27 November 2021

A Life of Picasso: The Minotaur Years, 1933-1943


Guernica

A Life of Picasso: The Minotaur Years, the fourth and final volume of John Richardson’s definitive Picasso biography, was published posthumously this month, some fourteen years after the previous volume, The Triumphant Years. (Richardson died in 2019, aged ninety-five.) The Minotaur Years covers the decade from 1933 to 1943, during which Picasso created some of his greatest works, most notably the vast anti-war painting Guernica.

Richardson writes that “Guernica would establish Picasso as the world’s most celebrated modern artist.” It has its own chapter in The Minotaur Years, as do Pêche de nuit à Antibes (‘night fishing at Antibes’), the satirical etching Sueño y menitra de Franco (‘dream and lie of Franco’), and—“unquestionably his most celebrated engraving”—La Minotauromachie (‘minotauromachy’).

A Life of Picasso ends thirty years before the artist’s death, though one of Richardson’s earlier essays, published in the exhibition catalogue The Mediterranean Years, is effectively a continuation of the biography. The Mediterranean Years covers Picasso’s life from 1945 to 1962, so its chronology matches almost perfectly with The Minotaur Years, which ends in 1943, leaving a gap of only a single year (1944).

The Art of Destruction: The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt


The Art of Destruction

The Art of Destruction: The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt is the most comprehensive English-language study of the Vienna Action Group, the transgressive performance artists whose work explored “the body’s determinedly expelled elements: semen, excrement, urine and blood.” The book was first published in 2004, as Art of Destruction: The Films of the Vienna Action Group; the second edition was published last year.

Author Stephen Barber profiles each artist—Otto Muehl, Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler—individually, and analyses the films they made with experimental filmmakers including Kurt Kren. Amusingly, he claims that Brus was “habitually shy and polite,” which is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with the artist’s role in Kunst und Revolution (‘art and revolution’): “Before several hundred spectators, he undressed completely, incised his chest with a razor, urinated into a cup and drank it... he then reclined on his side, coated in excrement, and sang the Austrian national anthem.”

Muehl’s performances were equally provocative, and he was jailed alongside Brus after Kunst und Revolution. In Oh Sensibility, which Barber describes as “Muehl’s most notorious film”, a goose is decapitated. After initially filming various performances (or ‘actions’), rendered semi-abstract by rapid editing, Kren’s role became increasingly participatory, and he appeared with Muehl in orgiastic performances such as Scheißkerl (whose title is a German pejorative).

The book includes a complete filmography, which is essential as most Vienna Action Group films—aside from Kren’s Action Films DVD—remain unavailable. When they were screened at Warwick University twenty years ago, my partner and I were the only ones in attendance, so the projectionist played the 16mm reels in the order we requested, starting with Kren’s notorious 20. September. (That film inspired Vasan Sitthiket’s equally scatological video There Must Be Something Happen [sic].)

EBB



The new photobook EBB features the work of nineteen photographers, documenting the recent anti-government and monarchy-reform protests in Thailand. The title refers both to ‘ebbing away’ (of support for the establishment) and ‘ebb and flow’ (the sense that receding waves—like persecuted protesters—will eventually return).

There are some stunning images, including a phalanx of riot police (photographed by Adsadang Satsadee); a sea of protesters, with a solitary ‘I here too’ placard (Panasann Pattanakulchai); and a lone protester, arms outstretched, on the front line (Asadawut Boonlitsak). In many photographs, fireworks, tear gas, and surreal props add to the phantasmagorical nature of the protests in Bangkok. There are also images of the Calmer Rouge performance event in Chiang Mai.

The book was launched yesterday, on the opening day of the Bangkok Art Book Fair at CityCity Gallery. It’s available in a limited edition of 300 copies, and the photos are accompanied by anti-government graffiti by street artist BEKOS. The Art Book Fair (making a welcome return after being held online last year due to the coronavirus lockdown) continues until tomorrow.

28 October 2021

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die


1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

The 2021 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was published this month. The first edition, edited by Steven Jay Schneider in 2003, was reprinted with minor revisions in 2004, and the book has been updated annually ever since (in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020).

Eleven new films have been added to year’s edition, representing only 1% of the total list. With a single exception, the new entries were all released in the last few years: Tenet, The Vast of Night, The Assistant, Rocks, Saint Maud, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Soul, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Lovers Rock, and Nomadland. Again, with one exception, the corresponding deletions are all from the past decade: Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers Endgame (combined into a single entry), Birdman, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, The Handmaiden (아가씨), 13th, Blade Runner 2049, The Favourite, Hereditary, Sorry to Bother You, and Monos.

The exceptions are Lamerica from 1994 and The Blue Kite (藍風箏) from 1993. In last year’s edition, The Blue Kite was mysteriously deleted and replaced by Lamerica. This year, that decision has been reversed: Lamerica is out, and The Blue Kite is back in. Ian Haydn Smith, editor of recent editions, notes in his preface that the coronavirus pandemic resulted in “a multitude of smaller titles from around the world” gaining releases on streaming platforms, though the new entries in this edition are all English-language films (with The Blue Kite again being the only anomaly).

PDF

27 October 2021

Peril


Peril

Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, completes a trilogy of Woodward’s books on Donald Trump, following Fear and Rage. Peril examines Trump’s final year in office and the first few months of Joe Biden’s presidency, and its title is taken from Biden’s inaugural address, in which he described a “winter of peril.”

I Alone Can Fix It, by fellow Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, also covers the end of the Trump administration, and shares some of the same sources: William Barr and Mark Milley clearly spoke to the authors of both books. Milley confirmed as much to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, though his description of the 6th January insurrection as a “Reichstag moment”—the standout quote from I Alone Can Fix It—is merely an hors-d’œuvre in Peril.

How to convey the madness of the Trump White House in its final months? Woodward and Costa opt for a cinematic comparison: “The scenes of a screaming Trump in the Oval Office resembled Full Metal Jacket,” and Trump reminded Barr of another Kubrick classic, “the character in the 1964 dark comedy Dr. Strangelove who ruminates about withholding his “essence” from women.”

Barr told Trump the unvarnished truth, that potential voters “think you’re a fucking asshole.” (Biden concurred, in a private White House conversation: “What a fucking asshole”.) Lyndsey Graham was equally blunt, telling Trump: “You fucked your presidency up.” After his election defeat, Trump ignored all such dissenting voices, and embraced Rudy Giuliani’s wild conspiracy theories, clinging desperately to data that Giuliani literally made up out of thin air.

One of Peril’s most extraordinary chapters reveals, for the first time, an Oval Office meeting between Trump and Mike Pence on the evening before the insurrection. This was Trump’s last-ditch attempt to convince Pence to decertify the election results. Trump tempts Pence like the devil, offering all the kingdoms of the world: “wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?” When that fails, he turns into a petulent child: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.”

Peril includes equally dramatic material on the Biden administration, revealing an intelligence briefing that warned Biden of the disastrous consequences of a sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Woodward and Costa summarise the briefing, which now seems remarkably prescient: “The capital, Kabul, and other cities ultimately fall and the Taliban take over, amounting to a collapse of the Afghan state in months to years.” As they demonstrate, “Biden was abandoning Afghanistan to civil war and potential collapse,” contradicting Biden’s claim that he had not received such warnings.

The book also quotes extensively from a phone call between Biden and Vladimir Putin. Rather than the usual diplomatic readout, we see how direct Putin can be when he tells Biden: “I’m upset you called me a killer”. In a later call, Biden warns Putin that Russia is vulnerable to US cyber espionage: “great countries have great responsibilities. They also have great vulnerabilities.” (Trump’s views on Putin are not mentioned in Peril, though he is quoted referring to Angela Merkel, with his usual charm, as a “bitch kraut”.)

Peril is the fifteenth Trump book reviewed here. The others are: Fear, Rage, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, 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.

07 October 2021

45 ปี 6 ตุลาฯ: ข้อคิดจากคนเดือนตุลา


This year, Thammasat University refused permission for an exhibition commemorating the 6th October 1976 massacre (citing the coronavirus pandemic), though it did publish a book to mark the 45th anniversary of the event. 45 ปี 6 ตุลาฯ: ข้อคิดจากคนเดือนตุลา (‘45 years of 6th Oct.: thoughts from Octobrists’), edited by Kasidit Ananthanathorn, reproduces the notorious Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page that sparked the massacre (on page 80). The Dao Siam page is rarely reprinted, though it did appear in the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine, and in the books Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย) and Moments of Silence.

05 October 2021

Essential Desires: Contemporary Art in Thailand


Brian Curtin, one of Bangkok’s leading art critics, has written a superb guide to the Thai art scene, Essential Desires: Contemporary Art in Thailand. Decade by decade, Curtin surveys the artists and institutions at the forefront of Thai contemporary art. The book documents the emergent art spaces of the 1990s, with rare images of exhibition flyers and installation views, and extensive political context.

One of the book’s central arguments is that “questions of nation and nationalism have been unavoidable in accounting for Thai art”, and Curtin considers how artists respond to the problematic state-imposed notion of ‘Thainess’. Manit Sriwanichpoom, Vasan Sitthiket, and Sutee Kunavichayanont, for example, collaborated on group exhibitions that critiqued modern Thai history to some extent, though Curtin argues that their “avowal of problems within the national status quo did not involve a fundamental questioning of its general terms, symbols, concern with appearances or essential desire for unity.”

Noting that Manit, Vasan, and Sutee all supported the anti-democratic PDRC campaign, Curtin contrasts them with more subversive recent artists such as Pisitakun Kuantalaeng and Jakkhai Siributr, who demonstrate a “post-national sensibility characterized by the challenging of the very possibility of national allegiance.” Vasan’s Blue October (ตุลาลัย) and Jakkhai’s 78 are among the many full-page illustrations. Other works illustrated include Miti Ruangkritya’s Thai Politics III, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s The Class III and In a Blur of Desire (ในความพร่ามัวของปรารถนา), Harit Srikhao’s Chosen Boys, Withit Sembutr’s Doo Phra, and (the cover image) Michael Shaowanasi’s Portrait of a Man in Habits.

The book also examines the various galleries and other cultural institutions established over the past three decades (though not MAIIAM, surprisingly). Most notable among these is the state-funded BACC, host to a series of large-scale survey shows, including Traces of Siamese Smile (รอยยิ้มสยาม) and Thai Trends (ไทยเท), with their “strained and anxious references to local identity and tradition.” Curtin notes that these bloated ‘prestige’ exhibitions were curated by Apinan Poshyananda, a former artist who is now a senior figure at the conservative Ministry of Culture. In an especially astute observation, he laments Apinan’s “assimilation to the machinery of the state”.

Apinan wrote the last extensive monograph on Thai art, Modern Art in Thailand (copies of which are now scarce). Since then, Steven Pettifor’s Flavours and Serenella Ciclitira’s Thailand Eye have featured profiles of individual Thai artists, though Essential Desires is the first survey of the entire landscape of Thai contemporary art for almost thirty years.

04 October 2021

Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship


Written by Cherian George and designed by Sonny Liew, Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship is a guide to the censorship of contemporary political cartoons around the world. The focus is on recent cases, though there are some historical examples of caricature and wartime propaganda. (Victor Navasky’s book The Art of Controversy has a more historical perspective.) Red Lines features cartoons subjected to lawsuits and bans, though it also covers cartoonists who have been harassed, sacked, deplatformed, arrested on trumped-up charges, or otherwise intimidated. The scope is truly global, and the cartoons under discussion are all reproduced, making this an extremely useful survey.

In terms of recent newspaper and magazine cartoons that have faced legal challenges, Red Lines covers all of the major cases though doesn’t include any unfamiliar ones. The examples it cites have all been previously mentioned on Dateline Bangkok: Zunar, Musa Kart (twice), Zapiro, LeMan, Stephff, Mana Neyestani, and Aseem Trivedi. The most explosive issue in political cartooning this century—the depiction of Mohammed—receives extensive coverage in Red Lines, and the twelve Jyllands-Posten cartoons are reproduced alongside others created in solidarity (from Le Monde, the Philadelphia Daily News, and الحياة الجديدة).

There are more than thirty pages devoted to the terrorist attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo, and two of that newspaper’s Mohammed covers (from 2006 and 2011) are included, as is a tasteless 2013 cover mocking the Koran. My only criticism is that the events leading up to the 2015 attack are not fully explained: a timeline in the book juxtaposes the Koran cover and the attack, implying a direct connection, though they occurred more than a year apart. A more likely trigger for the attack—a 2014 cover depicting Mohammed being beheaded—is not mentioned.

28 September 2021

“Distortion that incites youths to be led astray...”


Family Club

The Ministry of Education is investigating a series of eight children’s picture books published this month. A spokesperson for Deputy Minister of Education Kanlaya Sophonpanich announced yesterday that Kanlaya has set up a panel to urgently inspect the books, as she believes they stir up hated and promote “distortion that incites youths to be led astray.” She also threatened the publisher with legal action.

The books were published by Family Club, who advertised them with a knowing wink as suitable for children aged five to 112. (The lèse-majesté law is article 112 of the Thai criminal code.) Rather than spreading hatred, as Kanlaya claims, they promote the opposite: tolerance, freedom, and equality. Three of the titles refer directly to the current anti-government protest movement: The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย); Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?); and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

One of the books, Children Have Dreams (เด็กๆ มีความฝัน), features a quote from protest leader Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul on the back cover. Another title, Hack! Hack! The Fire Dragon (แค็ก! แค็ก! มังกรไฟ), was written by protest leader Sombat Boonngamanong, though its theme is environmental rather than political: he works as a firefighter in Chiang Mai, and his story is about the dangers of forest fires. The others in the series are Who Has No Head? (ตัวไหนไม่มีหัว), The Call of the Birds (เสียงร้องของผองนก), and Chit Phumisak (จ จิตร ชีวิตอัจฉริยะไทยผู้ใฝ่เรียนรู้ จิตร ภูมิศักดิ์).

26 September 2021

Broken Heartlands: A Journey Through Labour’s Lost England


For his new book Broken Heartlands: A Journey Through Labour’s Lost England, journalist Sebastian Payne travelled throughout the ‘red wall’, the traditional Labour heartland constituencies won by the Conservatives in the 2019 election. Payne is a political correspondent for the Financial Times, and presenter of the excellent Payne’s Politics podcast.

In an interview with Payne, Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphasised his (somewhat vague) ‘levelling up’ agenda, and he also seemed to reject the Thatcherite centralisation of economic power: “The Treasury has made a catastrophic mistake in the last forty years in thinking that you can just hope that the whole of the UK is somehow going to benefit from London and the south-east.” Asked about ‘culture war’ debates around statues being removed, he dismissed the issue as “fundamentally bollocks.”

Payne analyses the reasons for the collapse of the ‘red wall’, concluding that Brexit was a major factor: “In every place, in almost every single conversation, Labour’s stance on Brexit and the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn were top of the list of why the party lost its fourth election in a row.” Labour’s support for a second Brexit referendum and “Corbyn’s equivocation on the EU question” contrasted with Johnson’s deceptive yet effective rhetoric (“Get Brexit done”), giving the Conservatives a landslide.

Assessing the challenge for Labour in rebuilding the ‘red wall’, Payne argues that—as Bill Clinton put it—it’s the economy, stupid: “there is a clear consesus about what needs to be done for the people of the red wall. The majority of interviewees have highlighted that the issues are primarily economic, not cultural.” He proposes a reversal of “decades of underinvestment on infrastructure”, and the decentralisation of power: “The House of Lords needs to be scrapped... devolution is going to be critical to rebuilding England after the pandemic into a better society.”

25 September 2021

บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112



The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD), one of the key student groups leading the current anti-government protests, has released a new booklet, บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112 (‘speeches on 112’). It features a collection of speeches delivered at past protest rallies, all in support of the UFTD’s campaign to abolish the lèse-majesté law (article 112 of the Thai criminal code). The booklet’s main title is a quote from the 1932 revolutionary manifesto by Pridi Banomyong, ประเทศนี้เป็นของราษฎร ไม่ใช่กษัตริย์ตามที่เขาหลอกลวง (‘our country belongs to the people—not to the king, as has been deceitfully claimed’).

Naturally, in today’s political climate, publishing such a booklet is legally perilous. Copies were given away at Three Kings Monument Square in Chiang Mai on 21st September, and yesterday the UFTD announced online that they planned to distribute it at a rally outside BACC in Bangkok today. This announcement caught the attention of the police, who intercepted some copies that were en route to the rally today. Nevertheless, the booklet was available at the rally, and was handed out in exchange for a token donation.

This is the third booklet on the monarchy to attract unwanted attention from the police. 10,000 copies of Arnon Nampa’s สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย (‘the monarchy and Thai society’) were seized in March, and 50,000 copies of the UFTD’s ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August’) were confiscated before they could be distributed at a rally in September 2020. (Arnon’s booklet was later given away at a rally at Ratchaprasong in Bangkok on 3rd September.)

Of course, by announcing their intention to distribute these booklets, the protest groups are essentially daring the police to ban them, and the censorious authorities are only too happy to oblige. Aside from their provocative contents and their brushes with the law, the three booklets also have a common colour scheme: Arnon’s has a blue cover, the first UFTD booklet is red, and the new one is white. These correspond with the colours of Thailand’s tricolour flag, symbolising the monarchy, the nation, and religion respectively.

23 September 2021

The Adventures of Little Duck


The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) is one of a series of eight children’s picture books published this month, some of which refer directly to current Thai politics. The title character has become a symbol of the anti-government protest movement after protesters used rubber ducks to protect themselves from water cannon. Since then, yellow ducks have appeared on calendars and coupons, in a painting, and in the short films New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่) and Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship. The author is credited only by the pen name สะอาด (‘pure’). The book series—perhaps inspired by Hong Kong’s similar ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books—promotes values of tolerance, equality, and democracy, and other titles include Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?) and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

10 ราษฎร


10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’) is one of a series of eight children’s picture books published this month, some of which refer directly to current Thai politics. 10 ราษฎร is entirely visual, featuring portraits of ten people charged with lèse-majesté. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, editor of Voice of Taksin, is included alongside leaders of the recent anti-government protests such as Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (who was arrested yesterday), Arnon Nampa, and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan.

10 ราษฎร was illustrated by Chalermpol Junrayab, the political cartoonist who created the Amazing Thai-Land comics. The book series—perhaps influenced by Hong Kong’s similar ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books—promotes values of tolerance, equality, and democracy, and other titles include The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) and Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?).

Mom, Where Are You Going?


Mom, Where Are You Going? (แม่หมิมไปไหน?) is one of a series of eight children’s picture books published this month, some of which refer directly to current Thai politics. Mom, Where Are You Going? is based on a story by the actress Intira Jaroenpura, who starred in Nang Nak (นางนาก), and shows her at some of the recent anti-government rallies.

Intira not only supports the protesters, but she has also publicly acknowledged that she funded some of the protests. The book series—perhaps influenced by Hong Kong’s similar ‘sheep village’ (羊村) books—promotes values of tolerance, equality, and democracy, and other titles include The Adventures of Little Duck (เป็ดน้อย) and 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’).

22 September 2021

Luk Thung: The Culture and Politics of Thailand’s Most Popular Music


Luk Thung: The Culture and Politics of Thailand’s Most Popular Music, by James Leonard Mitchell (published in 2015), is the first English-language study of luk thung, a genre that’s usually characterised as Thai country music. Luk thung takes its name from a 1964 television show, and this period was the genre’s golden age, mostly due to the popularity of Suraphon Sombatcharoen—“the King of Thai Country Song”, whose most famous single was สิบหกปีแห่งความหลัง (‘sixteen years past’)—and the success of the blockbuster musical film Monrak Luk Thung (มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง).

Mitchell’s revisionist history covers the genre’s origins in Isaan during the Phibun and Sarit era, when “censorship combined with better economic conditions encouraged songwriters... to abandon social commentary and move into writing commercial and sometimes nationalistic luk thung.” These included a series of stridently nationalistic songs such as เขาพระวิหารต้องเป็นของไทย (‘Preah Vihear Temple must be Thai’), protesting the 1962 judgement that the Preah Vihear Temple was part of Cambodian soil.

The book concludes with an account of the politicisation of luk thung by the red-shirts and yellow-shirts, and provides a detailed analysis of the pro and anti-Thaksin songs played at their respective protest rallies. This final chapter (expanded from Mitchell’s excellent journal paper Red and Yellow Songs) is both a fascinating study of popular culture as propaganda, and a groundbreaking recognition of luk thung’s political dimension. It also situates luk thung within the tradition of Thai ‘songs for life’ following the 14th October 1973 uprising (a tradition that continues today with protest songs in support of the anti-government movement).

11 September 2021

Orson Welles Portfolio


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 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


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.

01 September 2021

Germaine Greer: Essays on a Feminist Figure


The chapters in Germaine Greer: Essays on a Feminist Figure first appeared in the journal Australian Feminist Studies in 2016, and were published as a book in 2020. Germaine Greer sold her archive to the University of Melbourne in 2013, and the archive’s curator notes in her essay how Greer not only preserved almost 500 boxes of documents, but also personally catalogued them.

In the book’s most interesting article, Resurrecting Germaine’s Theory of Cuntpower, Megan Le Masurier reassesses two essays Greer wrote for the underground press in the early 1970s: Lady Love Your Cunt (in Suck), and The Politics of Female Sexuality (in Greer’s guest-edited ‘female energy’ issue of Oz, ‘female energy’ being a euphemism for cuntpower). Le Masurier argues that “cuntpower had an afterlife, in attitude if not in name.”

23 August 2021

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.