ordinary people should not get too close to because it was considered extremely dangerous. But as time passed, the conflict ended and Khao Kho transformed into one of Phetchabun’s most striking and beautiful tourist areas.”

A similar reputational whitewashing took place at other sites of anti-Communist violence, such as Santikhiri and Nabua, a process examined in Thunska’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), Apichatpong’s A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม), and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s exhibition Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ). Khao Kho, Santikhiri, and Nabua are, to use Dutch artist Armando’s term, ‘guilty landscapes’: tranquil spaces that bear silent witness to historical violence.

In Seeing in the Dark, an ominous rumble on the soundtrack hints at the continued presence of this past menace. The film ends with footage of anti-government protests from October 2020, a reminder—to quote the Ministry of Tourism again—that Thailand is still “smoldering in the smoke of war from different political ideologies.”

The Age of Anxiety

The Age of Anxiety


The retrospective concluded with The Age of Anxiety which, with its rapid-fire editing and screeching soundtrack, captured the anxious atmosphere during the twilight of King Rama IX’s reign. The film’s English title reflects the national mood while Rama IX was hospitalised, though its Thai title (รอ ๑๐) has an additional resonance, with a reference to his successor. The film is also streaming on the Kortfilm website, which links it to Thai politics: “Made in response to the government’s merciless obliteration of the Red Shirt protesters in the 2010s, the music and flashing images are a reflection of a traumatized and anxious mental state.”

Dark Was the Night

Dark Was the Night


Yesterday’s event was part of Taiki’s Dark Was the Night (ผีพุ่งไต้) exhibition, which opened on 9th May and runs until 6th July. The exhibition features a two-channel video installation, also titled Dark Was the Night, projected at opposite ends of the gallery. On one side are shots of the Thammasat University campus, which initially seem to contrast with the theme of the exhibition. But these images are metaphorically rather than literally dark, reminders of the 6th October 1976 massacre that took place at Thammasat, making the campus another ‘guilty landscape’. The exhibition also features three photographs from Taiki’s Thammasat University series, including an image of the notorious red lift in which sheltering students were shot during the massacre. The lift was also featured in the horror film Haunted Universities (มหาลัยสยองขวัญ).

02 June 2024

Shakespeare Must Die


Shakespeare Must Die

Ing K.’s Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) will finally be released in Thai cinemas on 20th June, after more than a decade in legal limbo. The film was banned by the Ministry of Culture in 2012, and the ban was upheld by the Administrative Court in 2017. Ing’s battle with the censors, documented in her film Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย), went all the way to the Supreme Court, which lifted the ban in February following the liberalised censorship policy announced by the National Soft Power Strategy Committee (คณะกรรมการยุทธศาสตร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ) at the start of this year.

Shakespeare Must Die is a Thai adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with Pisarn Pattanapeeradej in the lead role. The play is presented in two parallel versions: a production in period costume, and a contemporary political interpretation. The period version is faithful to Shakespeare’s original, though it also breaks the fourth wall, with cutaways to the audience and an interval outside the theatre (featuring a cameo by the director).

In the contemporary sequences, Macbeth is reimagined as Mekhdeth, a prime minister facing a crisis. Street protesters shout “ok pbai!” (‘get out!’), and the protests are infiltrated by assassins listed in the credits as ‘men in black’. Ing has downplayed any direct link to Thai politics, though “Thaksin ok pbai!” was the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s rallying cry against Thaksin Shinawatra, and ‘men in black’ were blamed for instigating violence in 2010. Another satirical line in the script—“Dear Leader brings happy-ocracy!”—predicts Prayut Chan-o-cha’s propaganda song Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย).

The parallels between Mekhdeth and Thaksin highlight the politically-motivated nature of the ban imposed on the film. Ironically, the project was initially funded by the Ministry of Culture, during Abhisit Vejjajiva’s premiership: it received a grant from the ไทยเข้มแข็ง (‘strong Thailand’) stimulus package. The Abhisit government was only too happy to greenlight a script criticising Thaksin, though by the time the film was finished, Thaksin’s sister Yingluck was in power, and her administration was somewhat less disposed to this anti-Thaksin satire, hence the ban.

Although the film was made twelve years ago, its message is arguably more timely than ever, as Thaksin’s influence over Thai politics continues. He returned to Thailand last year, and his Pheu Thai party is now leading a coalition with the political wing of the military junta.

The film’s climax, a recreation of the 6th October 1976 massacre, is its most controversial sequence. A photograph by Neal Ulevich, taken during the massacre, shows a vigilante preparing to hit a corpse with a chair, and Shakespeare Must Die restages the incident. A hanging body (symbolising Shakespeare himself) is repeatedly hit with a chair, though rather than dwelling on the violence, Ing cuts to reaction shots of the crowd, which (as in 1976) resembles a baying mob.

Ing was interviewed in Thai Cinema Uncensored, and the book details the full story behind the ban. Ing doesn’t mince her words in the interview, describing the censors as “a bunch of trembling morons with the power of life and death over our films.” Thai Cinema Uncensored also includes an insider’s account from a member of the appeals committee, who said he was obliged by his department head to vote against releasing the film: “I had to vote no, because it was an instruction from my director. But if I could have voted freely, I would have voted yes.”

Ing’s film My Teacher Eats Biscuits (คนกราบหมา) was also subject to a long-lasting ban, which was overturned last year. Shakespeare Must Die will be screened at Cinema Oasis, where My Teacher Eats Biscuits and Censor Must Die were both shown last month. There will also be an exhibition of costumes and props from Shakespeare Must Die and My Teacher Eats BiscuitsHow to Make a Cheap Movie Look Good (ทำอย่างไรให้ / หนังทุนต่ำ / ดูดี?)—at Galerie Oasis from 20th June.

01 June 2024

My Favourite Movies


My Favourite Movies

No, not my favourite movies. Veteran Australian film critic David Stratton’s book My Favourite Movies, published in 2021, lists his 111 favourites in chronological order.

Stratton’s “personal pantheon” is restricted to a single film per director. It’s an excellent list, with a few pleasant surprises (including The Awful Truth, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and The Incredible Shrinking Man).

Stratton’s 111 favourite movies are as follows:
  • Metropolis
  • The General
  • Wings
  • The Last Command
  • City Lights
  • Love Me Tonight
  • Trouble in Paradise
  • It’s a Gift
  • A Night at the Opera
  • The Awful Truth
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • The Rules of the Game
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Public Enemy
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Lady Eve
  • Casablance
  • Went the Day Well?
  • Meet Me in St. Louis
  • Les enfants du paradis
  • The Best Years of Our Lives
  • The Big Sleep
  • Duel in the Sun
  • Great Expectations
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • A Matter of Life and Death
  • The Big Clock
  • Letter from an Unknown Woman
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets
  • All About Eve
  • In a Lonely Place
  • The African Queen
  • Bend of the River
  • The Man in the White Suit
  • High Noon
  • Shane
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • M. Hulot’s Holiday
  • I vitelloni
  • Bad Day at Black Rock
  • Les diaboliques
  • On the Waterfront
  • Seven Samurai
  • A Star Is Born
  • The Night of the Hunter
  • Attack
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • The Brothers Rico
  • The Incredible Shrinking Man
  • 3:10 to Yuma
  • Twelve Angry Men
  • Wild Strawberries
  • Breathless
  • The 400 Blows
  • North by Northwest
  • The Apartment
  • Cléo from 5 to 7
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire
  • Viridiana
  • Advise and Consent
  • A Kind of Loving
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • The Leopard
  • Charulata
  • The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
  • Andrei Rublev
  • Accident
  • The Unfaithful Wife
  • Z
  • Alice’s Restaurant
  • The Wild Bunch
  • The Conformist
  • The Last Picture Show
  • Taking Off
  • W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism
  • Don’t Look Now
  • Chinatown
  • The Conversation
  • Jaws
  • Nashville
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • Cría cuervos
  • Kings of the Road
  • Annie Hall
  • The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
  • Coming Home
  • Newsfront
  • Farewell My Concubine
  • Alien
  • Breaker Morant
  • Manhunter
  • High Tide
  • Where Is the Friend’s House?
  • Distant Voices, Still Lives
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Sweetie
  • Lorenzo’s Oil
  • The Age of Innocence
  • Fargo
  • Drifting Clouds
  • Love Serenade
  • Jackie Brown
  • All About My Mother
  • Lantana
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • The Host
  • Animal Kingdom
  • Samson and Delilah
  • Nebraska
  • I, Daniel Blake
  • Roma
Dateline Bangkok has covered every ‘greatest film’ list published in the last two decades. But the book that My Favourite Movies most resembles is Barry Norman’s 100 Best Films of the Century from 1993.

17 May 2024

Red Poetry


Wildtype Middle Class 2024

Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will be shown at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok, Lorem Ipsum in Hat Yai, and Alien Artspace in Khon Kaen on 26th May, as part of the Wildtype Middle Class 2024 season. It will also be screened at Chiang Mai University on 4th June, at dot.b in Songkhla on 6th June, at Vongchavalitkul University in Korat on 7th June, at the University of Phayao on 13th June, and at Bookhemian in Phuket on 23rd June. The documentary is a profile of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who co-founded the group Artn’t. A shorter version of the film—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—had its premiere at Wildtype 2022.

Red Poetry shows the intense endurance and commitment Vitthaya invests in his protest art. A durational performance—sitting near Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate for nine full days—led to his collapse from exhaustion. In another action, he climbed onto Chiang Mai University’s main entrance, repeatedly slapped himself in the face, and jumped into a pond. Before reporting to the police to answer charges of sedition, he vomited blue paint outside the police station.

The film ends with Vitthaya’s most extreme action: he carved “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges he faced after exhibiting a modified version of the Thai flag in 2021. He was convicted of lèse-majesté last year, and received a suspended sentence.

Supamok’s film was screened three times as part of the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27): in the online Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน), at the main festival itself, and in the Short 27 Awarded Film Screening programme. It has previously been shown in Chiang Mai (most recently in February), Salaya, and Phatthalung.

Strangers on a Train


Strangers on a Train

The House Samyan cinema in Bangkok will show Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Strangers on a Train next month, with screenings on 14th, 15th, 16th, 22nd, and 23rd June. The film begins with two men, Bruno and Guy, meeting by chance in a train carriage. Guy (played by Farley Granger) is a famous tennis player, and Bruno (Robert Walker) recognises him and starts a seemingly innocent conversation.

Very quickly, Bruno’s questions exposes Guy’s private insecurities, and Bruno makes a theoretical proposal: that he will kill Guy’s unfaithful wife if Guy kills his father. Guy laughs dismissively at the idea, and leaves the train. But after Bruno carries out his end of the arrangement, he pressures Guy to do likewise. Guy is trapped: he can’t go to the police, because Bruno would claim that they had plotted the scheme together.

The plot is from Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name, which Hitchcock adapted with Czenzi Ormonde and Barbara Keon. Novelist Raymond Chandler had been originally contracted to write the script, though Chandler disliked collaborating with Hitchcock. He regarded Hitchcock’s contributions as interferences whereas, for Hitchcock, collaborating on a script was the most enjoyable part of the creative process.

The novel’s central premise remains unchanged in the film, as it’s such a perfect Hitchcockian scenario. But there was a major structural alteration: in the book, Guy does indeed kill Bruno’s father, whereas in the film he doesn’t. Highsmith’s book is about the corruption of innocence: Bruno’s pervasive persistence ultimately drives Guy to murder, much as Iago poisons the mind of Shakespeare’s Othello.

Hitchcock’s film, on the other hand, explores the persecution of innocence, with a framed man under constant suspicion, a theme he dealt with equally directly in The 39 Steps, North by Northwest, and The Wrong Man. Other Hitchcock preoccupations are present too: the idea of the perfect murder is a conversation topic in both this film and Shadow of a Doubt, and there are Oedipal overtones to the mother-son relationships in Strangers on a Train, Psycho, and Notorious.

Walker’s performance is outstanding, and he perfectly captures the character’s decadence and obsession. In fact, Bruno is the most engaging character in the film, and the audience is manipulated into sympathising with him. Hitchcock’s villains were often more charming than his heroes: Uncle Charlie, for instance, in Shadow of a Doubt, Norman in Psycho, and Tony in Dial M for Murder. Bruno is also another in a line of Hitchcock’s implicitly gay characters, like Brandon and Phillip in Rope, Leonard in North by Northwest, and Mrs Danvers in Rebecca.

The theme of doubling is a significant aspect of the film, recalling the doppelgänger in The Case of Mr. Pelham and the two Charlies of Shadow of a Doubt: two leading men (gay/straight; guilty/innocent), two archetypal love interests (Madonna/whore), and two detectives (good cop/bad cop). The standout sequence comes before Guy’s tennis match, when the spectators’ heads turn like metronomes, following each volley of the ball, while Bruno stares conspicuously ahead. Despite a melodramatic ending, this is one of Hitchcock’s greatest films.

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 predated the UK ‘video nasties’ controversy. Gustafsson even consulted a doctor to verify a notorious moment of eyeball violence in Thriller (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.

10 May 2024

Fiction/Nonfiction



Next month, the Thai Film Archive at Salaya will show a season of films that blur the lines between documentary and fiction. The Fiction/Nonfiction season begins on 1st June with Robert Flaherty’s classic Nanook of the North, regarded as the first documentary feature despite its staged sequences and anachronisms.

Later screenings include the docudrama Tongpan (ทองปาน) also on 1st June, Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Come Here (ใจจำลอง) on 5th and 18th June, Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s Railway Sleepers (หมอนรถไฟ) on 6th and 18th June, and the compilation film Lumiére! on 9th and 19th June. (Lumiére! will also be screened at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 10th June. Tongpan has previously been shown at Noir Row Art Space, Cinema Oasis, and Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.)