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 on 26th May, as part of the Wildtype Middle Class 2024 season. 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, 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 starting on 14th 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 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.

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. (Tongpan has previously been shown at Noir Row Art Space, Cinema Oasis, and Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.)

01 May 2024

Nang Nak


Nang Nak

Nonzee Nimibutr’s classic horror movie Nang Nak (นางนาก) will be shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya this month (on 4th and 24th May), as part of a season paying tribute to actor Winai Kraibutr, who died earlier this year. Winai played the male lead in Nang Nak, which was his breakthrough role.

Nang Nak was most recently shown at the Archive in 2021, to celebrate Halloween. It was also screened during Halloween in 2020, at Lido Connect. Bangkok Screening Room included it in their Halloween season in 2019. It had an outdoor screening in 2018. It was shown at the Archive in 2013, and at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in 2010.

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).

29 April 2024

Censor Must Die


Censor Must Die

It’s fair to say that Ing Kanjanavanit has had her battles with the film censors. In an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, she described the state censorship board as “a bunch of trembling morons with the power of life and death over our films.” Two of her films were banned in Thailand—My Teacher Eats Biscuits (คนกราบหมา) in 1998, and Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) in 2012—though both bans have recently been lifted, and the films will be screened later this year.

Ing’s documentary Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย) shows producer Manit Sriwanichpoom receiving the censor’s initial verdict on Shakespeare Must Die, and follows him as he appeals against the ban at the Ministry of Culture and files a case with the Office of the National Human Rights Commission. (The documentary was made in 2013, though it was another decade before the ban was finally revoked, following a judgement by the Supreme Court.)

Censor Must Die’s most revealing scene takes place at the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture: in the lobby, a TV plays a video demonstrating the traditional Thai method of sitting in a polite and respectful manner. The video encapsulates the Ministry’s didactic and outdated interpretation of Thai culture, and it was parodied by the mock instructional video “How to Behave Elegantly Like a Thai” in Sorayos Prapapan’s film Arnold Is a Model Student (อานนเป็นนักเรียนตัวอย่าง).

The documentary premiered at the Freedom on Film (สิทธิหนังไทย) seminar in 2013, was shown a few months later at the Thai Film Archive, and had private screenings at Silpakorn University and the Friese-Greene Club. It was last shown at Cinema Oasis, the cinema Ing and Manit founded in Bangkok, on 20th March 2020. Censor Must Die returns to Cinema Oasis this week, screening on 3rd, 4th, 5th, 10th, and 11th May.

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.

15 April 2024

My Teacher Eats Biscuits


Dog God Ministry of Culture

Ing Kanjanavanit’s film My Teacher Eats Biscuits will finally be shown in Thailand, more than twenty-five years after it was banned. Ing re-edited the film in 2020, and this director’s cut—ten minutes shorter than the original version—was approved by the film censorship board last October. It will go on general release on 16th May. Although its Thai title (คนกราบหมา) remains the same, its English title has been changed to the more prosaic Dog God.

My Teacher Eats Biscuits was banned from the inaugural Bangkok Film Festival in 1998, along with the Singaporean drama Bugis Street (妖街皇后). On the opening night of the Alternative Love Film Festival later that year, Ing showed a video of her meeting with the film censors, and screened Bugis Street in defiance of the ban. Police raided the Saeng-Arun Arts Centre during the screening of Bugis Street, though they left the auditorium once they realised that My Teacher Eats Biscuits was not being shown.

The film was banned on the grounds that it satirised religion. As the director explained in an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored: “This is like banning John Waters’ Pink Flamingos for bad taste!” In other words, the religious satire was the whole point of the film. (In that interview, Ing alleged that one member of the censorship board, a Chulalongkorn University professor, dominated the board and led the decision to ban the film. Another potential reason for the ban was that the censors misinterpreted a character, Princess Serena, as an impersonation of Princess Galyani.)

Like Pink Flamingos, My Teacher Eats Biscuits is a low-budget, independent movie shot on 16mm. (Coincidentally, Pink Flamingos was also passed by the Thai censors last year.) A plot synopsis—a monk catches another monk in the act of necrophilia, and a woman establishes a cult of dog worshippers—gives the false impression that My Teacher Eats Biscuits is offensive or blasphemous. In fact, the film has a camp sensibility (which it shares with Pink Flamingos), and its tone is clearly parodic.

Dog God

The film begins with a voice-over by Ing, describing her character’s previous incarnation as a devout monk. He reports the necrophile to his abbot, who seems completely unconcerned. Disillusioned by Buddhism, he burns his saffron robe, and is reincarnated as a woman, Satri, played by the director. At the end of the film, Satri explains her rejection of organised religion: “I had to free myself from the pollution of the yellow robe, which, in my eyes, became a symbol of corruption.”

Satri’s cult is exposed as a fraud by two undercover investigators, though the film presents Buddhism as equally hypocritical. When an investigator tells a senior monk (who drinks whiskey) about the cult, his response is: “A dog in a monk’s robe is not so bad.” Reflecting on this, the investigator concludes: “With monks like him, no wonder the image of Buddhism gets worse and worse.” We are later informed that he has left to investigate “a drunken orgy with seven senior monks.”

After the ban, My Teacher Eats Biscuits was rarely seen, either in Thailand or elsewhere. As critic Graiwoot Chulpongsathorn wrote in 2009, it is “a film so controversial that it has been ‘disappeared’ from history.” It was shown at the Goethe-Institut in Bangkok in 1998, and it had three European screenings in 2017: at the Close-Up Film Centre in London; at the Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt, Germany; and at the Cinéma du réel (‘cinema of the real’) festival in Paris.

When Shakespeare Must Die (เชคสเปียร์ต้องตาย) was banned in 2012, Ing had the dubious distinction of being the only Thai director with two films banned simultaneously. Now both films have been passed by the censors—the Shakespeare Must Die ban was lifted in February—and they will both return to Thai cinemas this year. My Teacher Eats Biscuits and Shakespeare Must Die appear to be early beneficiaries of a liberalised censorship policy announced by the National Soft Power Strategy Committee (คณะกรรมการยุทธศาสตร์ซอฟต์พาวเวอร์แห่งชาติ) in January.

1974:
The Best Year of the Movies


1974

Next month, Bangkok’s Doc Club and Pub will begin a season of classics from 1974, which it describes as the best year of the movies. Of course, it’s debatable whether 1974 (now fifty years ago) was the greatest year in cinema history, but there’s no denying that the season includes some outstanding films. The Godfather II, Chinatown, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf) will all be shown as part of 1974: The Best Year of the Movies.

The season begins with Ali, showing on 12th and 15th May. Chinatown will be shown on 18th and 23rd May, and 2nd June. The Godfather II is shpowing on 22nd May, and 2nd and 8th June. Ali was previously screened at Doc Club and Pub in 2022, and at the Thai Film Archive earlier that year. The Godfather II was shown at the Scala cinema in 2018. Chinatown was shown at Smalls in 2018.

14 April 2024

Nitade Movie Club
Salò


Salo

Even almost fifty years after it was released, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma) remains one of the most controversial films ever made. (When it was screened at London’s Compton Cinema Club in 1977, the venue was raided by the police, and even a censored print was seized by the vice squad two years later.) Salò will be shown at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Communication Arts on 17th April, as part of the Nitade Movie Club weekly screening programme.

07 April 2024

Nitade Experimental Shorts:
The Other Cinema


Nitade Experimental Shorts

Weerapat Sakolvaree’s short film Nostalgia will be shown at Chulalongkorn University on 10th April at a screening organised by Nitade Movie Club. The event, Nitade Experimental Shorts: The Other Cinema, features two sessions—Deconstructing Emotions and Decolonized by Time—each lasting exactly 100 minutes. Nostalgia will open the second session. It has previously been shown at the Chiang Mai Film Festival (twice), Bangkok University, Future Fest 2023, Wildtype 2022, and the 26th Thai Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 26).

06 April 2024

Movie Night at Prince Theatre


Movie Night at Prince Theatre

Bangkok’s Prince Theatre continues its daily film screenings, Movie Night at Prince Theatre. Highlights this month include The Celebration (Festen), the first Dogme 95 production, on 19th April; and the Orson Welles masterpiece Citizen Kane on 25th April.

The Prince Theatre was established as a cinema in 1917, and was converted into a film-themed hotel a year after its centenary. Citizen Kane was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2017 and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018.

05 April 2024

FIAF Congress 2024


FIAF Congress 2024

Apiachtpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) will be screened in 35mm at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on 21st April, as part of the FIAF Congress 2024. The event is organised by the International Federation of Film Archives, and the screening is in recognition of the director’s status as the first Thai recipient of an FIAF Award.

Syndromes and a Century was shown most recently at the Archive during the 23rd Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 23), and it was also screened there earlier in 2019. The film’s censorship in Thailand sparked a campaign to reform Thai film regulation, as discussed in Thai Cinema Uncensored.

31 March 2024

Show Me the Movies!
Recommended by Martin Scorsese


Recommended by Martin Scorsese

Doc Club and Pub will show a short season of Martin Scorsese’s favourite films (as part of their Show Me the Movies! strand), including Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, starting later this month. 2001 will be shown on 25th and 28th April, and 4th May. It has previously been shown at Arcadia in 2022, at the Scala in 2017, and at the Thai Film Archive in 2013.

27 March 2024

Doc Club Festival Selections 04


Festival Selections 04

Doc Club and Pub will show further highlights from this year’s Doc Club Festival, as part of the Selections series. Selections 04, on 31st March, includes Napasin Samkaewcham’s short film A Love Letter to My Sister, a deeply moving documentary about the volatile relationship between his parents. A Love Letter to My Sister was previously shown in the Short Film Marathon 27 (หนังสั้นมาราธอน 27), and at the 27th Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 27).

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.)

18 March 2024

Skyline Film
Singin’ in the Rain


Skyline Film

The classic Hollywood musical Singin’ in the Rain will be shown on 6th April, on the rooftop of River City Bangkok, as part of a regular programme of monthly outdoor screenings organised by Skyline Film. Singin’ in the Rain—one of Dateline Bangkok’s fifty essential films—was previously screened at Thammasat University in 2015, at the Scala cinema in 2018, and at Bangkok Screening Room in 2020.

17 March 2024

2475
Dawn of Revolution


2475 Dawn of Revolution

Thailand’s Political History, by B.J. Terwiel, is an authoritative history of Thai politics that challenges Thailand’s royalist-nationalist historical narrative. Terwiel argues, for example, that Rama VII is traditionally portrayed as “the king who wanted to present his people with a true democracy but was forestalled by the coup d’état of 1932.” As he demonstrates, this is a false characterisation, though it remains persistent: it can be seen most recently in the new feature-length animation 2475 Dawn of Revolution (๒๔๗๕ รุ่งอรุณแห่งการปฏิวัติ). The film (directed by Wivat Jirotgul) dramatises the 1932 coup launched by Khana Ratsadon, which introduced nascent democracy to Thailand, though the story is told from a distorted royalist-nationalist perspective.

2475 begins by summarising Rama VII’s attitudes prior to the 1932 coup: “King Rama VII believed in the ideas of the parliament system and the constitution.” This is in direct contrast to Terwiel’s book, which points out that “the king ruled out a parliamentary form of government”. The film credits Rama VII as an instigator of democratic reform, intent on “giving the constitution to the people of Siam.” This interpretation—in which democracy is bestowed as a generous royal gift—is again at odds with Terwiel, who makes clear that Rama VII “indicated that he himself was firmly of the opinion that Siam was not ready for a representative form of government.”

The film’s framing device features three modern-day students, one of whom livestreams an anti-government protest, who go to the library to research a history project on the 1932 coup. The message—that today’s students should read more about Thai history—is both condescending and inaccurate, as history books by Nattapoll Chaiching, amongst others, are bestsellers. The film’s ending is particularly dismissive of the student characters: they visit Democracy Monument, and observe that democracy “dies over and over again, it gets torn apart with coup d’état so many times.” At which point, they burst into giggles, as though—despite their research and their previous political activism—they have no interest in the subject whatsoever.

2475’s credits include a list of individual donors, some of whom gave as little as ฿100 each. The bulk of the budget was provided anonymously, though Prachatai reported earlier this week that the film’s production company, Nakraphiwat, was paid almost ฿4m by the army between 2020 and 2022. While this doesn’t prove that the film was funded by the military, it does raise questions about their involvement in this production that discredits Khana Ratsadon, especially given that public commemorations of the 1932 revolution have recently been removed by the military regime.