23 April 2021

The Making of Raging Bull

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

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

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

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

20 April 2021

การเมืองโมเบียส

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

19 April 2021

Altai Villa

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

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

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

18 April 2021

ไข่แมวX

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

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

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

Khai Maew has also produced satirical merchandise, including soft toys and other items based on his recurring Thaksin Shinawatra and Prayut Chan-o-cha characters. In 2016, he created Happy Boy, a miniature plastic model of the smiling child seen in Neal Ulevich’s photograph of the 6th October 1976 massacre.

04 April 2021

จวบจันทร์แจ่มฟ้านภาผ่อง

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

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

27 March 2021

ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว

Duanwad Pimwana
Duanwad Pimwana’s latest novel, ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว: นิยมนิยายอันเหลือจะบรรยาย (‘indescribable fiction: unspoken dreams’), was published last year. Duanwad, a pen name for Pimjai Juklin, is one of Thailand’s leading contemporary writers, and ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว was inspired by Don Quixote, the first novel in the Western canon.

Duandwad has spoken out in opposition to the current military government, and the novel takes place in the chaotic atmosphere of the 2013 PDRC protests leading up to the 2014 coup. Her political stance is clear from chapter seven: its title, แผนฆ่าประชาธิปไตยในห้องปิดตาย, refers to the death of democracy.

Uthis Haemamool’s recent novel ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’) also comments on the 2014 coup. Duanwad wrote a chapter in the anthology Remembrances of Red Trauma (1 ทศวรรษ พฤษภาฯ เลือดปี ’53), reflecting on the impact of the 2010 massacre on Thai literature.

20 March 2021

สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย

Democracy Restoration Group
Royal Thai Police
This afternoon, police searched the offices of Same Sky Books and confiscated 10,000 copies of a booklet by pro-democracy protest leader Arnon Nampa. The booklet, สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย (‘the monarchy and Thai society’), contains the text of a speech delivered by Arnon at Democracy Monument on 3rd August 2020.

The booklet’s publishers, the Democracy Restoration Group campaign, announced yesterday that it would be given away at a REDEM protest rally at Sanam Luang this evening, and many copies were distributed there despite the police seizure. (Arnon had previously distributed small quantities of the booklet last year.) Riot police used water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, as they had on 28th February.

Today’s police raid has echoes of an almost identical case last year, when an announcement that a similar booklet would be given away at a protest drew the attention of the authorities. That booklet—ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’)—was also seized by police before the rally, though some copies were eventually distributed.

15 March 2021

Micro Politics

Micro Politics
Micro Politics, published in 2018, is a collection of four contemporary Thai plays and theatre performances: The Disappearance of the Boy on a Sunday Afternoon (การหายตัวไปของเด็กชายในบ่ายวันอาทิตย์) by Thanaphon Accawatanyu, A Nowhere Place (ที่ ไม่มีที่) by Pradit Prasartthong, Bang La Merd (บางละเมิด) by Ornanong Thaisriwong, and Hipster the King by Thanaphol Virulhakul. The scripts are printed in both Thai and English, and the book also includes interviews with each playwright.

The four works were all performed in the aftermath of the 2014 coup, at a time of increased political repression. Military officers attended and videotaped almost all performances of Bang La Merd, in an act of intimidation through state surveillance. As the publishers explain in their introduction, the collection is “a chronicle of social changes during those trying times, reflecting on the effects of the regime on individuals, questioning the events, and offering insights towards political problems in Thailand.”

12 March 2021

Coup, King, Crisis

Coup, King, Crisis
After “Good Coup” Gone Bad, Pavin Chachavalpongpun has turned his attention to the 2006 coup’s more repressive sequel: the 2014 coup (from Bad to worse, as it were). Coup, King, Crisis: A Critical Interregnum in Thailand, edited by Pavin, focuses on Thai politics under the junta and the succession from Rama IX to Rama X. (After the Coup is an earlier anthology of essays on the 2014 coup.)

Pavin’s introduction summarises the 2019 election anomalies and the “political earthquake” of Thai Raksa Chart and Princess Ubolratana, though these really require their own chapters. Sarah Bishop writes about the Thai Raksa Chart dissolution, refuting the notion of ‘judicial coups’, though her argument is unconvincing as she ignores the Constitutional Court’s disqualifications of Samak Sundaravej, Somchai Wongsawat, Yingluck Shinawatra, and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. (For a more persuasive analysis of the politicised judiciary, see Eugénie Mérieau’s chapter in Military, Monarchy and Repression.)

The most interesting contributions are Kevin Hewison’s chapter on the royal succession, Paul M. Handley’s updating of The King Never Smiles, Tyrell Haberkorn’s discussion of Mor Yong, a primer on military factions by Paul Chambers (co-editor of Khaki Capital), and an account of self-censorship by David Streckfuss (author of Truth on Trial in Thailand). Streckfuss discusses the use of metaphor by writers and artists as a strategy to evade censorship, noting the “tension between letting readers in on the joke and somehow concealing it from the authorities”, citing the short story Hakom and the film Cemetery of Splendour as examples.

10 March 2021

“I have realized the wickedness of a
person who calls himself a scholar...”

Nattapoll Chaiching
Nattapoll Chaiching
Historian Nattapoll Chaiching’s book ขุนศึก ศักดินา และพญาอินทรี การเมืองไทยภายใต้ระเบียบโลกของสหรัฐอเมริกา 2491-2500 (‘feudal warlords and the eagle: Thai politics and the United States 1948-1957’), about Thailand’s relationship with the US during the Cold War, was a runaway bestseller among liberals and political enthusiasts when it was published last year. His earlier work, ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ ความเคลื่อนไหวของขบวนการปฏิปักษ์ปฏิวัติสยาม (พ.ศ. 2475-2500) (‘I dream an incredible dream: the anti-Siamese revolutionary movement 1932-1957’), published in 2013, also saw a revival in sales after it was among five titles seized by police from the offices of the publisher, Same Sky Books.

Nattapoll has been heavily criticised by conservatives, culminating in a lawsuit issued on 5th March. In December last year, Chaiyand Chaiyaporn, a professor at Chulalongkorn University, accused him of falsifying references in the Ph.D. thesis on which his Cold War book was based. A week later, an ultra-royalist former monk, Suwit Thongprasert, accused him of lèse-majesté: “I have realized the wickedness of a person who calls himself a scholar and has got a Ph.D. who dared to develop a thesis with false information... harmful towards the royal institution.” (Suwit’s statement was issued under his monastic title Buddha Issara, though he was defrocked in 2018 as a result of his role in the 2014 PDRC protests.)

Last week, aristocrat Priyanandana Rangsit sued Nattapoll and Same Sky Books for defamation, seeking ฿50 million in damages. According to the lawsuit, Nattapoll’s books incorrectly assert that her grandfather, Prince Rangsit Prayurasakdi, sought an improper political influence over Phibun Songkhram’s government in the 1940s. She argues that this misrepresentation of her ancestor—who died seventy years ago—tarnishes her family name, and is thus defamatory to her personally.

05 March 2021

Thai Cinema Uncensored

Art Review
My book Thai Cinema Uncensored is reviewed in the March issue of Art Review magazine (volume 73, number 1), on page 111. Reviewer Max Crosbie-Jones writes: “Thais and Thailand watchers will recognise the bigger story, an all-too-common narrative arc streaked with moments of fear, absurdity and humour, in Hunt’s lingering closeups on the mangled, hidden wreckage of film censorship.”

02 March 2021

Stanley Kubrick Produces

Stanley Kubrick Produces
James Fenwick’s Stanley Kubrick Produces focuses not on Kubrick’s artistic achievements as a director, but on his role as a producer and his place in the studio system. The book makes a revisionist assessment of Kubrick’s work, as Fenwick argues that the last decades of his career represented a debilitating decline in his ability to operate as a producer: “What emerges is almost a tragic narrative, Kubrick’s rise and fall as it were.”

The book covers Kubrick’s producing career chronologically, beginning with the independent films he both produced and directed. Fenwick even tracks down a copy of World Assembly of Youth, a short documentary that Kubrick once claimed to have worked on. (“Despite long-standing speculation about Kubrick’s involvement in the project, there is little evidence to support this.”) Fenwick makes an additional discovery: that Kubrick was involved in the sound editing of a film with the working title Shark Safari in 1953. Supported by extensive archive research, the book also provides detailed accounts of Kubrick’s producing partnership with James B. Harris, his collaborations with Kirk Douglas, and his various studio contracts.

The central thesis is that absolute control is a double-edged sword. Kubrick secured total control over every aspect of his films, though this was ultimately a Pyrrhic victory, as his micromanagement increasingly delayed the development of new projects: “Kubrick had become an impotent producer, overwhelmed by his own centralized management style and the information and research that he sought.” (The Channel 4 documentary The Last Movie made a similar point, comparing late-career Kubrick to a computer overloaded with data.)

15 February 2021

Thai Cinema Uncensored

The Big Chilli
The first print review of my book Thai Cinema Uncensored has been published, in The Big Chilli magazine. The full-page article is on page 25 of the January issue.

04 February 2021

“Vicious, vindictive, despicable...”

The Meaning of Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey’s sister, Allison Carey, is suing the pop star for “heartless, vicious, vindictive, despicable and totally unnecessary public humiliation” after the release of the best-selling autobiography The Meaning of Mariah Carey last year. In the book, the singer wrote: “my sister drugged me with Valium, offered me a pinky nail full of cocaine, inflicted me with third-degree burns, and tried to sell me out to a pimp.” Her sister’s lawsuit, filed at the New York Supreme Court on 1st February, will almost certainly be dismissed, as it does not actually dispute any of the claims in the book.

02 February 2021

A Good True Thai

Sunisa Manning’s debut novel, A Good True Thai, is set during one of Thailand’s brief spells of democratic rule, a period bookended by the massacres of 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976. The book’s title is a reframing of the traditional notion of ‘Thainess’, the insistence that ‘good’ Thais (khon dee) value nation, religion, and monarchy above all else, while progressives are regarded as unpatriotic.

The novel’s three central characters (friends Det and Chang, and their mutual love interest, Lek) are university students caught up in the intense political atmosphere of the period. For example, Lek reacts to the infamous Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) newspaper’s headline accusing Thammasat students of lèse-majesté: “It must be a mistake! Lek brandishes the page at her brother... No wonder the city roils. They think the students have staged a hanging of the Crown Prince.”

A Good True Thai was published in October 2020, when a new generation of students were demonstrating against the military and the monarchy: as it was in the 1970s, ‘Thainess’ is currently being challenged and redefined. Although it was written before the recent protests, the book is therefore extremely timely.

A Good True Thai has superficial similarities with other novels set during periods of political instability. Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), for example, takes place against a backdrop of the 1991, 2006, and 2014 coups. Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘unspoken dreams’) is set during the PDRC protests. At the other end of the ideological spectrum, Win Lyovarin’s Democracy, Shaken and Stirred (ประชาธิปไตยบนเส้นขนาน) traces sixty years of Thailand’s modern political history.

The book has more in common with films such as Anocha Suwichakornpong’s By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and Pasit Promnampol’s พีเจ้น (‘pigeon’). Both Manning’s book and Anocha’s film are self-referential, featuring protagonists who are also writing a book and making a film, respectively. Pasit’s short film, like Manning’s novel, dramatises a student’s decision to join the Communist insurgency.

28 January 2021

ร่างของปรารถนา

Uthis Haemamool
Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), published in 2017, follows the sexual and political awakenings of an art graduate from Silpakorn University (where Uthis himself studied painting). The novel’s frank sexual content is combined with commentary on Thailand’s three most recent coups (1991, 2006, and 2014).

Some passages are printed in a new typeface—ปรารถนา (‘desire’)—commissioned especially for the novel, with letter forms that resemble sexual positions. In a nod to the book’s risqué content, its pages are sealed with a perforated strip that must be torn off before reading.

27 January 2021

A Promised Land

Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, was published in November last year, barely a week after Joe Biden won the US presidential election. This is the first of two volumes, and covers most of Obama’s first term as President, ending with the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. As Obama explains, the book was intended to cover both terms of office in under 500 words, though this first volume alone is more than 700 pages long: “It’s fair to say that the writing process didn’t go exactly as I’d planned. Despite my best intentions, the book kept growing in length and scope—the reason why I eventually decided to break it into two volumes.”

Obama’s literary talents were evident long before his presidency, having already written two best-selling and highly acclaimed memoirs. So, as expected, A Promised Land is a remarkable book. One chapter, for example, ends with Obama musing on the fates of the letters he wrote: “Eventually the letter would fall into a drawer somewhere, forgotten under the acculumation of the new joys and pains that make up a life.” What other presidential memoir could describe correspondence in such poetic terms? (Certainly not George W. Bush’s Decision Points.)

It comes as no surprise that Obama distrusts Vladimir Putin, describing him as “the leader of what resembled a criminal syndicate as much as it did a traditional government”. As for Donald Trump and his disgraceful ‘birtherism’ lie, Obama is refreshingly direct: “the conspiracy theory he was promoting was racist.” A Promised Land is a reminder of the total contrast between Obama and his successor, a man not even fit to shine Obama’s shoes, let alone to fill them.

21 January 2021

Hakom

Hakom
Remembrances of Red Trauma
Charuphat Petcharavej’s short story Hakom (ห่าก้อม) was first published in an anthology of Isaan literature, มวลดอกไม้ในยุคมืด (‘flowers in a dark age’). It was translated into English last year, and reprinted in Remembrances of Red Trauma: The Tenth Anniversary of the Political Violence of 2010 (1 ทศวรรษ พฤษภาฯ เลือดปี ’53), a collection of articles reflecting on the 2010 massacre and “Thai society’s deep-rooted culture of impunity.” (Pisitakun Kuantalaeng’s Ten Year project also commemorated the tenth anniversary of the massacre.)

Hakom is a supernatural tale of a phi pob spirit possessing an Isaan villager, though the story is also a political metaphor. The fictional village of Dong Bong is a microcosm of Thailand, and its former headman, Wan, is a proxy for Thaksin Shinawatra. Charuphat writes that Wan became persona non grata: “A group of villagers had driven him out of the village, forcing him to make a new home for himself on a hill, far away from the village.” This mirrors Thaksin’s self-exile following the 2006 coup against his government.

Wan’s sister, Buaphan, thus represents Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck, and the story describes her futile efforts to protect the village from its attackers: “Against these poisonous animals and fierce beasts out on the streets in a show of full force, the villagers [had] little at their disposal to fight back. So many of them went to see Nang Buaphan for help. But she had nothing to match the power of the attackers. She could only tell the villagers to endure this crisis until one day, the monsters would run out of energy and leave.”

This vivid description of a village under siege echoes the military massacre of red-shirt protesters in 2010, and the 2014 coup against Yingluck’s administration. Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s short film The Pob’s House (บ้านผีปอบ) also employs a phi pob as a metaphor for political violence. In Ukrit’s film, an elderly woman is beaten by her fellow villagers, who believe her to be possessed by a phi pob. Like Hakom, The Pob’s House was also a response to the 2010 massacre.

How to Swear

How to Swear
How to Swear: An Illustrated Guide, by Stephen Wildish, features etymologies and derivations of seven swear words in infographic form. (The chosen words are not the same as George Carlin’s famous septet, with more emphasis on British slang.) Chapter seven is devoted to the c-word, which Wildish calls “the most offensive word in the English language and one of the last words that still has the power to shock.”

05 January 2021

The Making of a Masterpiece

The Making of a Masterpiece
The Making of a Masterpiece
The Making of a Masterpiece
Taschen published The Stanley Kubrick Archives as a collector’s edition in 2005, and last year they launched a new series—The Making of a Masterpiece—based on material from that still-definitive work. Each book in the series is essentially a reprint of an individual chapter from The Stanley Kubrick Archives, reformatted to a square 12” format (the same size as an LP sleeve), and bundled with a DVD and poster.

There are three titles in the series so far: A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The LP-sized format allows for some impressive full-page illustrations, and the authorised poster reproductions are a welcome bonus. The inclusion of the DVDs is more surprising, though, as most readers will either already own them, or prefer to stream the films online. Also, the DVDs are vanilla discs with no bonus features.

While the essays and images are almost entirely the same as the original chapters in The Stanley Kubrick Archives, completists should note that the new books do feature a small amount of new material. In the 2001 book, this includes two letters from Kubrick to Arthur C. Clarke, and a few additional photographs of Kubrick on the set. (On the other hand, Kubrick’s 1968 Playboy interview is missing.)

The A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon books include slightly more new material, each adding a handful of on-set photos and a few script pages. Barry Lyndon also has an additional letter from Kubrick, to a studio executive in Japan. In the letter, Kubrick attempts to assuage the Japanese censor’s concerns that pubic hair is visible in the film’s bathtub scene. (Any depiction of pubic hair is forbidden in Japan.) Kubrick reassures the executive that the actress in question was wearing a bikini to preserve her modesty.