16 July 2022

Come Here


Come Here

A group of four young friends, on vacation in Kanchanaburi, arrive at the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, only to discover that it’s closed for renovation. After their initial disappointment, they decide to explore the woodlands surrounding the museum instead, and their interest in the World War II ‘death railway’ soon wanes. Their (improvised) dialogue is deliberately inconsequential, highlighting the contrast between the area’s dark historical past and the oblivious group’s contemporary preoccupations.

Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Come Here (ใจจำลอง) is one of a handful of recent Thai films that explore what the Dutch artist Armando called ‘guilty landscapes’: tranquil spaces that bore silent witness to past violence. (Anocha’s black-and-white cinematography is a reminder of the area’s historical significance, and another contrast to the film’s youthful protagonists.) Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม) and Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา) also examine Thailand’s ‘guilty landscapes’ (as discussed in Thai Cinema Uncensored), though Come Here has a closer connection to Taiki Sakpisit’s Seeing in the Dark, which also begins at the site of a state memorial.

Come Here also includes archive footage of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and Dusit Zoo, two Bangkok landmarks that were closed to the public by royal decree. (Taiki’s Shadow and Act and Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo were also filmed at Dusit Zoo and, like Sorayos, Anocha captures the zoo’s final day of operation.) The zoo footage in Come Here seems unrelated to the film’s main narrative, though there is much that remains unexplained. Most puzzling is a subplot in which a young woman wanders around in distress, before morphing into a man, in a sequence inspired by An American Werewolf in London (and perhaps Michael Jackson’s Black or White music video).

Anocha is one of the most original voices in independent Thai cinema; her films Mundane History (เจ้านกกระจอก) and By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง)—and Krabi, 2562 (กระบี่ ๒๕๖๒), codirected by Ben Rivers—are truly unique. Like Come Here, Mundane History and By the Time It Gets Dark also draw on Thailand’s political history and feature repetition as a narrative device. Come Here feels less profound by comparison, though perhaps that’s inevitable, as its subtext of historical amnesia remains hidden beneath the surface.

10 July 2022

Kaali


Kaali

Indian filmmaker Leena Manimekalai is facing potential blasphemy charges after public outrage over the poster for her film Kaali. Manimekalai, who is based in Canada, portrays the Hindu goddess Kali in the short film, which was shown at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto on 2nd July. In the film’s poster, Kali is depicted smoking a cigarette and waving an LGBTQ rainbow flag. Complaints have been lodged with police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

05 July 2022

Thai Cinema Uncensored


Sojourn

Thai Cinema Uncensored is reviewed in the new issue of Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia (volume 37, number 2), on pages 374-377. In her review, Annette Hamilton writes: “This is a great read not just for those interested in film, but for anyone trying to understand the nexus between culture and politics in Thailand in recent times.” She concludes: “This book is a valuable addition to Thai cinema studies. It is well-written and instructive.” (The book has previously been reviewed by the Bangkok Post newspaper, Art Review and The Big Chilli magazines, and the 101 World website.)

Thai Cinema Uncensored


The 101 World

The Thai news website The 101 World reviewed Thai Cinema Uncensored on 21st January 2021. (The book has also been reviewed by the Bangkok Post newspaper, and Art Review and The Big Chilli magazines.)

In his 101 World review, headlined ภาพยนตร์ไทยไม่ต้องห้าม (‘Thai movies are not forbidden’), Matt Changsupan writes: “สิ่งที่ทำให้ Thai Cinema Uncensored แข็งแรงขึ้นในการนำเสนอเรื่องของการเซนเซอร์ในภาพยนตร์ไทย นอกจากข้อมูลที่อัปเดตมากๆ... ได้ให้ภาพของการตั้งคำถามเกี่ยวกับการเมืองการปกครองร่วมสมัยผ่านภาพยนตร์ได้อย่างค่อนข้างครบถ้วน” (‘what are the strengths of Thai Cinema Uncensored in its discussion of Thai film censorship? In addition to its very up-to-date content... it provides a rather complete picture of the questioning of contemporary politics through film’).

02 July 2022

Mob 2020-2021


Moving Images Screening Night

Mob 2020-2021

The third Moving Images Screening Night (คืนฉายภาพเคลื่อนไหว) took place at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok on 30th June. (The first Moving Images Screening Night, on 28th April, featured Jittarin Wuthiphan’s powerful short film Still on My Mind, his record of a mob in Phuket attacking a man they accused of disrespecting King Rama IX. The second event, on 25th May, included Suwaporn Worrasit’s Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+.) Each screening is divided into two themed programmes, which for the third event were Eclipse and Lucid Memory.

The highlight of the evening was Supong Jitmuang’s Mob 2020-2021, a chronicle of the current student protest movement. Supong told me that the film is “handmade”, emphasising the intricate nature of this two-hour documentary. Audience members received a Moving Images Screening Night brochure (Phase 01: Program Book), which the organisers also describe as “handmade”: a zine-style publication with a limited print run. Mob 2020-2021 postcards were also available.

Mob 2020-2021 covers the first twelve months of the anti-government protest movement. Supong and his camera were at Thammasat University on 19th September 2020, for the overnight rally that later occupied Sanam Luang. On 14th October 2020, he filmed the march to Government House, after which a state of emergency was declared. On 17th November 2020, he was on the front line when protesters used inflatable ducks to protect themselves from water cannon fired by riot police. (Sorayos Prapapan’s short film Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship documents the same event.)

The protests intensified last summer, and Mob 2020-2021 shows the rally at Democracy Monument on 18th July 2021 marking the first anniversary of the anti-government campaign. Last August, there were almost daily confrontations between riot police and protesters, but rather than filming each event, Supong summarises them in a general written caption noting the “multiple continuous clashes that lasted many weeks” (Hopefully, the ongoing Sound of ‘Din’ Daeng documentary series will cover this period, and the violent tactics employed by the riot police, in more detail.)

The closest equivalent to Mob 2020-2021 is probably Ing Kanjanavanit’s Bangkok Joyride (บางกอกจอยไรด์) though, of course, the two directors are from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Two renditions of Do You Hear the People Sing? in Mob 2020-2021, for example, serve as a counterpoint to Bangkok Joyride’s fetishisation of the national anthem. Bangkok Joyride and Mob 2020-2021 both provide an exhaustive record of street politics, though Mob 2020-2021 is a more objective account.

Mob 2020-2021 is the first feature-length documentary covering the recent protest movement. (The only other example, The Evil of Time’s Growth, focuses solely on the Thalufah group.) It’s an invaluable record of a profound social and political change in Thailand. Supong’s film also includes a written timeline of the protests, and its matter-of-fact neutrality is maintained throughout, except for a single reference to the “parasitic” government.

01 July 2022

กรุงเทพ กลางแปลง



A three-week festival of open-air film screenings will take place around Bangkok later this month. The event, กรุงเทพ กลางแปลง (‘Bangkok open air’), is the brainchild of the city’s popular new governor, Chardchart Sittipunt, who was elected last month. (His unelected predecessor, appointed by the 2014 junta, had been in office for the past six years.)

The festival includes recent and classic films, all screening at outdoor venues between 7th and 31st July. Highlights include Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง) on 7th July at Lan Khon Mueang Square; and Monrak Transistor (มนต์รักทรานซิสเตอร์) on 7th July at True Digital Park, and (with an introduction by director Pen-ek Ratanaruang) on 15th July at Khlong Toei Youth Center. (Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters was previously shown at an outdoor screening in 2010. Monrak Transistor had previous outdoor screenings in 2011 and 2018.)

29 June 2022

Boiled Angels:
The Trial of Mike Diana


Boiled Angels

Boiled Angel / Answer Me!

In 1994, cartoonist Mike Diana was convicted of producing and distributing obscene material, after Florida police obtained copies of his zine Boiled Angel (issues 7 and 8). Its twisted humour was certainly provocative—zine bible Factsheet Five described it as “designed to turn your stomach”—though this was precisely Diana’s intention. As he says in the excellent documentary Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana: “My goal was to make the most offensive zine ever made.”

Following the guilty verdict, Diana was denied bail. After four days in custody, he was fined $3,000 and sentenced to 1,248 hours of community service. The documentary, by horror director Frank Henenlotter, features interviews with Diana, his family, and the defence and prosecution attorneys. It’s a thorough recounting of Diana’s trial, and it also gives plenty of historical background on the Comics Code and the underground comix movement.

Diana’s case was very similar to that of Mark Laliberté, whose comic zine Headtrip (issues 1 and 2) was accused of obscenity in Canada. Laliberté and Diana had traded zines, and Laliberté’s copies of Boiled Angel were also cited in the Headtrip obscenity trial. The failure to secure a conviction in Canada perhaps made the US authorities all the more eager to prosecute Diana in Florida. (At least, that’s what Laliberté alleges in the documentary.)

Zap Comix / Nasty Tales / Meng and Ecker

Although Diana is the only artist ever convicted of obscenity in the US, there have been other prosecutions of comic art. Booksellers in New York were fined for stocking Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix (specifically the ‘family values’ parody Joe Blow in issue 4; charges against Zap’s publishers, the Print Mint, were later dropped). In a similar case in the State of Washington, booksellers were prosecuted in relation to Jim Goad’s zine Answer Me! (issue 4, with a cover illustration by Mike Diana), though they were eventually acquitted.

There have also been a handful of obscenity cases against comics in the UK. Charges against Oz magazine (issue 28) and the Nasty Tales comic (issue 1) were both related to Robert Crumb cartoons, and Crumb’s book My Troubles with Women was seized by customs in 1996. (In all three cases, the charges were eventually dropped or overturned.) David Britton was found guilty on obscenity charges relating to his novel Lord Horror and his comic Meng and Ecker (issue 1); the charge against the novel was overturned on appeal, though the conviction of the comic was upheld.

24 June 2022

Keep ’em in the East:
Kazan, Kubrick, and the Postwar New York Film Renaissance


Keep 'em in the East

Ironically, some of the greatest films from the so-called New Hollywood era (The Godfather, The French Connection, Annie Hall) were made on location in New York rather than in Los Angeles. New York City established a film commission in 1966 (the first in the country), leading to an immediate and dramatic increase in film production, which has since become known as the New York film renaissance. Richard Koszarski’s Keep ’em in the East: Kazan, Kubrick, and the Postwar New York Film Renaissance offers a revisionist history of the 1940s and ’50s New York film scene, arguing that the roots of the renaissance stretch back long before 1966.

Koszarski discusses the documentary-like police procedural thrillers filmed on the streets of New York (The House on 92nd Street, The Naked City, Boomerang!), demonstrating that, although this style evolved alongside Neo-Realism, it was not directly influenced by Italian cinema. Only one Neo-Realist film, Rome, Open City (Roma cittá aperta), had been released in the US during the peak period of the New York docu-dramas, thus their similar modes of production were largely coincidental.

The book’s final chapters alternate between the production histories of Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront and Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss, which (incredibly) were among only three films made in New York in the winter of 1953 (the other being Hansel and Gretel). Interestingly, he reveals that Killer’s Kiss (under its original title, Kiss Me, Kill Me) was censored by four minutes by the MPAA, and that a further three minutes were cut by either Kubrick or the film’s distributor, United Artists, before its theatrical release.

15 June 2022

My Own Private Idaho


My Own Private Idaho

Gus van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho opens at House Samyan in Bangkok this week. The film is an essential example of New Queer Cinema, the term coined by B. Ruby Rich to describe a wave of independent gay filmmakers in the early 1990s. It was previously shown at the (much missed) Bangkok Screening Room in 2019, as part of their LGBT+ Film Festival, and the upcoming screenings coincide with Pride Month. My Own Private Idaho will be shown at House on 17th, 18th, 19th, 24th, 25th, and 26th June.

09 June 2022

“A young man 23 years old by the name of Stanley Kubrick...”


Stanley Kubrick

The story behind the premiere of Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire has been published by the organiser of the Venice Film Festival, La Biennale di Venezia. Kubrick’s first feature was shown out of competition in Venice in 1952, after Joseph Burstyn recommended it in a letter to the event’s director, Antonio Petrucci. Burstyn assured him that the film, “made by a young man 23 years old by the name of Stanley Kubrick... could be the great surprise of your Festival.” (He neglected to mention that he was the film’s US distributor: he was lobbying Petrucci, under the guise of a friendly recommendation.)

Petrucci cabled Kubrick, declining to show the film in competition due to its “LENGTH AND CHARACTER”. (Fear and Desire is barely an hour long, and Petrucci may have felt that it didn’t qualify as feature-length.) Instead, he agreed to screen it as part of a sidebar programme, though this prompted a surprisingly indignant reply from Kubrick, who asked for further clarification: “you can well understand the state of confusion I am presently in. Is there anything you can do to shed some light on my problem?”

The correspondence between Burstyn, Petrucci, and Kubrick—posted on La Biennale di Venezia’s website yesterday—was unearthed during research for a new book by Gian Piero Brunetta (author of The History of Italian Cinema), the foremost historian of Italian film. The Venice screening of Fear and Desire, under the working title Shape of Fear, was first reported by James Fenwick in Stanley Kubrick Produces.

30 May 2022

Bai Pid


Bai Pid Tears of the Black Tiger

Bai Pid (ใบปิด), an exhibition of Thai film posters, opened at the Woof Pack building in Bangkok last week. Organised by Doc Club and Pub (the boutique cinema and bar at Woof Pack) and the Thai Film Archive (the film museum at Salaya, near Bangkok), the exhibition features more than fifty vintage Thai posters, and some of the original paintings that they were based on. Most of the works are included in a large, glossy catalogue, Thai Cinema Poster Exhibition, edited by Chonnatee Pimnam and Suparp Rimtheparthip.

Bai Pid opened on 25th May, and runs until 17th July. It includes painted reproductions of posters for classic Thai films—notably A Man Called Tone (โทน) and Monrak Lukthung (มนต์รักลูกทุ่ง)—and Thai releases of American movies, such as จอว์ส (the Thai-language title of Jaws). A painting by Banhan Thaitanaboon based on his Tropical Malady: The Book poster (unveiled at the 2018 Bangkok Art Book Fair) is also on show, and Banhan designed the Bai Pid exhibition poster.

Tone

The highlight of the exhibition is surely Somboonsuk Niyomsiri’s original painting for his Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร) poster, previously on display at the Film Archive’s Wisit Sasanatieng retrospective. Somboonsuk (also known as Piak Poster) directed more than two dozen films, including a A Man Called Tone, though he also had a prolific career as a poster artist. (A Man Called Tone will be screened at Doc Club and Pub on 5th June.) Wisit, director of Tears of the Black Tiger, created the posters for the 2008 and 2009 Bangkok International Film Festival.

The poster artists who emerged after Somboonsuk were either taught by him or influenced by his style. He ran his studio like a Renaissance workshop, creating posters bearing the master’s signature yet produced with the assistance of apprentice artists under his supervision. For the Monrak Lukthung poster, for example, Somboonsuk painted the two lead actors (Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat, Thai cinema’s greatest stars) while his assistants worked on the background. The poster for A Man Called Tone also bears Somboonsuk’s signature—effectively a brand logo for his studio—though it was painted entirely by Banhan.

There have only been two previous exhibitions of Thai poster art: Thai Film Posters (ใบปิดหนังไทย, 1984) in Bangok, and Eyegasm: The Art of Thai Movie Posters (2012) in Palm Springs, California. Gilbert Brownstone’s Affiches de cinéma thaï (‘Thai film posters’), published in three languages (French, English, and Thai) in 1974, was the first book on the subject. There’s a short essay on Thai film posters in Thai Cinema, and vintage posters are illustrated in Dome Sukwong’s A Century of Thai Cinema and Philip Jablon’s Thailand’s Movie Theatres.

08 May 2022

The Evil of Time's Growth


The Evil of Time's Growth

The Evil of Time’s Growth, a feature-length documentary marking the first anniversary of the Thalufah anti-government protest group, was screened at Cartel Artspace in Bangkok yesterday. It’s now available on the group’s Facebook and YouTube channels. The documentary, which is more than 2½ hours long, includes footage of Thalufah marches and demonstrations filmed throughout last year, and interviews with group members and supporters. The most violent incidents from the protests—rubber bullets fired by riot police, and arson by demonstrators—are not included.

Thalufah was founded by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, and his interview was filmed in front of a large painting by Lucky Leg, which the artist donated to the group. The film was shown as part of The Battle Wound of Thalufah, an exhibition organised by the group, which opened on 31st March. Thalufah previously organised the Specter exhibition, which was later expanded. Rap Against Dictatorship’s single Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า) was a tribute to the group, as was the zine Break Through published last year.

[The Evil of Time’s Growth’s Thai title, การเติบโตของปีศาจแห่งการเวลา, is the direct equivalent of the English version, and includes the Thai word ปีศาจ (‘evil spirit’). But when promoting the film, Cartel Artspace replaced the letter with , a typo that changed the word’s meaning to ‘court’. In the English title, Growth is stylised as “GROIIITH”, a reference to the three-finger salute adopted by the protest movement.]

04 May 2022

Shadow Dancing:
Where Can We Find a Silver Lining in Challenging Times?


Shadow Dancing

The group exhibition Shadow Dancing: Where Can We Find a Silver Lining in Challenging Times? opened on 17th March at the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok. It’s the second in a series of exhibitions that explore the aftermath of the Cold War, after last year’s Future Tense. This time, the emphasis is on Taiwan and Thailand, and the highlights are two video installations: Paths to Utopia by Ting-Ting Chen and ANG48 by Chulayarnnon Siriphol.

Ting-Ting Chen is Taiwanese, though the various elements of her Paths to Utopia installation have a global and specifically Thai focus. The video was inspired by the movie The Beach, which portrayed Thailand as both a tropical paradise and as the centre of a violent drug trade. (When The Beach was released in Thailand, a group of MPs called for it to be banned, and there were protests at its Thai premiere.) The artist juxtaposes idyllic shots of Phi Phi island (where The Beach was filmed) with a collage of news footage of anti-government protests, showing that achieving utopia is a contested process and that picture-postcard scenery doesn’t reveal the whole truth.

Chulayarnnon’s ANG48 is a two-channel video installation whose full title is ANGSUMALIN48 / ANG48 / Alliance of Nippon Girls 48 (อังศุมาลิน 48 หรือ เอเอ็นจี 48 หรือ พันธมิตรสตรีนิปปอง 48). Like Paths to Utopia, it was also inspired by an existing movie—Sunset at Chaophraya (คู่กรรม)—and clips from that film are repurposed to create a new narrative. (Sunset at Chaophraya, based on a classic Thai novel, has been remade numerous times, though ANG48 uses footage from the original 1988 film version. On the Art Center’s website, one letter—อ—is missing from the full title of Chulayarnnon’s video.)

Chulayarnnon often creates fictional characters, or appropriates them from existing sources, giving them new biographies—most elaborately in his Museum of Kirati exhibition and the accompanying book Kirati Memorial (หนังสืออนุสรณ์กีรติ). In ANG48, he conjures up a new science-fiction backstory for Angsumalin, the heroine of Sunset at Chaophraya, which he combines with his short film Birth of Golden Snail (กำเนิดหอยทากทอง). That film was banned from the Thailand Biennale, and ANG48 includes clips from it alongside a new voice-over by the female protagonist, who explains that Thai soldiers forbade her from making Japanese desserts: “from now on the mochi I made would be a forbidden sweet. No consumption, production, or sale... I was very sad but had to keep my feelings inside.” This metaphor for the censorship of Birth of Golden Snail is followed by a shot of the rejection letter from the Biennale.

Like Planetarium, his segment of 10 Years Thailand, ANG48 is a summation of Chulayarnnon’s recent video works. Along with clips from Birth of Golden Snail, it also incorporates footage from his music video The Internationale, his short film Golden Spiral, and his Parade of Golden Snail (ขบวนแห่หอยทากทอง) performance. Birth of Golden Snail will be available to stream from 4th to 6th May, and ANG48 on 6th May, both as part of the online event Re/enacting History and Decolonizing Genteel Romance in Thailand and Asia. Shadow Dancing closes on 5th June.

07 April 2022

The Greatest Movies of All Time


The Greatest Movies of All Time

The Greatest Movies of All Time, published in 2016, features a list of classic films selected by Lorri Lynn, Melody Bussey, and Peter Murray. The number of titles (eighty-eight) seems fairly arbitrary, and there are no foreign-language or silent films on the list. The introduction, which refers to “a lifetime all best movie designation” [sic], could have been written by AI software.

Each film has a double-page spread, with a single paragraph of rather simplistic text opposite a glossy full-page photograph. The photos are the book’s only redeeming feature, though their quality is variable: the stills and posters are well-reproduced, though many are merely DVD covers and one (The Unforgiven) is from the wrong film. The book is not recommended, and is included here only in the interests of completism, as Dateline Bangkok reviews every greatest-film list available in print.

18 March 2022

Mob 2020-2021


Mob 2020-2021

Supong Jitmuang’s documentary Mob 2020-2021 will be shown this afternoon at the Kinjai Contemporary gallery in Bangkok. The film is the first to provide a full record of the current student protest movement, and is simultaneously epic in scope (at almost two hours long) and intimately personal (Supong described it to me as a “handmade” film).

Mob 2020-2021 was previously screened online during the Short Film Marathon (หนังสั้นมาราธอน), as part of the 25th Short Film and Video Festival, on 19th November last year. Today’s screening will be its theatrical premiere, and free postcards will also be available.

20 February 2022

Memory of Filmmaking


Memory of Filmmaking

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film Memoria will have its Thai premiere on 24th February. The screening at Bangkok’s SF World cinema will be followed by a Q&A with Apichatpong and actor Tilda Swinton. The following day, Apichatpong will take part in another Q&A when Memoria is shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, before it goes on general release on 3rd March.

On 26th February, the Film Archive will host a masterclass by Apichatpong, Memory of Filmmaking, moderated by Sompot Chidgasornpongse (a key member of his Kick the Machine production team) and Nottapon Boonprakob (director of Come and See/เอหิปัสสิโก). Apichatpong has previously given similar presentations at the Film Archive—ตัวตน โดย ตัวงาน (‘self-expression through work’) in 2011—and elsewhere: What Is Not Visible Is Not Invisible at BACC in 2017, Indy Spirit Project at SF Cinema City in 2010, and Tomyam Pladib (ต้มยำปลาดิบ) at the Jim Thompson Art Center in 2008.

Memoria received its world premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. The second phase of Apichatpong’s exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย ภาคสอง)—subtitled Beautiful Things (สิ่งสวยงาม)—opened at 100 Tonson Foundation in Bangkok on 18th February, and runs until 10th April.

30 January 2022

“I’ve killed too many communists...”


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Anatomy of Time
The Edge of Daybreak

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s most celebrated work, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ), was also his first political statement on film. Boonmee—a former military officer who fought the student Communists radicalised after the 6th October 1976 massacre—is dying of kidney disease, and wonders aloud whether he is being punished: “I’ve killed too many communists.” His sister tries to reassure him—“But you killed with good intentions... You killed the commies for the nation, right?”—though Boonmee is unconvinced, and the conversation peters out; a brutal guerrilla war has become a faded memory, both for Boonmee and the country as a whole.

Two recent Thai films also portray former military men on their deathbeds. In the opening line of Taiki Sakpisit’s The Edge of Daybreak (พญาโศกพิโยคค่ำ), a man narrates his role in the anti-Communist purge: “I was leading my unit into the woods to catch the students.” Similarly, Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s Anatomy of Time (เวลา) begins with a flashback in which a military officer leads an attack on Communist insurgents. In both films, the unnamed men remain largely bedridden, tended by nurses and family members, though their violent reputations have not been forgotten: in The Edge of Daybreak, the man is smothered with a pillow; and in Anatomy of Time, the man’s nurse wishes him a “slow and painful” death. (On the other hand, like Boonmee’s sister, one of his military colleagues believes he “made many sacrifices for the country.”)

In all three films, the men’s karma is directly cited as the reason for their sickness. In an extended flashback in Anatomy of Time, the man’s wife asks: “Dad, is it true that we all have to pay for our sins?” Her father explains that, according to Buddhist teachings, karma does indeed exist. Likewise, Boonmee tells his sister: “You know, this is a result of my karma.” In The Edge of Daybreak, the man’s family believe that they are cursed and, as if to confirm this, the exquisite black-and-white camerawork lingers on images of decay, such as rotting food and their crumbling home. The legacy of violent suppression is also a curse on the country itself, and these three films offer a reckoning with Thailand’s past and a commentary on its continuing military rule.

05 January 2022

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021:
The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats


VideoHound

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021: The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats, edited by Michael J. Tyrkus, is the final edition of the last remaining film guide in print. VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever first appeared in 1990 and was updated annually, though the 2022 edition was cancelled by the publisher. With reviews of almost 30,000 films released on video, and over 2,000 pages, the 2021 edition was approaching the physical limits of a manageable single-volume book. In fact, the total number of films in recent editions had been gradually declining, as obscure older films were deleted to make room for new releases.

The annual film guide format was pioneered in 1958 by Steven H. Scheuer, who reviewed 5,000 titles in his TV Movie Almanac and Ratings. A decade later, in 1969, came Scheuer’s first competitor, Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies, and after another decade Leslie Halliwell launched his Halliwell’s Film Guide. This triumvirate ruled the roost for another decade, until smaller guides such as Elliot’s Guide to Films on Video (by John Elliot) and The Virgin Film Guide were published in the late 1980s and early ’90s. (The Virgin guide was notable for its lengthy reviews of significant films. On the other hand, Elliot even stooped to reviewing some of the more outré ‘video nasties’.)

The next wave of film guides was dominated by major magazine publishers. The Empire Film Guide followed the Virgin formula, while the Time Out Film Guide and the Radio Times Guide to Films both aimed to be as comprehensive as possible. Time Out found room for more independent and arthouse titles, while the Radio Times adopted an even-handed reviewing style, perhaps to differentiate itself from the more opinionated Halliwell’s Film Guide. The Radio Times Film Guide also had a little-known predecessor: Derek Winnert’s Radio Times Film and Video Guide, which was pulped after a plagiarism lawsuit from the publishers of Halliwell’s.

After the boom came the bust, and—like other printed reference books—the annual film guide eventually became an endangered species. 1992 saw the final edition of Scheuer’s book (retitled Movies on TV and Videocassette). The Virgin and Empire guides ended in 2005 and 2007, respectively. The last Halliwell’s Film Guide came out—somewhat contentiously—in 2007, and the brand died an ignominious death the following year with The Movies That Matter. Maltin’s book was last updated in 2014 (retitled Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide). Time Out’s guide ceased publication in 2012, and the Radio Times’s followed suit in 2017.

31 December 2021

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli:
The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’


Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

There are six books on my shelves about the making of The Godfather: The Godfather Family Album, The Official Motion Picture Archives, The Annotated Godfather, The Godfather Notebook, The Godfather Book, and now Mark Seal’s Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’. As Seal acknowledges in his preface, “The Godfather has spawned its own massive field of study, a trove of books, articles, documentaries...” Some familiar production anecdotes are inevitably duplicated throughout these six books, though each title also provides ample original material, and each has a different approach to the making of the film.

What distinguishes Seal’s new book? Firstly, it has an extended interview with Francis Ford Coppola (who admits that, “at the root of it all, I was terrified”). Also, one chapter quotes extensively from a stenographer’s transcript of a six-hour pre-production meeting. This document is a valuable primary source, as it accurately records exactly what was said at the time, such as Coppola’s explanation of the film’s opening line: “Just starting with, ‘I believe in America,’ because it’s what the whole movie is about.” Previously, Seal wrote a Vanity Fair article on the making of the film for the magazine’s 2009 Hollywood issue, and an oral history of Pulp Fiction for the 2013 Hollywood issue.

29 December 2021

Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+


Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+

Suwaporn Worrasit’s short film Ratchadamnoen Route View 2482+ was screened at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on Christmas Day, as part of the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival. The film shows builders constructing a reproduction of Democracy Monument, intercut with an anti-government protest at the real Democracy Monument in Bangkok on 20th September 2020. The title refers to 1939 (2482 in the Buddhist Era), the year that the monument was commissioned.

The reproduction of the monument was built for Bangkok World, a new tourist attraction due to open next year. Suwaporn’s film features exceptional footage of labourers carefully installing and painting the concrete reproduction, creating a scale model of the original. However, Democracy Monument is more than a mere architectural landmark; for decades, it has been a focal point for political rallies, and borne witness to military crackdowns. After the 14th October 1973 massacre, the bodies of the victims were placed on the monument. In 2010, red-shirt protesters wrapped it in banners painted with blood.

Once it’s completed, Bangkok World’s Democracy Monument will be a pristine simulacrum—the Disneyland version of Bangkok’s heritage—though it will reveal none of the original monument’s political and social significance. While it’s under construction, surrounded by bamboo scaffolding, the reproduction is a metaphor for the country’s unfinished transition to democracy. Similarly, vintage photographs of Democracy Monument under construction appeared in the June 2012 issue of Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine and in Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Karaoke: Think Kindly (คาราโอเกะ เพลงแผ่เมตตา), again symbolising the incomplete nature of Thai democracy.