10 March 2023

Sazandegi


Sazandegi Sazandegi

The newspaper Sazandegi (سازندگی) was shut down by the Iranian regime last month after it reported on the country’s economic crisis. The subheading of a 20th February front-page story about the rising price of lamb—“گوشت چگونه از سفره طبقه متوسط و طبقه کارگر حذف شد؟” (‘why is meat missing from the tables of the middle and working classes?’)—led to the newspaper’s immediate suspension. Its permission to publish was reinstated on 1st March.

Sazandegi previously attracted controversy when it was sued by the Speaker of Iran’s parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, over a front-page editorial and cartoon published on 26th May 2021. The drawing of the Speaker, by controversial cartoonist Hadi Haydari, suggested that he was anxious about, and therefore implicitly guilty of, allegations that he had interfered in the allocation of the budget.

07 March 2023

The Greatest Films of All Time


Sight and Sound

Last year, Sight and Sound published the results of its Greatest Films of All Time survey. Ever since 1952, the magazine has polled film critics around the world every ten years, to compile authoritative lists of the ten greatest films ever made. In 2012, for the first time, they expanded their list to include 100 titles, and their 2022 poll was also initially published as a list of 100 films. Now, last year’s list has been expanded further, to 250 films, printed as a checklist on pp. 50–53 of the new April issue (vol. 33, no. 3).

30 January 2023

India:
The Modi Question


India: The Modi Question
India: The Modi Question

Screenings of a new BBC documentary that includes serious allegations against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been prevented at several Indian universities, and students have been arrested at one campus. The programme reveals that Rob Young, the UK’s High Commissioner to India in 2002, wrote a confidential report concluding that “Narendra Modi is directly responsible” for the deaths of more than 1,000 people at a mass riot in Gujarat earlier that year.

India: The Modi Question, directed by Richard Cookson and Sadhana Subramaniam, was broadcast in the UK on BBC2 in two parts, on 17th and 24th January. It quotes from Young’s report, which alleged that Modi met senior police officers and “ordered them not to intervene in the rioting.” Students at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi were detained by police to prevent an outdoor screening of the documentary on 25th January.

The situation recalls that of another BBC documentary, India’s Daughter, which was also censored in India. In that case, however, the Indian government banned the programme from being broadcast on television, whereas India: The Modi Question was never scheduled for transmission in India. Modi has been PM since 2014, and was Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of the riot. A cartoonist was arrested for caricaturing him in 2011, during his time as Chief Minister.

26 December 2022

The Trump Tapes:
Bob Woodward’s Twenty Interviews with President Donald Trump



Bob Woodward interviewed President Donald Trump an unprecedented nineteen times for his book Rage, published in 2020. Woodward has now released his recordings of eighteen of those interviews as an audiobook, The Trump Tapes: Bob Woodward's Twenty Interviews with President Donald Trump. (One of the Rage interviews was not recorded, though Woodward summarises it based on his contemporaneous notes. A 2016 interview with Trump before the presidential election is also included.)

Trump cooperated extensively with Rage in an attempt to avoid a repeat of Woodward’s previous book, Fear, which was written without his cooperation. (A recording of a phone call, in which Trump blamed his advisor Kellyanne Conway for not passing on Woodward’s initial interview request, was released by The Washington Post in 2018.) In his spoken epilogue, Woodward says: “It is still somewhat of a puzzle to me why he talked to me, and at such length. I think he honestly believed he could talk me into telling the story of his presidency as he would like it to be seen and remembered in history.”

As was the case with Woodward’s Fear, Trump likewise didn’t cooperate with Woodward’s Washington Post colleagues Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig for their book A Very Stable Genius. (He describes them to Woodward as “two sleazebags”, adding for good measure: “Rucker, he’s a sleazebucket. I know him well. He never writes good.”) Yet he did speak to Rucker and Leonnig for their next book, I Alone Can Fix It, just as he spoke to Woodward for Rage. Interestingly, Woodward repeatedly asks Trump, in vain, for a transcript of his February 2020 phone call with Chinese President Xi, though Rucker and Leonnig were seemingly able to obtain it.

Trump’s astonishing indiscretion is immediately apparent from the recordings. As Woodward says at the beginning of his spoken introduction, Trump is “staggeringly incautious,” and this is evident throughout the eleven hours of audio. The interviews were mostly conducted over the phone, often in the evenings when Trump was in his private quarters at the White House, which presumably contributed to the informal nature of the conversations. (There are echoes of the “unsolicited phone calls without presumption of confidentiality” that Trump made to Michael Wolff during the writing of Fire and Fury, though in Woodward’s case he always reminds Trump that he’s recording the calls.)

In his commentary, Woodward also decribes Trump as “at times staggeringly repetitive, as if saying something often and loud enough will make something true.” Maggie Haberman also mentions this tendency—which is a deliberate rhetorical device—in her recent Trump biography, Confidence Man: “He started to explain why he doesn’t like when audiotapes of his interviews are released. Being on camera was “much different,” he said. “Whereas,” he said, in a “written interview, I’ll repeat it twenty times, because I want to drum it into your beautiful brain. Do you understand that?” He repeated himself again.”

Rage was originally intended as a study of Trump’s foreign policy. (Woodward had previously written a similar book on Obama.) But after the coronavirus epidemic began in early 2020, Woodward shifted the focus to Trump’s covid response. Throughout February and March 2020, Trump had publicly insisted that the virus would spontaneously disappear, though on 20th March 2020 he confirmed to Woodward: “This thing is vicious, the most contagious virus anyone’s ever seen.” Even allowing for Trump’s usual exaggerations, that’s a dangerous discrepancy between his public and private statements, and he didn’t publicly admit the severity of the situation until eleven days later.

In Rage, Woodward concluded that President Trump was “the wrong man for the job.” In his epilogue to The Trump Tapes, he acknowledges that that was an understatement: “I realise that I didn’t go far enough. Trump is an unparalleled danger.” The Trump Tapes was released on ten CDs last month, and a book of transcripts, The Trump Tapes: The Historical Record, will be published early next year.

23 December 2022

500 Must-See Movies


500 Must-See Movies

Total Film magazine published a special issue in 2017 listing 500 Must-See Movies. This year, they have released a second edition with an updated list. There are only minor changes to the original edition, with the addition of recent films such as Get Out, 1917, A Quiet Place, Avengers: Infinity War, and Parasite (기생충). As in the first edition, only five genres are included: horror, science-fiction, thrillers, action movies, and comedies.

Empire and Us Weekly magazines have also published top-500 film lists, as did the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph newspapers. Empire later revised its list for its Australian edition, and published a collection of 500 five-star reviews. Dateline Bangkok also has its own list of 500 classic films.

Total Film’s previous greatest-film lists are: The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time from 2005, The Top 100 Movies of All Time from 2006, and 100 Greatest Movies from 2010. It also compiled a list of The Sixty-Seven Most Influential Films Ever Made in 2009.

22 December 2022

The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time


Variety

This week’s issue of Variety (vol. 358, no. 12), published yesterday, features The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, as selected by thirty-two of the magazine’s writers. This is one of the very best greatest-film polls: an ideal combination of arthouse titles, classic Hollywood, world cinema, and popular movies.

Variety’s 100 greatest movies are as follows:

100. The Graduate
99. Twelve Angry Men
98. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
97. Alien
96. A Hard Day’s Night
95. Toy Story
94. Bridesmaids
93. Le samuraï
92. Pink Flamingos
91. Scenes from a Marriage
90. The Shining
89. Belle de jour
88. Malcolm X
87. The Sound of Music
86. Close-Up
85. Natural Born Killers
84. Pan’s Labyrinth
83. Kramer vs. Kramer
82. Parasite
81. The Dark Knight
80. Pixote
79. Waiting for Guffman
78. Jeanne Dielman
77. Goldfinger
76. The Tree of Life
75. Boogie Nights
74. My Neighbour Totoro
73. Intolerance
72. Breaking the Waves
71. My Best Friend’s Wedding
70. Twelve Years a Slave
69. Beau travail
68. King Kong
67. Bicycle Thieves
66. Paris Is Burning
65. A Man Escaped
64. Carrie
63. Bambi
62. Dazed and Confused
61. The Passion of Joan of Arc
60. Moulin Rouge!
59. Vagabond
58. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
57. Brokeback Mountain
56. Rosemary’s Baby
55. Pather Panchali
54. Mad Max II
53. In the Mood for Love
52. The General
51. Apocalypse Now
50. Breathless
49. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
48. The Piano
47. Mean Streets
46. Notorious
45. Titanic
44. L’avventura
43. Shoah
42. Moonlight
41. The Wild Bunch
40. Fargo
39. Some Like It Hot
38. Lawrence of Arabia
37. Annie Hall
36. On the Waterfront
35. The Silence of the Lambs
34. Stagecoach
33.
32. Vertigo
31. Network
30. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
29. Double Indemnity
28. City Lights
27. Bonnie and Clyde
26. The 400 Blows
25. Bringing up Baby
24. Tokyo Story
23. The Apartment
22. Chinatown
21. Gone with the Wind
20. Blue Velvet
19. The Godfather II
18. Persona
17. Nashville
16. Casablanca
15. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
14. Do the Right Thing
13. The Rules of the Game
12. GoodFellas
11. Singin’ in the Rain
10. Saving Private Ryan
9. All about Eve
8. It’s a Wonderful Life
7. 2001: A Space Odyssey
6. Seven Samurai
5. Pulp Fiction
4. Citizen Kane
3. The Godfather
2. The Wizard of Oz
1. Psycho

(Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comedy, and Titanic is the 1997 blockbuster. Breathless, King Kong, and Psycho are the original versions rather than the remakes.)

A third of Variety’s choices are also included in Dateline Bangkok’s 100 greatest films list. (That list is not ranked, though if it were, Psycho would also be at no. 1, as it is in Variety.)

21 December 2022

500 Best Movies of All Time



In 2018, Us Weekly magazine published a special 500 Best Movies of All Time issue (vol. 18, no. 47). The top twenty-five titles are listed first, and the others are classified by genre. The films are organised alphabetically within these categories, and are not ranked. The list features more than 500 titles, as some series—the Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises; The Naked Gun and Kill Bill and their sequels—are counted as single entries.

Us Weekly is a mainstream entertainment magazine, so the selection is weighted in favour of popular Hollywood movies; as the editors wrote in their introduction: “we tried to pay attention not just to what critics like, but to what audiences like as well.” There are a handful of foreign-language titles, including Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette, classified rather literally as a crime film), and just one silent film (Metropolis, listed under drama rather than science-fiction).

Us Weekly’s top twenty-five films are as follows:
  • Avatar
  • Black Panther
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Casablanca
  • Chinatown
  • Citizen Kane
  • E.T. the Extra-terrestrial
  • Get Out
  • The Godfather
  • Gone with the Wind
  • Harry Potter
  • Inception
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • National Lampoon’s Animal House
  • Psycho
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Raging Bull
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Rocky
  • Scarface
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • Titanic
  • Toy Story
  • The Wizard of Oz
(Titanic is the 1997 blockbuster, Psycho is the 1960 masterpiece, and Scarface is the 1983 remake. Harry Potter refers to all eight films in the series.)

Empire and Total Film magazines have also published top-500 film lists, as did the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph newspapers. Empire later revised its list for its Australian edition, and also published a collection of 500 five-star reviews. Not to be outdone, Dateline Bangkok has its own list of 500 classic films.

02 December 2022

The Greatest Films of All Time


Sight and Sound

Sight and Sound magazine has announced the results of its 2022 critics’ and directors’ polls, The Greatest Films of All Time. There have been dozens of similar polls, based on votes by either critics or the public—Dateline Bangkok has featured every greatest-film list published since 2005—though Sight and Sound’s list is the first and most authoritative of them all. The magazine compiled its original list in 1952, with Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) being the inaugural winner. For fifty years, starting in 1962, Citizen Kane was in first place, until it was overtaken by Vertigo in 2012.

This year’s result is much more surprising, with Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles at the top of the new list. As Laura Mulvey writes in the magazine’s latest issue (vol. 33, no. 1), “Vertigo had been gradually closing in on Citizen Kane for decades; Jeanne Dielman has appeared from nowhere.” 2001: A Space Odyssey came first in the directors’ poll, replacing Tokyo Story (東京物語), and the full results of both polls are included in the new issue of the magazine.

Sight and Sound

The Sight and Sound critics’ top ten is as follows:

1. Jeanne Dielman
2. Vertigo
3. Citizen Kane
4. Tokyo Story
5. In the Mood for Love
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. Beau travail
8. Mulholland Drive
9. Man with a Movie Camera
10. Singin’ in the Rain

22 November 2022

“What can’t be fixed is the mental illness of the prime minister...”


Ehud Olmert

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister and winner of the country’s 1st November election, has won his defamation case against another former PM, Ehud Olmert. Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court yesterday awarded Netanyahu 62,000 shekels ($17,850) in compensation, though this was less than 10% of the 837,000 shekels he had sued for.

In an interview with Gadi Sukenik on the show המהדורה המרכזית (‘the main edition’), Olmert said that Netanyahu was mentally ill: “What can’t be fixed is the mental illness of the prime minister and his wife and son.” The interview was broadcast by Democrat TV on 12th April last year. In a second interview nine days later, on Keshet 12’s Ofira and Berkovich (אופירה וברקוביץ') show, he refused to retract the claim and scoffed at the prospect of being sued by Netanyahu.

07 November 2022

King Protection Group


Amarat Chokepamitkul

A royalist pressure group has filed lèse-majesté charges against Move Forward MP Amarat Chokepamitkul. She spoke in parliament on 2nd November about the Criminal Court’s reluctance to issue summonses for royal travel and financial documents, thus preventing them from being admitted as exculpatory evidence in lèse-majesté trials. Her statement was cut short by Chuan Leekpai, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Amarat shared an online video of her speech from Matichon, which the King Protection Group submitted to police the next day. (Their complaint seemingly disregards an MP’s right of parliamentary privilege.) Last month, the same pressure group filed charges against the rapper P9D, alleging that his song Kuay Rai A (ควยไรอะ) violated the lèse-majesté law.

18 October 2022

Deaw 13


Deaw 13

Udom Taephanich, the popular stand-up comedian, is under investigation today after a pro-government campaigner filed criminal charges against him. Udom ended his Netflix comedy special Deaw 13 (เดี่ยว 13), released on 11th October, with a mildly satirical routine about PM Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Srisuwan Janya, head of the ultra-conservative Constitution Protection Association pressure group, accused Udom of endangering national security by encouraging his audience to join the recent anti-government protests. When he filed the charges at the Central Investigation Bureau in Bangkok today, he was kicked and punched by a red-shirt supporter.

Srisuwan has been called “Thailand’s complainer-in-chief”, and Udom began his show with a comment on the campaigner’s love of the media spotlight. The live show was filmed while some coronavirus restrictions were still in place, and Udom joked that he was happy to be back on stage: “I’ve been craving this. Now I understand how Srisuwan Janya feels.”

Srisuwan Janya

After comparing Prayut and his deputy, Prawit Wongsuwan, to unqualified pilots, Udom suggested that they should resign: “both of you, the pilot and copilot, please eject yourselves from the plane.” Noticing that one man in the audience was not clapping, Udom asked him if he was a soldier, and—ironically, given today’s events—told him: “Don’t report me, okay?”

Udom is not especially known for political satire, and Thai comedy generally tends to be more slapstick than satirical, perhaps to avoid charges of defamation, which is a criminal offence under Thai law. But a Prayut lookalike did appear in Udom’s spoof music video Sud-Swing Ringo Eto Bump (สุดสวิงริงโก้อีโต้บั๊มพ์).

14 October 2022

6 Oct:
Facing Demons


6 Oct

Last year, Thammasat University cancelled the annual exhibition commemorating the 6th October 1976 massacre, so the organisers created a ‘museum in a box’. This year, Thammasat’s football pitch was mysteriously fenced off on the anniversary of the massacre, and the commemoration is taking place at the Kinjai Contemporary gallery in Bangkok instead.

Kinjai’s photography exhibition 6 Oct: Facing Demons (6 ตุลา เผชิญหน้าปิศาจ) is comprised almost entirely of previously unpublished news photographs of the massacre. This is refreshing, as it expands the historical record beyond the limited set of images that usually represent the event. Thus, Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of a hanging man—which has arguably become a cliché—is not included in 6 Oct. In its place is another powerful, award-winning image, though one that’s much less known: a Village Scout hammering a wooden stake into a dead student’s body, photographed by Preecha Karnsompot.

Also, the 6 Oct archive photographs have all been enlarged and restored. Again, this is a significant development, as images of the massacre are usually poorly-reproduced prints. (When Preecha’s photograph was published in a book by the Thai Journalists Association—๔ทศวรรษภาพข่าว/‘four decades of Thai photojournalism’—the editors lamented that the images had to be sourced from reproductions.) The enlargements reveal previously hidden elements, which become new focal points (or what Roland Barthes called ‘punctums’), hence the exhibition’s strapline: ‘the devil is in the details’.

6 Oct 6 Oct
6 Oct 6 Oct

This is also an unusually provocative exhibition. A photograph of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn (who is now King Rama X) at a Village Scout meeting is captioned “the King of Thai Politics”, implying a royal intervention. On an adjacent wall, an image of the massacre is juxtaposed with a photograph of the 2010 military crackdown, indicating that the cycle of Thai state violence continues. Also, the taboo against showing the front page of Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) is now a thing of the past, as a reproduction of the newspaper is displayed on the street outside the gallery.

Continuing the themes of media and propaganda explored by Thasnai Sethaseree in Cold War, the exhibition brochure is designed to resemble a broadsheet newspaper. Chulayarnnon Siriphol has directed six short videos on different aspects of the exhibition, and a longer documentary titled ชวนอ่านภาพ 6 ตุลา (‘invitation to read images of 6th October’) in which Octobrists and current students interpret the photographs in the exhibition. 6 Oct opened on 1st October, and runs until 20th November (a week after the original closing date).

12 October 2022

Cold War:
The Mysterious


Cold War

Thasnai Sethaseree’s stunning exhibition Cold War: The Mysterious examines Thai politics and media in the Cold War era, focusing particularly on state suppression of the Communist insurgency in the 1970s. Thasnai has created a series of untitled paper collages, based on press photographs of the period, densely overlaid and partially obscured by brightly coloured paint.

For his Remembrance, 6 October 1976 series, he painted individual portraits of Manas Siansing, Watchari Petchsun, and other victims of the Thammasat University massacre. A painting of red droplets, symbolising blood, also commemorates the massacre.

Remembrance, 6 October 1976
Remembrance, 6 October 1976 Remembrance, 6 October 1976 RPropaganda Through Media

For the Dismantle (ปลด) group exhibition last year, Thasnai created collages of newspaper front pages dated 5th October 1976, the day before the Thammasat massacre. One of those works is included in Cold War, alongside seven collages of newspaper front pages dated 6th October 1976 (in a series titled Propaganda Through Media).

Most of the papers published on that day—เสียง ปวงชน (‘people’s voice’), ชาวไทย (‘people of Thailand’), Daily News (เดลินิวส์), Bangkok Daily Time (บางกอกเดลิไทม์), and Bangkok Post—were printed before the massacre began, though one title—Siam Rath (สยามรัฐ) managed to print a late edition that included coverage of the event. Infamously, it was the headline in that morning’s edition of Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) that lit the touchpaper and provoked the massacre.

6th October 1976 Remembrance, 6 October 1976 6th October 1976 Remembrance, 6 October 1976
Propaganda Through Media 6 October 1976 Propaganda Through Media 6 October 1976
6th October 1976 Propaganda Through Media 6th October 1976 Propaganda Through Media

Cold War opened at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai on 12th March, and runs until 3rd April next year (extended from the original closing date, Valentine’s Day 2023). This year, the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok has held a series of exhibitions on the Cold War, beginning with Future Tense.

10 October 2022

“A serious breach of journalistic ethics in crime reporting...”


CNN

Two CNN journalists were deported from Thailand today, after being accused of trespassing, unethical reporting, and working without permission. They had entered a nursery in Nong Bua Lamphu and filmed the aftermath of a killing spree that had taken place there two days earlier.

On Thursday, a former police officer, Panya Khamrab, stabbed twenty-four toddlers to death at the nursery. CNN reporter Anna Coren and cameraman Daniel Hodge entered the building on Saturday, filming unsupervised at a crime scene that had been cordoned off by police. In her report, Coren described, and Hodge filmed, “the bloodstains splattered across the floor.” (CNN has since deleted the video from its website.)

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand took the unusual step of issuing a statement strongly criticising the CNN journalists, describing their actions as “unprofessional and a serious breach of journalistic ethics in crime reporting.” In its initial response to this and other criticism, CNN attempted to justify the filming, stating that “three public health officials exiting the building spoke to the team and told them they could film inside.”

Clearly, insofar as permission was given, it was cursory and informal. A later, more conciliatory CNN statement clarified that “these officials were not authorized to grant this permission.” The two journalists were arrested on trespassing charges, and were also found to be working without visas. They were given a nominal fine of 5,000 baht, on the condition that they filmed an apology. (Coren offered her “deepest apologies to the people of Thailand, especially the families of the victims of this tragedy.”)

07 October 2022

“What’s being alleged is that Dyson is guilty of wrongdoing...”



James Dyson is suing Channel 4 and ITN for libel over their coverage of labour abuses at a Malaysian factory. In a report broadcast on 10th February, Channel 4 News claimed that “behind the professional image Dyson likes to portray, there’s a dark side to its supply chain, with claims of exploitation, intimidation, and even torture.”

Dyson’s defamation lawsuit does not dispute the allegations made by the factory workers. Instead, the case concerns the programme’s focus on Dyson’s company rather than the factory owner, ATA. At a court hearing in London yesterday, Dyson’s lawyer highlighted the news report’s conflation of ATA and Dyson: “Nobody disputes that this was taking place at ATA... What’s being alleged is that Dyson is guilty of wrongdoing.”

04 October 2022

“The big lie...”


State of the Union

Donald Trump has launched a defamation lawsuit against CNN, accusing them of maliciously comparing him to Hitler. CNN has used the phrase ‘the big lie’ as an umbrella term to describe Trump’s false statements about the 2020 presidential election result, to distinguish these immensely consequential falsehoods from the 30,000 other misleading claims he made during his presidency (as catalogued by The Washington Post). Trump’s lawsuit alleges, however, that ‘the big lie’ “is a direct reference to a tactic employed by Adolf Hitler and appearing in Hitler’s Mein Kampf.”

Hitler did indeed use the term ‘the big lie’ in his autobiography Mein Kampf (‘my struggle’), though he regarded it as a Jewish propaganda tactic, not as a strategy that he himself endorsed. (Specifically, he argued that General Erich Ludendorff was made a scapegoat for Germany’s defeat in World War I, and that this ‘big lie’ was paradoxically more believable.) Thus, ‘the big lie’ has no fascistic implications, as the term was used only pejoratively by Hitler. On the other hand, Trump has repeatedly described the mainstream media as “the enemy of the people”, a phrase associated with Communist dictators such as Stalin.

Trump’s lawsuit, issued yesterday, cites several CNN blog posts by Chris Cillizza, and also singles out an episode of State of the Union as defamatory. In the episode, broadcast on 16th Janaury, host Jake Tapper referred to Trump’s “deranged election lies.” Trump is seeking $475 million in damages, though the ubiquity of the phrase ‘the big lie’—it has been used by many writers and news organisations, not only CNN—makes it highly likely that the case will be dismissed.

01 October 2022

“A relentless barrage of highly personal attacks...”


The Mail on Sunday

The long-running BBC1 satirical panel show Have I Got News for You marked the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership with a special episode titled Have I Got News for Boris on 2nd September. The programme recounted Johnson’s numerous scandals (such as unlawfully proroguing parliament and breaking coronavirus pandemic restrictions), though two words in the script—“cosmic cunt”—led to tabloid outrage two days later. The Mail on Sunday’s front-page headline on 4th September was “BBC COMIC’S C-WORD JIBE AGAINST PM”.

The Mail accused presenter Jack Dee of insulting Johnson, though in fact the alliterative pejorative was a quote from The Times, which attributed it to an unnamed cabinet minister in an article published on 9th July. The Mail’s hyperbolic description of the show as “a relentless barrage of highly personal attacks” and “a torrent of ‘spiteful and crass insults’” is an indication of its anti-BBC bias.

Daily Star / The Sun / The Mail on Sunday

There have been two previous front-page tabloid headlines about the c-word. On 4th February 2017, The Sun (“BECKS C-WORD FURY AT ‘SIR’ SNUB”) reported a leaked email in which ex-footballer David Beckham called the Honours Committee “unappreciative cunts”. (Beckham had obtained an injunction preventing The Sunday Times from publishing the email, though other papers were not bound by it.) On 15th May 2015, the Daily Star (“BEEB CALLS FARAGE C-WORD ON TELLY”) gleefully highlighted a slip of the tongue by journalist Norman Smith, who referred to politician Nigel Farage as a “cunt” rather than a ‘cult’ during a live BBC News TV report.

23 September 2022

The Lord of the Rings:
The Rings of Power


The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films (An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, and The Battle of the Five Armies) were prequels to his Lord of the Rings trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King), making the blockbuster new Amazon Prime Video series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power a prequel to the prequels. Released on 2nd September and directed by J.A. Bayona (who made The Impossible), the series is Prime Video’s first major franchise, and another escalation in the vast original-content budgets of the streaming platforms.

At a cost of $465 million, the first season of The Rings of Power averages $58 million per episode. (Compare that to Boardwalk Empire, with its $18 million pilot, which set records a decade ago.) So, on a per-episode basis, The Rings of Power is the most expensive show in the history of television. Yet it feels entirely cinematic rather than televisual: as in the original film trilogies, there are sweeping aerial shots of New Zealand’s vistas (filmed with drones this time, rather than helicopters) and theme music by Howard Shore. This epic spectacle is impressive, though stilted performances in the Elven sequences highlight the lack of A-list actors.

22 August 2022

The Genius of Prince


Prince Vanity Fair The Genius of Prince

The US Supreme Court will rule later this year on a long-running copyright lawsuit between photographer Lynn Goldsmith and the Andy Warhol Foundation. Warhol was commissioned by Vanity Fair to create a portrait of Prince, and the magazine paid Goldsmith for the rights to use her black-and-white Prince photograph as the basis for Warhol’s painting. Both Warhol and Goldsmith were credited when the image was published in the November 1984 issue (on p. 67), to illustrate an article titled Purple Fame.

The dispute stems not from that original publication, but from a commemorative magazine, The Genius of Prince, released in 2016 by the publisher of Vanity Fair. The cover illustration for The Genius of Prince was another Warhol portrait, also based on Goldsmith’s photo, and this time she wasn’t credited. Goldsmith sued the Warhol Foundation, though the Foundation counter-sued and argued that Warhol’s manipulation of her image was sufficiently transformative that it did not infringe her copyright.

The precedent for transformative works constituting fair use dates to a 1993 Supreme Court verdict that permitted The 2 Live Crew’s sampling of Roy Orbison’s single Oh, Pretty Woman. Even more directly relevant is the case of another photographer, Patrick Cariou, who sued the artist Richard Prince for copyright infringement. In that instance, most of Prince’s images were deemed fair use, though the legal status of five works remains unresolved, as the appeals court was unable to “make a determination about their transformative nature” and the case was ultimately settled out of court.

15 August 2022

Uninspired by Current Events:
Sorry Stories


Uninspired by Current Events

Saratta Chuengsatiansup, the artist behind the Uninspired by Current Events page on Facebook, has released a book of his work. Uninspired by Current Events: Sorry Stories reproduces some of the digital artworks he has been posting daily since last year, alongside a handful of new images.

Despite the ironic disclaimer in its title, Uninspired by Current Events provides a topical, satirical commentary on Thai news and politics. The book also features short poems, in both English and Thai, to accompany each illustration, and the poetry is as sharp and subversive as the images themselves.