11 September 2021

Orson Welles Portfolio

Orson Welles Portfolio
Vogue Paris
Orson Welles was not only one of the world’s greatest film directors, he was also a pioneer of radio drama and modern theatre, and a prolific artist. Orson Welles Portfolio: Sketches and Drawings from the Welles Estate, by Simon Braund, features full-page reproductions of drawings and paintings by Welles, sourced from his archive and the Library of Congress. The illustrations are beautifully reproduced, though there are no notes or other references.

Most of the images are previously unpublished, and those that were published before (drawings for Everybody’s Shakespeare and watercolours—including a regal self-portrait—for a guest-edited issue of Vogue Paris) had been out-of-print for decades. The book also includes an interview with the director’s daughter Beatrice who, in Wellesian terms, had final cut over the project: strangely, copyright is credited not to Braund but to “Beatrice Welles Inc.”

Welles created a portfolio of watercolours as a Christmas present for his daughter Rebecca in 1956, and a facsimile was published as Les Bravades after his death. He presented the BBC TV series Orson Welles’ Sketch Book, in 1955. The documentary The Eyes of Orson Welles also explores Welles as a visual artist. Karl French’s book Art by Film Directors includes paintings and drawings by other filmmakers, though not Welles.

Pink Man Story

Pink Man Story
Pink Man Story is a lavish and complete retrospective of Manit Sriwanichpoom’s long-running Pink Man (พิ้งค์แมน) series, photographs featuring the incongruous figure of Sompong Tawee in a bright pink suit, a symbol of consumerism and superficiality. A small exhibition of Pink Man photos was due to be held at BACC earlier this year, though it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For the group exhibition History and Memory (ประวัติศาสตร์ และ ความทรงจำ), Manit created Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู), digitally inserting Sompong into news photographs of three Thai massacres. In the exhibition catalogue, Manit explained that he was inspired by the inexplicable election of Samak Sundaravej, and his artist’s statement is reprinted in Pink Man Story: “Was this not the same Samak who back in October 1976 went on radio to urge that brute force be used against pro-democracy protesters, in the events that culminated in the most horrifying massacre in Bangkok history? I asked myself: Has everyone forgotten? Does ‘October 6’ mean nothing to us now?”

Pink Man Story includes a detailed analysis of Horror in Pink by art critic Iola Lenzi—A Man for Our Times—in which she discusses the “historical amnesia” that inspired the series. It also reprints Ing Kanjanavanit’s essay Poses from Dreamland (ท่าโพส จากแดน ช่างฝัน), which was first published in the catalogue for Manit’s Phenomena and Prophecies (ท้าและทาย) exhibition. (Ing’s essay has been somewhat over-edited in Pink Man Story: its first page is mistakenly printed twice, and half of the original text has been removed.)

04 September 2021

I Alone Can Fix It

I Alone Can Fix It
Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year is billed as “the definitive behind-the-scenes story of Trump’s final year in office.” With much-anticipated Trump books from Bob Woodward (Peril) and Maggie Haberman around the corner, it’s too early to judge I Alone Can Fix It as definitive, but it is a chilling and authoritative account of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the 6th January storming of the Capitol.

Just in case readers were in any doubt as to the authors’ position on Trump, the prologue itemises his flaws: “He displayed his ignorance, his rash temper, his pettiness and pique, his malice and cruelty, his utter absence of empathy, his narcissism, his transgressive personality, his disloyalty, his sense of victimhood, his addiction to television, his suspicion and silencing of experts, and his deception and lies.” (To which I would add: his undermining of institutions.)

Surprisingly, though, there are moments early in the COVID-19 crisis when Trump said and did the right things. In a 7th February 2020 call to President Xi, he pressed for US access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (“All you have to do is issue the visas and they’ll be there”); and in an 11th March 2020 meeting, he recognised the need for a ban on travel from Europe (“We can’t get these lives back. We can make the money back. We’ve got to shut it down”). (These events were also covered, in less detail, in Woodward’s Rage, though according to Woodward, the Xi call took place a day earlier.)

Like Leonnig and Rucker’s previous book, A Very Stable Genius, I Alone Can Fix It’s ironic title is taken from a typically braggadocious Trump quote. Trump declined an interview request for that earlier book and, as the authors explain, he “attacked us personally and branded our reporting a work of fiction.” Consistently inconsistent, Trump then readily agreed to an interview for the second book, wining and dining the authors at Mar-a-Lago. (“For some sick reason, I enjoyed it”, he tells them after the interview, which appears in the book’s epilogue.)

Most of the other sources are quoted anonymously, though it’s clear that Trump campaign manager Chris Christie and former Attorney General William Barr were among the major sources. A self-serving Christie portrays himself as the voice of reason, as he did in A Very Stable Genius, here contrasting his advice to Trump with Rudy Giuliani’s wild conspiracy theories.

The most extraordinary quotes are those attributed to Mark Milley, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who apparently “saw parallels between Trump’s rhetoric of election fraud and Adolf Hitler’s insistence to his followers at the Nuremberg rallies that he was both a victim and their savior.” Astonishingly, Milley describes Trump’s undermining of the election as “The gospel of the Führer.”

Aside from A Very Stable Genius and Rage, I Alone Can Fix It is one of a dozen Trump books reviewed here during and after his presidency. The others are: Fear, Fire and Fury, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, Too Much and Never Enough, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, and The Cost.

23 August 2021

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
On the film prints, it was Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. On the posters, it was Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood. (Note the wandering ellipsis.) On the cover of Quentin Tarantino’s novelisation of his own film, it’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (Nary an ellipsis to be seen.)

The book doesn’t just tweak the title, it changes the entire structure. The film’s audacious climax is glossed over in a few paragraphs, a quarter of the way through the book: “Rick and Cliff made short order of the housebreakers, killing all three in a brutal fight.” There are also plenty of minor changes, from soundtrack switches (“A Day in the Life emanates from the car radio,” replacing a perfume commercial) to scene transpositions (the meeting with Marvin Schwarz takes place in his office rather than a restaurant).

Not surprisingly, the novel adds a great deal more backstory to the main characters, and gives some of the supporting characters (including spunky Trudi Frazer) additional scenes. The death of Cliff Booth’s wife is explained unambiguously, and we learn far more about Cliff’s past, including (somewhat implausibly) his favourite Akira Kurosawa films. Some of the extra material, including amusingly pretentious dialogue from Sam Wanamaker (“sexy evil Hamlet”), appears as blu-ray bonus footage.

There are some self-referential Tarantino quotes and cameos, such as a conversation about gourmet coffee (“none of that Maxwell House rotgut”) and lines like “Oh, you didn't hear me? Let me repeat it” that recall Pulp Fiction. That film’s “tasty beverage” line recurs, as it does in Death Proof. We learn that Trudi starred in “Tarantino’s 1999 remake of the John Sayles script for the gangster epic The Lady in Red” (the irony being that, in reality, he wouldn’t adapt a pre-existing script). His stepfather Curt Zastoupil also appears, and Rick Dalton signs an autograph “to Curt’s son, Quentin”.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel is not literary fiction, but nor is it pretending to be. Tarantino is reviving and deconstructing the film novelisation, giving him plausible deniability: any run-of-the-mill prose is merely paying homage to the form. Regardless, as you would expect from Tarantino, the dialogue is often superb.

18 August 2021

ในดินแดนวิปลาส

Democracy Monument
ในดินแดนวิปลาส: บันทึกบาดแผลสามัญชนบนโลกคู่ขนาน (‘in the land of madness: recording the wounds of ordinary people in parallel worlds’) was written by a female journalist who has covered the legal persecution of anti-coup activists, including various high-profile lèse-majesté cases. Like ห้องเช่าหมายเลข 112 (‘room number 112’), her book tells the human stories behind the headlines. The author is credited pseudonymously as รัช, a contranym meaning both ‘king’ and ‘dust’ (a subversive reference to ‘dust under the feet’, a Thai phrase emphasising the subservient position of subjects in relation to their monarch).

The cover illustration (also credited to a pseudonym, La Orng) shows a chess piece (the king) and Democracy Monument on opposite sides of the scales of justice, with the scales tipped in favour of the king. The journal Read (อ่าน) made the same point with infographics in its January-March 2013 issue. On the ในดินแดนวิปลาส cover, Democracy Monument is splattered with blood, and today Thalu Fah protesters draped body bags with fake blood over it, symbolising the unvaccinated victims of the coronavirus pandemic (as photographed by Voice TV).

Images of Democracy Monument have been used to make similar political statements on other book covers. Wad Rawee’s การเมืองโมเบียส (‘Möbius politics’) depicts it as a military complex in a dystopian future, Jakkapan Kangwan’s Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า) shows it under construction—as does the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine—and on the cover of Sulak Sivaraksa’s หกทศวรรษประชาธิปไตย (‘six decades of democracy’), it is represented as a jigsaw with one piece (containing the constitution) missing.

เหมือนบอดใบ้ไพร่ฟ้ามาสุดทาง

Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa was the first anti-government protester to call for reform of the monarchy, at a rally in 2020. He was arrested earlier this month, following a speech marking the first anniversary of that event. His portrait was painted by Witawat Tongkeaw, who dubbed him Captain Justice (ทนายอานนท์).

Arnon published a booklet outlining his proposals for a truly constitutional monarchy, สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย, and he cowrote a booklet with a manifesto for monarchy reform, ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา. They have recently been translated into English by PEN International online, as The Monarchy and Thai Society and The Day the Sky Trembled, respectively.

Arnon’s first book, however, was a poetry collection published in 2011. One poem, เหมือนบอดใบ้ไพร่ฟ้ามาสุดทาง (‘we subjects, as if mute and blind, have found ourselves at the end of the line’) also provided the title of the collection. It describes the legal persecution that followed the 2010 Ratchaprasong massacre, when red-shirt activists were charged with arson.

Arnon defended many of the accused, and the poem highlights the injustice of their trials. It concludes with a call to arms, which was eventually answered last year when the student-led anti-government protests began in earnest:

“So the law has turned to the rule of dogs;
We subjects, as if mute and blind,
Have found ourselves at the end of the line:
Submit or die—no other way.

History must be written in lives
To get the wheel of time unstuck;
Fly the red flag, friends, show your pluck:
Revolt! Bring down the robber regime!”

The book’s cover, by Kullawat Kanjanasoontree, reimagines Picasso’s Guernica as a depiction of the 2010 massacre. It was included in the Art for Freedom (ศิลปะเพื่อเสรีภาพ) exhibition at the Pridi Banomyong Institute in 2013, under the same title as the book and with an alternate English translation, As Blind as the Dead End. The Sanam Ratsadon website features two poems from the collection, newly translated by Peera Songkünnatham.

17 August 2021

The Four

The Four
The New York Times
Financial Times
The Economist
Financial Times
Esquire
Financial Times
The Economist
Financial Times
Scott Galloway’s book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google analyses the impact of the 800-pound gorillas of online technology: “Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are the four most influential companies on the planet.” Galloway calls them “the Four Horsemen,” and Nick Bilton (author of Hatching Twitter) made the same point in a November 2017 Vanity Fair article: “The four horsemen of the coming economic apocalypse—Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook—have already flattened entire industries.” (Alphabet is Google’s parent company.)

Referring to the same tech oligopoly, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt called them the “gang of four” at the D9 conference in 2011: “Obviously, one of them, in my view, is Google, the other three being Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.” Schmidt and Jared Cohen discussed the same four brands in The New Digital Age: “We believe that modern technology platforms, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, are even more powerful than most people realize”. The Wall Street Journal (on Boxing Day 2012) assessed the rivalry between the same four firms (“Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook vs. Amazon”).

The Economist (on 1st December 2012) also highlighted the same quartet: “THE four giants of the internet age - Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon - are extraordinary creatures. Never before has the world seen firms grow so fast or spread their tentacles so widely.” In a cartoon for the magazine’s cover, David Parkins depicted the companies as giant squid. Continuing the cephalopod metaphor, an article by Galloway in the March 2018 issue of Esquire featured an illustration by Andrew Rae representing the four companies as a giant octopus. Cartoons by Matt Kenyon in the Financial Times showed the so-called FAANG group (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google) as a mechanical octopus (on 23rd April 2018), and (minus Netflix) as a steam train (on 17th June 2019) and a teetering robot (yesterday).

Farhad Manjoo has also written extensively about this group of big tech giants, initially in a Fast Company (November 2011) cover story: “Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon battle for the future”. Adding Microsoft to the mix, Manjoo calls them “the Frightful Five” and his 6th May 2017 New York Times column featured an illustration by Doug Chayka showing a raft formed from the five logos. A photomontage by James Ferguson in the Financial Times on 15th November 2017 showed the same five as UFOs over New York. The cover of The Economist (22nd February 2020), by Justin Metz, shows them as five charging robotic bulls.

23 July 2021

"These three books have a
lot of seditious material inside..."

General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists
Five people who created children’s picture books were arrested in Hong Kong yesterday and charged with sedition. Police accused the five—all members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, which published the books—of producing subversive literature to undermine national security.

The three books in question are all set in a ‘sheep village’ (羊村), which serves as a metaphor for contemporary Hong Kong in an example of political satire in the tradition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. More than 500 copies of the books were seized and, at a press conference after the arrests, superintendent Steve Li said: “These three books have a lot of seditious material inside.”

One of the books, 羊村守衛者 (‘guardians of sheep village’) is an allegory of Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protests. Another, 羊村十二勇士 (‘twelve warriors of sheep village’), refers to a dozen Hong Kongers who were arrested last year when they attempted to escape into exile by speedboat. The last book in the series, 羊村清道夫 (‘the cleaners of sheep village’), is a reference to medical workers who went on strike in an attempt to force Hong Kong to close its border with China during last year’s coronavirus pandemic.

PDF PDF PDF

16 July 2021

The Short Story of Film

The Short Story of Film
The Short Story of Film
The Short Story of Film: A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Movements and Techniques, by Ian Haydn Smith, was published last year. As its subtitle suggests, it’s divided into four parts, though the ‘key films’ section occupies the bulk of the book. Fifty films are included (one per director), the selection is international in scope, and each film has a decent one-page review.

The one-page-per-entry format also applies to the other sections, and while a single page is sufficient to summarise an individual film, it’s not really enough to cover entire genres or movements. Consequently, these potted histories are sometimes quite general, and often have better coverage of a genre or movement’s origins than its subsequent evolution. The book features an impressively diverse range of subgenres, and these are summarised in more detail than the major genres.

Other lists of fifty greatest films have also been compiled by Vanity Fair, The Spectator, MovieMail, Film4 (and Dateline Bangkok). Ian Haydn Smith updated 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die for its tenth anniversary, and has edited each subsequent edition (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020).

10 July 2021

Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok

Journalist Emma Larkin’s first novel, Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok, was published in May. (Born in Thailand, Larkin uses a pen name to avoid scrutiny from the authorities while she reports from Myanmar.) The eponymous Aeon is a former Communist insurgent, who fled to the jungle following the 6th October 1976 massacre.

Aeon has since returned to Bangkok, though he (like the city) remains haunted by state violence against civilian protesters. Working as a history teacher, he sees first-hand how 6th October has been whitewashed from the national curriculum—a point made by Vasan Sitthiket in his video Delete Our History, Now! (อำนาจ/การลบทิ้ง)—and searches for what little evidence remains, “the seldom-seen photographs of semi-conscious students burned on funeral pyres made of tyres, and dead bodies hung from the tamarind trees on the parade ground.”

The novel is set in 2009, when red-shirt protesters instigated violence during the Songkran holiday. As one character says, “Did you hear they attacked the Prime Minister’s car?”—Abhisit Vejjajiva’s motorcade was mobbed, an incident recreated in Wisit Sasanatieng’s film The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง). The red-shirt protests culminated in another state crackdown, in 2010, though the novel focuses on the aftermath of the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre.

In the days following ‘Black May’, there were credible rumours of military vehicles disposing of hundreds of bodies, who were omitted from the official tally of victims. Larkin recounts the “talk of an army truck driving into a bone mill on the outskirts of Bangkok late one night, the cargo heaped under its tarpaulin conspicuously absent when it drove out again, and reports of military helicopters flying east from the city towards the border with Burma, dropping bodies into the impenetrable jungle below.”

The story’s starting point is a fictional incident that seems to confirm these rumours: bodies found in a sunken shipping container and buried in wasteland. The novel presents these grisly discoveries as proof of “an operation to deal with the ‘excess collateral damage’ resulting from the crackdown on protesters at Sanam Luang”, though a government spokesman dismisses the matter out of hand: “Gazing wearily at the nation, he appeared to ad lib as he took off his spectacles and said in a more casual, almost avuncular tone, ‘So, it’s best that you all go about your business now and forget this incident.’”

Larkin was inspired by two works of political history: William A. Callahan’s Imagining Democracy (now scarce, but the best account of ‘Black May’ in English) and Thongchai Winnichakul’s Moments of Silence. (Aeon “tracked down some of the leaders of the right-wing gangs that had massed in Sanam Luang”, in an echo of the Silence of the Wolf chapter in Thongchai’s book.) Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok is one of several recent novels set in times of Thai political conflict, including Sunisa Manning’s A Good True Thai, Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘indescribable fiction’), Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), and Jakkapan Kangwan’s Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า).

09 July 2021

Thai Cinema Uncensored

Bangkok Post
My book Thai Cinema Uncensored is reviewed in today’s Bangkok Post newspaper, on page 10 of their Life arts supplement. In his review, Chris Baker (who co-authored the excellent Thaksin) calls it a “splendid book.” He also describes it as a “fascinating book which has relevance for film, contemporary culture and politics in general.”

15 June 2021

C+nto and Othered Poems

C+nto and Othered Poems
Joelle Taylor’s poetry collection, C+unto and Othered Poems, was published last week. Cunto is an inflection of the Italian verb cuntare, meaning ‘narrate’. As the title of Taylor’s seven-part poem, it may also be a pun on ‘canto’ (and, of course, ‘cunt’). For publication, the title is printed as C+unto, and in her poetry Taylor sidesteps the c-word in favour of its etymological origin, the Latin cunnus.

11 June 2021

The Art of Thai Comics

The Art of Thai Comics
The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes, by comics scholar and collector Nicolas Verstappen, was published this week. This is the first book in English on the history of Thai comics (also available in a Thai edition: การ์ตูนไทย ศิลปะและประวัติศาสตร์), and it provides a definitive history of the subject, from pioneers such as Prayoon Chanyawongse (“The King of Thai Cartoons”) to contemporary comic zines.

The Art of Thai Comics is both a coffee-table book with beautifully-reproduced illustrations and a meticulously researched, comprehensive survey of Thai comic history. In both aspects, it surpasses the leading Thai-language book on the subject, A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014 (140 ปี การ์ตูน เมืองไทย).

Scot Barmé discusses early Thai satirical cartoons—including Sem Sumanan’s caricatures of Rama VI—in Woman, Man, Bangkok. For more on Asian comics, see Mangasia (by Paul Gravett). Comics: A Global History (by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner) covers American, European, and Japanese comics since 1968. The World Encyclopedia of Comics (by Maurice Horn) features biographies of hundreds of comic artists. Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels (by Roger Sabin) is an introduction to the entire field of comic art.

10 June 2021

A 140-Year History of Cartoon
in Thailand from 1874 to 2014

A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014
A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014
A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014 [sic] (140 ปี การ์ตูน เมืองไทย: ประวัติและตำนาน พ.ศ. 2417-2557), by Surrealist artist and photographer Paisal Theerapongvisanuporn, was published in 2018. Paisal’s book was the first comprehensive historical account of Thai comics. (Nicolas Verstappen, author of The Art of Thai Comics, praises it as “the first complete overview of the history of Thai comics”.)

The opening chapters deal with the early history of Thai cartoons, followed by a decade-by-decade examination of Thai comics since 1957. (The authoritative text is accompanied by black-and-white illustrations, some of which appear to be photocopies.) An epilogue discusses political cartoons in Thai newspapers, including a 2014 example depicting a tank chasing a pencil around Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, highlighting military intimidation in the aftermath of the coup.

Scot Barmé discusses early Thai satirical cartoons in Woman, Man, Bangkok. For more coverage of Asian comics, see Mangasia (by Paul Gravett). Comics: A Global History (by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner) covers American, European, and Japanese comics since 1968. The World Encyclopedia of Comics (by Maurice Horn) features biographies of hundreds of comic artists, and Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels (by Roger Sabin) is an introduction to the entire field of comic art.

06 June 2021

Battle for the Soul

Battle for the Soul
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage detailed the Republican Party’s radical transformation in the Trump era, and Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaigns to Defeat Trump examines the Democratic Party’s regrouping during Trump’s term of office. Whereas Trump led the Republicans down a path (or cul-de-sac) of extremism, the 2020 Democratic nominee—Joe Biden—was aligned with his party’s moderate wing (though his presidency has been more progressive than many predicted).

Battle for the Soul’s title is adapted from an article Biden wrote for The Atlantic magazine in 2017, in the aftermath of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally: “We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.” The book features Biden’s first Oval Office interview as President, in which he draws “a direct line” between Trump’s endorsement of the Charlottesville white supremacists and the 6th January storming of the Capitol.

Although Dovere covers the Democratic Party after Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s Obama who provides the book’s juiciest quotes. At off-the-record fundraising events with Democratic Party donors, he called Trump “a racist, sexist pig”, “that fucking lunatic” and, for good measure, “that corrupt motherfucker”.

02 June 2021

American Carnage

American Carnage
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump reveals how Republican Party factions battled each other and Donald Trump for the soul of the party. (Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul offers a similar account of the Democrat Party’s internal divisions in the Trump era.)

American Carnage covers a decade of intramural conflict, from the rise and fall of the Tea Party to the Republican Party’s gradual embrace of Trump’s disruptive populism. Sources include former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and an Oval Office interview with President Trump. (The book was published in 2019.) Its title is taken from the key soundbite of Trump’s inauguration speech: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now” (a speech that George W. Bush described as “some weird shit”).

Alberta sets out his stall on the very first page, writing that Trump “spent his first two years as president conducting himself in a manner so self-evidently unbecoming of the office—trafficking in schoolyard taunts, peddling brazen untruths, cozying up to murderous tyrants, tearing down our national institutions, weaponizing the gears of government for the purpose of self-preservation, preying on racial division and cultural resentment”. And all of that was before the double impeachment and attempted insurrection.

In his most evocative and alarming passage, Alberta describes Trump revelling almost maniacally in the adulation he received from (in Hillary Clinton’s words) the deplorables at his rallies: “Preparing to take the stage, the president seemed to feel it all—the crowd, the music, the energy, the media glare—coursing through his veins. “I fucking love this job!” he howled into the November night.”

06 May 2021

Putin’s People

Putin's People
Five lawsuits have recently been filed against the author and publisher of Putin’s People. Catherine Belton’s book (subtitled How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West) received superlative reviews when it was published a year ago. Belton was the FT’s Moscow correspondent for six years, and Alexei Navalny brandished a copy of her book in his viral video Дворец для Путина: История самой большой взятки (‘Putin’s palace: the world’s biggest bribe’).

Roman Abramovich filed the first libel suit on 22nd March, challenging Belton’s allegation that he purchased Chelsea FC on Vladimir Putin’s instructions. Belton writes that “Putin directed Abramovich to buy the club, claimed a Russian tycoon and a former Abramovich associate.” Aside from these two off-the-record sources, she also interviewed Sergei Pugachev, whom she quotes directly: “Putin personally told me of his plan to acquire the Chelsea Football Club in order to increase his influence”.

Pugachev, a defector from Putin’s inner circle, was described by a UK High Court judge in 2017 as “a person quite willing to lie and put forward false statements deliberately if it would suit his purpose.” Belton acknowledges his reputation as an unreliable witness, though she quotes him extensively nevertheless.

On Tuesday, the FT revealed that four other lawsuits were filed against Belton and her publisher, HarperCollins, last month. In what appears to be a coordinated campaign to silence any criticism of Putin’s regime, the Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Shalva Chigirinsky sued for libel, as did the Kremlin-controlled oil company Rosneft. Peter Aven, Fridman’s business partner, sued for breach of data protection.

30 April 2021

The Film Book

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

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

27 April 2021

Kintsugi

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

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

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

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

26 April 2021

The Patani Art of Struggle

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

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

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

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