29 September 2020

Tucker Carlson Tonight

A Manhattan court has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil of the Southern District Court in New York ruled on 24th September that comments made by Carlson on his Tucker Carlson Tonight show were “merely rhetorical hyperbole” and thus did not meet the standard of ‘actual malice’ required in defamation cases involving public figures.

The lawsuit was filed by Karen McDougal, who received payment of $150,000 from the National Enquirer to prevent her from publicising her alleged affair with Donald Trump. (This and other so-called ‘catch-and-kill’ payments were made by the supermarket tabloid as part of a business arrangement with Trump.) McDougal sued Carlson after he accused her of extortion in an episode of his show broadcast on 10th December 2018.

Carlson did not refer to McDougal by name, though he stated that two women were paid by Trump. (McDougal and Stormy Daniels are the women in question.) Carlson began his discussion of the case by saying: “Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed. Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money. Now, that sounds like a classic case of extortion. Yet, for whatever reason, Trump caves to it, and he directs Michael Cohen to pay the ransom.”

In its defence of Carlson, Fox News argued that his comments “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts”, and that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”. This apparent admission that Carlson should not be taken seriously is all the more surprising given that Carlson characterised his remarks as “the facts of the story.”

20 September 2020

Fatherland

Fatherland
Yuthlert Sippapak’s controversial film Fatherland (ปิตุภูมิ) received rare public screenings late last night and early this morning at the 14 October 73 Memorial in Bangkok. The film, a drama about the insurgency in southern Thailand, was commissioned by the military, though they withdrew their backing when it became clear that it wasn’t the propaganda vehicle they were expecting. When I interviewed Yuthlert for my forthcoming book, Thai Cinema Uncensored, he told me that Prayut Chan-o-cha asked him a lot of “stupid questions” after watching the film. He also said that the military warned him it could be a dangerous film (“If you show this movie, somebody burns the theatre.”)

In that interview, Yuthlert explained the reason for the controversy: “The [part] that’s so sensitive is ‘เหตุการณ์สงบงบไม่มา’—‘if no war, no money’. Money is power. And the person who created the war is the military. I said that, and I don’t want to take that out. That’s the truth. And they don’t want the truth. I want the truth.” The film addresses this point directly, when a Muslim cleric says: “The violence that is happening is benefiting almost every side. There’s a lot of money. But what we can do is, we can make Thai people understand that what is happening here now is not a religion conflict.”

The film has been in limbo since its completion in 2012. At one stage, Yuthlert even considered building his own cinema in order to show it, though that plan never came to fruition. He has also retitled and repeatedly recut it, though no distributor has agreed to release it. It was screened (free of charge) last night, and shortly after midnight this morning, under the new title Rachida (ราชิดา). (Several early scenes highlight the soldiers’ lack of understanding of local Muslim culture, and the eponymous Rachida—a professor of Islamic studies—is brought in to teach the military about Islam.) Post-production is not yet finished: some shots have a “CG incomplete” caption, and there are no end credits.

19 September 2020

ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา

This morning, police seized 50,000 copies of a booklet before it could be distributed at a pro-democracy protest. The booklet, ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา ข้อเรียกร้องว่าด้วยสถาบันกษัตริย์ (‘an earth-shattering event on 10th August: calling for discussion of the monarchy’), contains speeches by four protest leaders—Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, Arnon Nampa, Parit Chirawak, and Panupong Jadnok—including Panusaya’s unprecedented ten-point manifesto on reform of the monarchy.

The four speeches were all delivered at Thammasat University on 10th August, and the booklet was due to be sold at Thammasat, where another protest is taking place today. It was published by the protest organiser, United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration. (Copies of an anti-military booklet published by a similar organisation, the New Democracy Movement, were seized in 2016.)

02 September 2020

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo
The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has reprinted several Mohammed cartoons on the cover of this week’s issue. The magazine, published today, features the headline “TOUT ÇA POUR ÇA” (‘all that for this’), in reference to the terrorists who killed a dozen of its editorial staff in 2015.

The trial begins today of fourteen people charged with assisting the killers. The cartoons on today’s cover were first published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, sparking worldwide protests. Charlie Hebdo’s first Mohammed cover, published in 2006, was one of many cartoons created in solidarity with Jyllands-Posten, published by magazines and newspapers including Weekendavisen, France Soir, The Guardian, Philadelphia Daily News, Liberation, Het Nieuwsblad, The Daily Tar Heel, Akron Beacon Journal, The Strand, Le Monde, Nana, Gorodskiye Vesti, Adresseavisen, Uke-Adressa, Harper’s, and the International Herald Tribune (in 2006 and 2012).

Charlie Hebdo subsequently published increasingly provocative Mohammed cartoons. Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after it released a special edition ‘guest-edited’ by Mohammed. In 2012, it depicted him naked on its back page. In 2013, it created a comic-strip biography titled La Vie de Mahomet, followed by a sequel and an expanded version. In 2014, a cover depicting Mohammed being beheaded led to the 2015 terrorist attack on its offices. A week after the killings, the magazine defiantly printed another Mohammed cover.

The documentaries Je suis Charlie, “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons”, and the BBC’s Bloody Cartoons all discuss Charlie Hebdo and the Mohammed cartoons controversy. The magazine’s 2015 Mohammed cover was reprinted by various newspapers and magazines, and several of its Mohammed caricatures appear in the Japanese book Are You Charlie? (イスラム・ヘイトか、風刺か).

30 August 2020

Unmuted Project

Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Unmuted Project
Boundary
The Unmuted Project exhibition opened yesterday (monitored by a handful of police officers) at Angoon’s Garden in Bangkok. The exhibition is part of a wider pro-democracy movement, and includes pieces by 200 artists. Many of the artworks on show feature Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, alongside satirical portraits of junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha. At least one image directly criticises the monarchy, something that would once have been unthinkable.

Several of the works make reference to the 6th October 1976 massacre. A painting inspired by Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of the event is partially obscured by a banknote featuring Prayut’s face. In a sketch by Dipthroat, the ‘chair man’ in Ulevich’s photograph is replaced by Prayut wielding a lectern, with Future Forward founder Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit depicted as the victim.

Most of the featured artists are anonymous, though some of the works are familiar. An image from Chalermpol Junrayab’s The Amazing Thai-Land is included, as are Harit Srikhao’s The Coronation of Brukhonenko’s Dog (the first photograph from his Whitewash photobook) and Nathee Monthonwit’s digital print World of Wrestling (โลกมวยปล้ำ). The exhibition runs until 5th September, and ends with a screening of the documentary Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง).

26 August 2020

Medicines and Maladies

Medicines and Maladies
emetery of SplendourC
In September, the Thai Film Archive will host a month-long season of films about doctors and nurses, Medicines and Maladies (การแพทย์และโรคร้าย). The event offers a rare opportunity to see Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น) in Thailand. (It has been shown once before at the Archive, and Apichatpong held a private screening at a mobile cinema in Chiang Mai in 2018.)

Apichatpong did not submit the film to the Thai censors, and it has not been on general release here. When I interviewed him for my forthcoming book Thai Cinema Uncensored, he explained that, with the military still in power, a domestic release was too risky: “It’s a paranoid time. They’re willing to do a witch hunt, so I become paranoid of them in my own way, and I don’t want to risk it. As long as I manage to finish this film as I want, and show it, but not here.”

The film is so sensitive that Apichatpong removed one sequence from all DVD and blu-ray editions, just in case they found their way to Thailand. The scene in question shows a cinema audience standing as if paying respect to the royal anthem, though no music is heard. Apichatpong had planned to include the anthem in the scene, though he reconsidered after it was censored from another film: “I actually wanted to show the royal anthem, because it’s documentary-like. It’s what we do. But I know it’s impossible, because in the movie Soi Cowboy [ซอยคาวบอย], this was cut out. Censored. So, I said, ‘It’s impossible anyway.’ So, just silence.”

Cemetery of Splendour will be shown at the Archive, on 4th and 18th September, in its uncut version. The screenings are free of charge.

17 August 2020

The Kingmaker

The Kingmaker
Silom Complex
Two screenings of the American documentary film The Kingmaker, about the life of Imelda Marcos, have been cancelled in southern Thailand after pressure from local authorities. The film was due to be shown on 14th August at the A.E.Y. Space gallery in Songkla, and on 19th August at Lorem Ipsum, a co-working space in Hat Yai. Both are small venues, with seating capacities of only thirty and twenty people, respectively.

Contrary to reports in the Bangkok Post newspaper and elsewhere, the film (directed by Lauren Greenfield and released last year) has not been banned in Thailand. In fact, it was passed uncut by the censors, and is currently showing at cinemas in Bangkok without incident. The ‘ban’ is similar to that of By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง), both of which were also subject to arbitrary local censorship: a Bangkok screening of By the Time It Gets Dark was stopped by police in 2017, and the military government prevented a Chonburi university screening of Boundary in 2015.

In the case of The Kingmaker, the authorities’ overzealous attitude highlights the state’s unease over recent anti-government protests. Several thousand students attended a rally at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on 18th July organised by Free Youth. More than 10,000 people rallied there yesterday, and a smaller protest (with a Harry Potter and Voldemort theme) took place on 3rd August. At a Thammasat University protest on 10th August organised by United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, student Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul read out a ten-point manifesto calling for greater oversight of the monarchy.

This unprecedented public questioning of the monarchy’s role broke a long-standing taboo in Thai society, leading the authorities to clamp down on potentially inflammatory material, in this case The Kingmaker’s title and poster. The screenings were scheduled for a few days after Thai Mother’s Day (12th August), which is celebrated on Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother’s birthday, and the poster does bear some similarities to one of her official portraits. These are mere coincidences, however, and the authorities’ paranoid reaction has turned what would have been a tiny event into an international headline.

16 August 2020

Radflection

Thesis Exhibition 2020
Radflection
Radflection, a short documentary about Rap Against Dictatorship, was shown yesterday at Lido Connect in Bangkok, as part of Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Information and Communication Technology Thesis Exhibition 2020. The event, titled สุดขอบคุณ (‘thank you’), continues today.

Rap Against Dictatorship’s anthemic single and music video My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) perfectly encapsulated the frustrations of anti-military protesters. Radflection, directed by Patchamon Khemthong, also includes an interview with Neti Wichiansaen, director of the controversial documentary Democracy After Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย).

“They were very abusive...”

Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the opposition Labour Party in the UK, is being sued for libel by pro-Israel activist Richard Millett, after comments Corbyn made in a BBC1 interview with Andrew Marr. Millett had attended a parliamentary meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on 15th January 2013—organised by Corbyn—at which Palestine’s ambassador to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, was a guest speaker.

In the interview on The Andrew Marr Show, broadcast on 23rd September 2018, Corbyn accused two attendees of disrupting the PSC meeting: “The two people I referred to had been incredibly disruptive. Indeed, the police wanted to throw them out of the meeting.” Corbyn also claimed that they had accosted Hassassian after his speech: “They were very, very abusive to Manuel. Very abusive.”

On 10th July, a judge determined that Corbyn was “clearly making factual allegations” rather than expressing an opinion. Although Corbyn did not refer to Millett by name, the judge noted that Millett had been named in the media before the interview. The case will now go to trial later this year.

14 July 2020

Wat Nong Tao

Wat Nong Tao hit the headlines last month when it was ordered to remove an image of a transgender celebrity from one of its murals. The temple refused to comply, and the mural remains unaltered, though another painting at the same temple has been censored.

Images of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Prawit Wongsuwan, were removed from a mural at the temple on 3rd June, following a visit from the Department of Provincial Administration. Prawit was depicted with multiple watches on his wrist, in reference to his infamous (and suspicious) possession of numerous luxury watches.

04 July 2020

Conflicted Visions Again

Conflicted Visions Again
Program Will Resume Shortly
Program Will Resume Shortly
Six years ago, WTF Gallery staged the group exhibition Conflicted Visions, an examination of Thailand’s political polarisation. The exhibition was held at the height of the 2014 political crisis, opening on the same day that the Constitutional Court began its investigation of Yingluck Shinawatra. Today, the political atmosphere is less volatile—due to the military government’s emergency decree, enacted on 24th March to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, but extended as a means of suppressing dissent—though Thailand remains as polarised as before.

Conflicted Visions Again, which opened at WTF on 2nd July, reunites the artists from the original exhibition, to offer a reflection on six years of political tensions since the 2014 coup. Prakit Kobkijwattana appropriates the phrase ‘new normal’ to describe not coronavirus social distancing but Thailand’s political status quo: painting the phrase on silhouettes of guns, a soldier, and a skull, he shows that militarism has become Thailand’s de facto system of government. A work from Miti Ruangkritya’s Thai Politics series is also included: visitors are invited to decorate a screengrab from Prayut Chan-o-cha’s weekly propaganda broadcast Return Happiness to the People (คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ) with emoticon stickers.

Manit Sriwanichpoom’s installation Program Will Resume Shortly reproduces the caption broadcast by cable TV company TrueVisions to censor coverage of the Thai monarchy by international news channels. Manit shows the caption on a three-minute loop, to demonstrate that, in fact, the program will not be resuming. (The video is also projected onto a wall opposite the gallery entrance.) The exhibition also features posters by Pisitakun Kuantalaeng: his 10 Year: Thai Military Crackdown [sic] series documents the victims of the final week of the massacre of ‘redshirt’ protesters in May 2010. (His prints are available as a box set, and his new album, Absolute Coup, will be released at the end of this month.)

Conflicted Visions Again runs until 23rd August, and marks the tenth anniversary of WTF, one of Bangkok’s most fearless galleries. Last year, WTF hosted a series of bravely provocative exhibitions of political art: More or Less, Thailand Casino, and Never Again (หยุด ย่ำ ซ้ำ เดิน).

01 July 2020

Too Much and Never Enough

For the second time in a fortnight, an injunction has been sought to prevent publication of a book criticising Donald Trump. After failing to stop the release of John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, Trump tweeted on 23rd June that Bolton “is a lowlife who should be in jail”. Last week, Trump’s brother, Robert, began legal proceedings against their niece, Mary, over her forthcoming book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. (Both books are published by Simon & Schuster.)

The lawsuit against Mary Trump was filed by Charles Harder, who has previously represented President Trump and the First Lady. Harder won libel cases against The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail on behalf of Melania Trump (winning “substantial damages” in the former case, and $3 million in the latter), and famously bankrupted the Gawker website. After his initial filing, on 23rd June, was rejected by the Queens County Surrogate’s Court of New York, he sought a restraining order from New York’s Dutchess County Supreme Court on 26th June.

That order was granted yesterday, preventing Mary Trump from making any public comment about the contents of her own book. However, the restraining order on the book’s publishers was lifted on appeal today, meaning that the book can be sold. (Mary Trump is prohibited from discussing Trump family matters, as she signed a non-disclosure agreement in 2001 as part of a settlement surrounding her father’s will. The publishers, not being signatories to the NDA, are therefore not bound by it.)

The book is a lengthy psychoanalysis of the President by his niece, who writes in one passage: “Donald’s monstrosity is the manifestation of the very weakness within him that he’s been running from his entire life.” (Mary Trump has a doctorate in psychology, but she has had little contact with her uncle over the past twenty years, so this is still essentially armchair psychology.) It was due to be published on 28th July, though (like Fire and Fury) its publication has been brought forward due to the publicity surrounding the lawsuit. It will now be released on 14th July.

19 June 2020

The Room Where It Happened

The Room Where It Happened
The Trump administration has made three attempts to prevent the publication of former national security advisor John Bolton’s forthcoming book The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir. In a letter dated 23rd January, the National Security Council claimed that the book contained classified material: “The manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information.” The book’s original publication date—17th March—was postponed to 12th May, as the NSC’s vetting process continued.

The NSC signed off on the manuscript at the end of April, though Bolton’s successor as national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, argued that “the manuscript described sensitive information about ongoing foreign policy issues”, according to a lawsuit filed on 16th June. The following day, the Justice Department sought an emergency injunction, arguing that the manuscript “still contains classified information”.

The publisher plans to contest the Trump administration’s lawsuits, and publication is scheduled for 23rd June. The Room Where It Happened is currently Amazon’s highest-selling book, based on pre-orders, and Trump’s attempts to suppress it seem highly counter-productive. This is a repeat of the controversy surrounding Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, which also became a bestseller following Trump’s legal threats against it.

Like Fire and Fury, Fear, and A Very Stable Genius, The Room Where It Happened includes highly damaging allegations. Bolton writes that, at a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump “turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election... pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win”. Trump’s exact words were redacted by the NSC—Bolton originally quoted Trump, “but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise”—though Vanity Fair revealed that Trump told Xi: “Buy a lot of soybeans and wheat and make sure we win.”

02 June 2020

Wat Nong Tao

Wat Nong Tao
A temple in Uthai Thani province has been ordered to remove part of a mural from its walls, after it was deemed inappropriate. The mural at Wat Nong Tao depicts transgender celebrity Sitang Buathong pointing at an orange, in a reference to her claimed telekinetic ability to stop a rolling orange with the power of her mind.

According to the National Office of Buddhism provincial head, the mural should show Sitang gazing at the Buddha rather than a citrus fruit. Charanpat Kaewum, who painted the mural, has agreed to alter it.

07 May 2020

Cannibal Ferox (blu-ray)

Cannibal Ferox
Eaten Alive!
The short-lived Italian cannibal horror subgenre was one of the most controversial chapters in the history of exploitation cinema. Umberto Lenzi directed the film that launched the cycle, Man from Deep River (Il paese del sesso selvaggio), though Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is the only example of any real cinematic interest. Despite its exploitation origins, Cannibal Holocaust provided a multi-layered critique of mondo filmmaking, and it directly influenced The Blair Witch Project and other ‘found footage’ horror films.

Cannibal Ferox eschewed the structural sophistication of Cannibal Holocaust in favour of ritualised, explicit violence. As Kim Newman wrote in Nightmare Movies: “Lenzi takes the form about as far as it can go in the direction of gratuitous violence”. Both films contain scenes of genuine animal killings, and both were included on the ‘video nasties’ list in the UK, though Newman calls Cannibal Ferox “the nastiest of the nasties”.

The deluxe blu-ray edition of Cannibal Ferox released by Grindhouse in 2015 features approximately twenty seconds of newly-discovered footage. This extra material, which has no soundtrack, includes additional shots of a pig being killed. (As a vegetarian, scenes like this are hard to watch.) The blu-ray supplements include a feature-length documentary, Eaten Alive! The Rise and Fall of the Italian Cannibal Film, directed by Calum Waddell, featuring interviews with Lenzi, Deodato, and Newman.

28 April 2020

Moments of Silence

Moments of Silence
Thongchai Winichakul’s Moments of Silence: The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976 Massacre in Bangkok, published this month, is equal parts memoir and academic analysis. Thongchai, one of Thailand’s leading historians, is a survivor of the 6th October massacre, and the book begins with his personal account of that day and its aftermath. The massacre was swept under the carpet for decades and, in fact, it’s primarily due to Thongchai’s efforts that it’s still commemorated at all: he organised an exhibition marking the twentieth anniversary in 1996. This book now serves as a permanent reminder of the inexplicably savage event.

Forty-six people were killed on 6th October, when militia groups and state forces stormed Thammasat University, though there has been no accountability and the attackers have never been prosecuted. Instead, the massacre remains officially whitewashed, conspicuously absent from the national history curriculum. As Thongchai explains, “the silence about the massacre speaks loudly about Thai society in ways that go beyond the incident itself: about truth and justice, how Thai society copes with conflict and its ugly past, about ideas of reconciliation, the culture of impunity, and rights, and about the rule of law in the country.”

Thongchai has interviewed relatives of the victims, including Jinda and Lim Thongsin, whose son Jaruphong was killed. The chapter on the Thongsin family’s long search for closure is truly heartbreaking. He also sought out some of the perpetrators, such as Lieutenant Colonel Salang Bunnag (who was photographed aiming his gun while nonchanlently smoking a cigarette) and General Uthan Sandivongse (in charge of anti-Communist radio propaganda, and described in the book as the “most infamous propagandist in modern Thai history”). Thongchai’s encounters with “the Wolf who devoured the Lamb” recall the documentary The Look of Silence, in which a survivor of the Indonesian Communist purge confronts those responsible for the atrocities.

Moments of Silence is also notable as the first commercial book to reproduce the incendiary Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page that sparked the massacre. (The front page was included in an art book published last year, though it was given only to participants in a research study.)

22 April 2020

Apichatpong Weerasethakul


Pen-ek Ratanaruang

Yuthlert Sippapak

11 March 2020

“WIFE-BEATER DEPP”

The Sun
Johnny Depp is suing The Sun newspaper for defamation, following publication of an article labelling him a wife-beater. The article, the lead story in Dan Wooton’s Bizarre column, appeared on page 22 of the tabloid on 28th April 2018, headlined “HOW CAN JK ROWLING BE ‘GENUINELY HAPPY’ TO CAST WIFE-BEATER DEPP IN FILM?”

In the article, Wooton criticised author J.K. Rowling after she endorsed Depp’s casting in the film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, adapted from one of her novels. Depp has been accused of assaulting his ex-wife Amber Heard, and he filed a libel suit against her after she wrote about domestic abuse in The Washington Post.

The Sun’s print headline did not include the usual scare-quotes around the word ‘wife-beater’. However, the online version omitted the word altogether. The article remains online, though a note has been added, saying that “the article is the subject of legal proceedings.” Depp attended pre-trial hearings at the High Court in London last month, and the trial itself will begin on 23rd March.

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