27 September 2006

Good Boy

Good Boy
Michael Dickinson has been acquitted of all charges relating to his collage Best In Show. However, he now faces similar charges in relation to a new work, Good Boy, again portraying Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a dog. Last year, another Turkish cartoonist was fined for portraying Erdoğan as a cat.

25 September 2006

Advertising Is Dead

Advertising Is Dead
Advertising Is Dead: Long Live Advertising! is Tom Himpe's new survey of unconventional advertising campaigns. As Naomi Klein explained in No Logo, commercialism and branding are increasingly dominating every available surface area, and Himpe presents some of the most unusual and inventive examples of this visual space invasion. (Klein and Himpe are, of course, writing from opposite ideological positions: Klein condems branding, whereas Himpe actively promotes it.)

Himpe is an advertising copywriter, and his book is primarily a manual for other creatives on how to produce distinctive campaigns. For general readers outside the industry, the book's illustrations of specific adverts serve as the first detailed overview of this new field of graphic design.

Exactly how to label this new field is a matter of debate. 'Ambient advertising' suggests an encroachment into new territories and environments, as advertising appropriates non-traditional spaces (i.e., beyond billboards). 'Guerrilla advertising' implies a certain subterfuge or underhand unconventionality. Himpe cites both labels, and others, though doesn't settle for any of them as an umbrella term. (Tony Kaye's preferred term, 'hype art', is unfortunately not included.)

Advertising Is Dead's only serious rival is Guerrilla Advertising, from increasingly interesting art publisher Laurence King. However, its selection of examples is far less interesting than Himpe's (the only exception being Red Bull in Worms 3D, the first example of computer game product-placement, which is covered in Guerrilla Advertising though not by Himpe).

The book organises its examples into a series of fascinating categories, including Intrusion (unconventional spaces, such as the Hans Brinker hotel logo pinned to dog excrement on the street), Transformation (metamorphosis, for example the Volkswagen ice sculpture parked in London for a day), Installation (a huge pile of empty plastic bottles in Cape Town, resembling a scene from the Thai film Citizen Dog), Illusion (trompe l'oeil effects, such as a Nike poster whose perspective matches its surroundings), and Sensation (campaigns which interact with our senses, as in the cinema air-conditioner suffused with Panettone in Brazil).

Advertising Is Dead is not a definitive survey of ambient/guerrilla campaigns, though it is the first detailed study. The examples occupy the majority of the book, with little real analysis or history. (A comprehensive account is yet to be written; indeed, there has not yet been a comprehensive history of advertising in general published so far.) As a sourcebook of illustrations, it's unsurpassed, although my favourite example is sadly not included: the Puma contact-lenses worn by Linford Christie in 1996, surely the most ingenious instance of branded space.

Holy War

Holy War
Holy War
In January, Fresh Baked Video Games, a programme on American channel Spike TV, created a trailer for a fake computer game called Holy War, in which various religious figures fight to the death. One sequence showed Mohammed defeating Mormon founder Joseph Smith, and another featured Moses beheading Mohammed.
The Holy War sequence was broadcast after the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed caricatures were published, though before their international condemnation.

24 September 2006

World Trade Center

World Trade Center
World Trade Center is Oliver Stone's take on the New York terrorist attacks of '9/11' (11th September 2001). Stone is really the only director with the pedigree for such a project, as he has previously tackled major American political events such as the Vietnam war (Platoon and Born On The 4th Of July), the Kennedy assassination (JFK), and Watergate (Nixon).

The difference this time is that Stone's film has no agenda. He is at his best with provocative historical revisionism, most notably in JFK, though with World Trade Center he takes no stand and instead depoliticises his subject-matter.

Kubrick once commented that although the Holocaust involved the deaths of millions of Jews, Schindler's List was instead about hundreds of Jews who survived. The same argument can be used in the case of World Trade Center: 2,602 people were killed in New York, though the film is primarily about two people who lived. The film does not successfully convey the scale of the devastation in New York and across America. The impacts of the planes and the collapsing of the towers are not depicted in the film, perhaps because of the ubiquity of such images in the news media.

The film would be dramatically improved with the omission of two short (and cliched) sequences. A montage of peoples from various countries and cultures, all watching open-mouthed as the towers collapse on CNN, propagates the rather offensive notion that the attack on the World Trade Center was an event which shook the entire world. Other countries are facing indirect repercussions, such as increased security, though the tragedy of 11th September was largely an American tragedy. Also, when one of the trapped men slips into unconsciousness, we actually see his vision of Jesus, bathed in white. Idyllic flashbacks are one thing, though Jesus and the tunnel of light represent a step too far.

Defending Denmark

The Danish political party Dansk Folkeparti asked a group of students to draw Mohammed cartoons, in a parody of the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed caricatures. The event was filmed by Martin Rosengaard Knudsen as part of his (racist, anti-immigration) Defending Denmark campaign, and was broadcast on television by DR last month.

23 September 2006

L'Affaire Des Caricatures

L'Affaire Des Caricatures
L'Affaire Des Caricatures, a book by Mohamed Sifaoui about the international reaction to the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed caricatures, has been published in France. It includes a new cartoon of Mohammed on the cover.

19 September 2006

coup d'état

King Bhumibol, Queen Sirikit, Prem Tinsulanonda, Sonthi Boonyaratglin
We have just heard that there has been a military coup against the government in Bangkok, led by army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin. The army has taken control of Government House and is also controlling all TV stations. The coup appears to be an act of support for the King by the army, which thankfully suggests that it will be non-violent.

Thaksin Shinawatra was able to broadcast a brief message on Channel 9, declaring a state of emergency, before the army took over the signal. However, as he is currently at the UN in New York, Thaksin's influence in Thailand is now practically non-existent.

Thailand has a long history of military coups, though the last one was more than a decade ago and there had been progress towards a stable democracy. Yet another coup is the last thing Thailand needs, though an army spokesman has appeared on TV to assure us that they will return power to a democratic government as soon as possible.

18 September 2006

Contemporary American Cinema

Contemporary American Cinema
Contemporary American Cinema, edited by Linda Ruth Williams and Michael Hammond, is the first book to attempt a truly comprehensive examination of post-classical cinema (that is, American filmmaking since 1960, after Hollywood's golden age).

The book implicitly positions itself as an unofficial sequel to The Classical Hollywood Cinema (by David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, and Janet Staiger). It was only published this year, so only time will tell if it can earn as high a reputation as Bordwell et al., though it does gain instant significance as the first study of its kind.

Major trends are all covered in some depth: the decline of the studio system and the rise of New Hollywood in the 1960s, big-budget blockbusters in the 1970s, bombastic action movies and indie cinema in the 1980s, and "Smart Cinema" in the 1990s. (Maybe it's still too soon for a clear appreciation of 1990s cinema, as the "Smart Cinema" tag doesn't seem substantial enough.)

Of the book's contributors, only Kim Newman really stands out, though co-editor Linda Ruth Williams and her husband and co-writer, Mark Kermode, are also excellent writers. I can't help but contrast Contemporary American Cinema with The Oxford History Of World Film, whose format is similar though whose collection of contributors and essays is far superior. That may be an unfair comparison, though I make it only because, in their introduction, Williams and Hammond say that they commissioned "some of the best film writers and academics in the world" to write "a series of first-class essays".

Although it was written as a university film studies textbook, complete with suggested essay questions, it can also be read as a work of general film history. As a survey of trends in American cinema circa 1960-2000, it's a unique and important book.

02 September 2006

Blue Peanuts

Blue Peanuts
Blue Peanuts is an obscure short film which was originally distributed on VHS alongside Apocalypse Pooh. It features a Peanuts cartoon hilariously overdubbed with Dennis Hopper's profane dialogue from Blue Velvet.

01 September 2006

Apocalypse Pooh

Apocalypse Pooh
Apocalypse Pooh is a combination of Apocalypse Now and Winnie The Pooh & The Blustery Day: clips from the cartoon set to the film's soundtrack, and vice-versa. So, Winnie becomes Martin Sheen's Willard, Piglet becomes Dennis Hopper's manic photojournalist, and Marlon Brando's Kurtz becomes Eeyore.

It was directed by Todd Graham in 1987, and has circulated on VHS. It's arguably the first-ever Mashup film, as it synchronises audio and video from two different sources; it can even lay claim to being the first AMV (anime music video) avant la lettre, as it includes Winnie flying a kite set to Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones.

29 August 2006

The King Never Smiles

The King Never Smiles
The King Never Smiles
Paul M Handley's unauthorised biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, The King Never Smiles, is unique in that it does not subscribe to the conventional hagiographic view of Bhumibol's reign. The book cannot be sold in Thailand, due to the country's lèse-majesté law, which prohibits any criticism of the King, the Queen, or the Crown Prince.

[Lèse-majesté is broadly interpreted, strictly enforced, and harshly punished in Thailand. Bail is denied for lèse-majesté suspects, trials are held in camera, and the maximum sentence is a jail term of fifteen years. Material subject to a lèse-majesté investigation cannot be quoted or published for legal reasons.]

23 August 2006

Depth Of Field

Depth Of Field
There have been analyses of Kubrick's career by individual writers, and monographs on his individual films, though Depth Of Field: Stanley Kubrick, Film, & The Uses Of History (edited by Geoffrey Cocks, James Diedrick, and Glenn Perusek) presents, for the first time, an anthology on Kubrick's films and themes by a broad range of authors. The impressive list of contributors includes Kubrick's script-collaborators Frederic Raphael and Diane Johnson, Kubrick biographer Vincent LoBrutto, and veteran film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

In his essay The Pumpkinification Of Stanley K, Raphael punctuates extended classical allusions with occasional references to his disappointment upon viewing Eyes Wide Shut, the film he co-wrote. He is unrepentant regarding the criticism he received for his self-serving memoir, Eyes Wide Open.

The most bizarre essay is Death By Typewriter, in which Geoffrey Cocks homes in on tiny, insignificant details in order to demonstrate (unsuccessfully) that The Shining is actually a metaphor for the Holocaust. Cocks demonstrates an obsessive interest in trivial minutiae; for some unclear reason, he wants us to realise that the number seven recurs throughout the film, in increasingly obscure and unlikely manifestations. Hilariously, he suggests that, in A Clockwork Orange, the line "You see that shoe?" is a deliberate echo of "You see that, Jew?". (In Annie Hall, this kind of paranoia is played for laughs: "Not 'D'you eat?', but 'Jew eat'".)

The book provides a useful opportunity to explore Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut, with the benefit of hindsight, reassessing its initial critical response. (Kubrick's films often received mixed reviews on first release, only to be re-evaluated several years later.) Tim Kreider does this most successfully in the final chapter, Introducing Sociology.

22 August 2006

Snakes On A Plane

Snakes On A Plane
It has Samuel L Jackson shouting at people! It has airborne peril with no pilot and no windows! It has a Jurassic Park-style tense manual electrics reboot! It has so-bad-it's-good B-movie dialogue! Most importantly, it has [ahem] snakes on a [ahem] plane. It's Snakes On A Plane (directed by David R Ellis) - it does exactly what it says on the tin.

The Libertine

The Libertine
In Laurence Dunmore's The Libertine, Johnny Depp plays John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and scandalous Restoration poet. Rochester wrote some of the bawdiest poetry in English literature, and his life was as debauched as his art.

The Libertine, though set in the 17th century, does not follow traditional period film conventions (a la A Cock & Bull Story). It could hardly be described as a costume drama; it has none of the restrained formalities of the genre. Ornate sets are replaced by murky taverns and dark back-streets.

Also, the camera is frequently hand-held, which, combined with Rochester's atheism and amorality, gives the film a feeling of contemporariness in both style and tone.

21 August 2006

A Cock & Bull Story

A Cock & Bull Story
Tristram Shandy (arguably the first work of post-modern art, 200 years avant la lettre) is one of those 'unfilmable' novels, like Naked Lunch and Ulysses, or, for different reasons, Lolita. Those novels have all been filmed, of course, though they can still be described as unfilmable. The film versions of Naked Lunch and Ulysses were unable to reproduce the novels' anarchic streams-of-consciousness. Kubrick's Lolita was a masterpiece, and was scripted by the novel's author himself, though it replaced the book's erotic travelogue with comedy and social satire. (The later remake had fewer censorship problems, though it lacks the merits of either the novel or the original film.)

Now Tristram Shandy has been filmed, too, as A Cock & Bull Story (by Michael Winterbottom). The novel's formal eccentricities haven't quite been replicated in the film version, though its unique narrative style has been successfully transferred and even expanded.

The novel is ostensibly autobiographical, with Tristram Shandy recounting the events of his life, though he is side-tracked by numerous digressions and he frequently interrupts the narrative in order to comment on the very process of autobiographical writing. This structure has been retained by the film, which stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (both TV comedians). Coogan, playing Shandy, steps in and out of character throughout the film, alternating between Shandy, Shandy's father, and himself.

The film's 'in period' scenes (replicating the 18th century novel) are outnumbered by contemporary sequences in which Coogan and Brydon comment on their performances and, backstage, the producers review the rushes and rewrite the script as they go along. Thus, we see Coogan in the make-up trailer preparing for a scene, then performing it on the set, then turning to camera and commenting on the material. We are even shown him being interviewed for a supposed extra feature to be added to the film's DVD.

The funniest scenes are the improvised mock-rivalries between Coogan and Brydon. As they banter backstage, Brydon (are his teeth off-white, or yellow?) and Coogan (why don't his shoes make him seem taller?) both parody their own insecurities. Hilariously, Brydon even imitates Coogan's TV character, Alan Partridge, and Coogan spends much of the film in a futile attempt to disassociate himself from Partridge, the character that made him famous.

A Cock & Bull Story has deliberate echoes of other 18th century period films (it shares music cues with Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, for instance), though, more surprisingly, it has much in common with the films of Woody Allen. In Annie Hall, for example, the adult Allen observes and comments on re-enacted scenes of his childhood. The similarity is most striking in Stardust Memories, in which Allen plays a neurotic film comedian, an exaggerated version of himself. (However, Allen denies any autobiographical element, and feigns surprise when critics associate him with his Stardust Memories character.) A Cock & Bull Story and Stardust Memories both end in the same way, with the actors in a screening-room watching the film and, as it finishes, assessing its quality and discussing their own performances.

10 August 2006

Die Besten Filme Aller Zeiten

Cinema
The German magazine Cinema, in its July issue, has published a list of the 100 greatest films ever made, based on votes from readers:

1. The Lord Of The Rings I-III
2. Pulp Fiction
3. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
4. The Matrix
5. The Godfather
6. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
7. Fight Club
8. Titanic
9. The Godfather II
10. Forrest Gump
11. Gladiator
12. Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith
13. Star Wars VI: Return Of The Jedi
14. Sin City
15. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
16. Braveheart
17. Schindler's List
18. Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
19. Seven
20. Terminator II: Judgment Day
21. The Silence Of The Lambs
22. The Godfather III
23. Kill Bill I
24. Once Upon A Time In The West
25. Die Hard
26. American Beauty
27. Star Wars II: Attack Of The Clones
28. Ice Age
29. High Noon
30. Alien
31. Leon
32. Brokeback Mountain
33. Dirty Dancing
34. Amelie
35. Dances With Wolves
36. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
37. The Shawshank Redemption
38. Saw
39. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
40. Some Like It Hot
41. Gone With The Wind
42. Once Upon A Time In America
43. King Kong
44. Moulin Rouge!
45. The Big Lebowski
46. The Blues Brothers
47. Donnie Darko
48. Casablanca
49. Crash
50. Back To The Future
51. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
52. From Dusk Till Dawn
53. Pretty Woman
54. Memento
55. Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire
56. The Usual Suspects
57. Die Hard II: Die Harder
58. Walk The Line
59. Monty Python's Life Of Brian
60. Dead Poets Society
61. Shrek
62. Garden State
63. Kill Bill II
64. Lost In Translation
65. Scarface
66. Aliens
67. A Clockwork Orange
68. Heat
69. Saving Private Ryan
70. Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone
71. Spider-Man
72. Apocalypse Now
73. Blade Runner
74. Spider-Man II
75. The Thirteenth Floor
76. Die Hard III
77. Batman Begins
78. Face/Off
79. Shrek II
80. Taxi Driver
81. The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
82. Cruel Intentions
83. The Sixth Sense
84. LA Confidential
85. Lethal Weapon
86. Love Actually
87. 1492: Conquest Of Paradise
88. Life Is Beautiful
89. Psycho
90. The Terminator
91. Murder She Said
92. City Of God
93. Million Dollar Baby
94. Reservoir Dogs
95. GoodFellas
96. Snatch
97. Armageddon
98. Big Fish
99. Finding Nemo
100. Independence Day

The magazine previously surveyed its readers in 2000, when their #1 choice was Schindler's List. What's surprising about this new list is the embracing of entire trilogies: Die Hard I-III are all included, as are The Godfather I-III. (Die Hard II-III and The Godfather III are usually [and rightly] ignored in such lists.) Uniquely, all six Star Wars films are included: not only the original trilogy (Star Wars IV-VI) but also the disappointing later trilogy (Star Wars I-III). With so many sequels and trilogies given individual entries, it seems strange to lump the Lord Of The Rings trilogy all together as one entry. There is a general preference for more recent films, as in most polls derived from public votes: King Kong is the Peter Jackson remake, and Scarface is the Brian de Palma remake. Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy. Note also that Crash is the Paul Haggis Oscar-winner, not the scandalous David Cronenberg film, and Titanic is the James Cameron version.

31 July 2006

The Last Supper

The Last Supper
Damien Hirst's series The Last Supper (produced in 1999) will be on show next month at 100 Tonson in Bangkok, as part of a British Council exhibition called Monologue/Dialogue (throughout August). The Last Supper is a group of thirteen screenprints, designed to resemble the labels and boxes of pharmaceutical products though given the names of traditional British foods (steak and kidney pie, chips, Cornish pasty, etc.).

Several of the images include a clearly phallic fake company logo, suggesting that, on one level at least, Hirst's combination of pills and pub grub can be taken as a wry joke. They also suggest the 'space food' eaten - or presumed to be eaten - by astronauts, and the futuristic food in pill form which has been predicted for decades yet has not yet materialised. More seriously, they comment on the increasing amount of artificial additives found in processed foods.

With its emphasis on product packaging, The Last Supper has a superficial connection to Pop Art, though Hirst's images are more muted and clinical than Andy Warhol's bright, garish Brillo boxes and Campbell's screenprints. The Last Supper was produced in an edition of 150, an unusually high quantity for Hirst, echoing Warhol's love of multiple copies.

The thirteen images of The Last Supper signify Christ and the disciples, originally represented in the Gospels and, of course, in Leonardo da Vinci's Milan mural. Hirst himself has also represented Jesus and the disciples in other forms: in Twelve Disciples (1994), the twelve followers were each represented by cows' heads in tanks, with Jesus represented by an empty tank; in The Apostles (2003), each disciple was symbolised by a medicine cabinet filled with found objects, with Jesus represented by an empty cabinet. Most recently, in The Stations Of The Cross (2004, a photographic series by Hirst and David Bailey), Jesus was depicted as a nude woman with a cow's head.

The Apostles, part of Hirst's fascinating exhibition Romance In The Age Of Uncertainty, emphasised the suffering and deaths of the disciples, the cabinets - stained with blood and containing skulls, bones, and weapons - becoming physical manifestations of the bodies of the apostles themselves. The Last Supper is also a reference to death, though the theological element is less explicit.

Although there are thirteen screenprints in The Last Supper, representing the thirteen people at the Biblical last supper, each image does not stand explicitly for a specific person in the way that the cabinets and cows' heads do. Rather, the Last Supper of the title can be seen as a comment on our own reliance on pills to prolong our lives, the implication being that each tablet, or each meal, could be our last.

Science, medication, and pharmaceuticals are recurring themes in Hirst's work. He has produced a series of medicine cabinets filled with pill boxes (Modern Medicine, 1989-1993), and his long-running geometric 'spot paintings' all illustrate chemical compounds. He created a full-scale replica of a chemist's shop, Pharmacy (1992). His restaurant, Pharmacy, was in business from 1997-2003, and one of his companies is called Science Ltd. His epic monograph I Want To Spend The Rest Of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone, One To One, Always, Forever, Now (1997) takes science as its design theme, and the catalogue of Hirst's work from the Saatchi collection (2001) itself imitates the typography of The Last Supper.

Ultimately, Hirst's installations (the animals in formaldehyde, the medical cabinets, etc.) are more substantial than these screenprints. Also, for a more contemplative contemporary last supper, we can turn to Chris Ofili's The Upper Room (1992), a stunning group of thirteen paintings, each depicting a rhesus monkey, installed in a beautiful walnut-panelled room with soft lighting. However, Hirst is one of the most significant of all contemporary artists, so any exhibition of his work is an important artistic event in Bangkok.

23 July 2006

The Suspended Moment

The Suspended Moment
The Suspended Moment is a touring exhibition of works from the collection of Han Nefkens, currently on show in Bangkok from 6th-30th July. In her catalogue introduction, curator Hilde Teerlinck interprets the title as an instant frozen in time ("A Split Second"), which she describes as "the instantaneousness and transience of a moment". This recalls the 'decisive moment' philosophy of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Teerlinck doesn't cite Cartier-Bresson, though she does mention another interesting parallel. She notes a thematic correlation between the novel Girlfriend In A Coma - specifically its chapter titled "Dreaming even though you're wide awake" - and Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

The concept of the exhibition is explored most literally in Blast, Naoya Hatakeyama's series of dramatic rock explosion photographs, in which the enormous energy of the blasts is eternally frozen. Otto Berchem's installation, Deadheading - a vase of stalks on a pedestal, with the flower heads scattered on the floor below - demonstrates the fragility of time, and the transience of perfection. Highly acclaimed Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook's video Conversation, in which she speaks to a group of shrouded corpses, takes Berchem's concept to its logical conclusion.

More than the artworks themselves, however, the most important thing about The Suspended Moment is the very fact that it is on show in Bangkok. Such international group exhibitions of contemporary, conceptual art, in such diverse media (video, installation, painting, photography, and sculpture), are rare indeed in this city. The exhibition has been split into three venues (PSG, Tadu, and 100 Tonson), some of which are better organised than others, though when the forthcoming contemporary culture building is finished Bangkok will have a truly modern space large enough to accommodate such exhibitions, and will hopefully attract or even produce many more of them.

18 July 2006

50 Films To See Before You Die

Channel 4's film channel, Film4, has produced a list of 50 Films To See Before You Die, as follows:

1. Apocalypse Now
2. The Apartment
3. City Of God
4. Chinatown
5. Sexy Beast
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. North By Northwest
8. Breathless
9. Donnie Darko
10. Manhattan
11. Alien
12. Lost In Translation
13. The Shawshank Redemption
14. Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India
15. Pulp Fiction
16. Touch Of Evil
17. Walkabout
18. Black Narcissus
19. Boyz 'n The Hood
20. The Player
21. Come & See
22. Heavenly Creatures
23. A Night At The Opera
24. Erin Brockovich
25. Trainspotting
26. The Breakfast Club
27. Hero
28. Fanny & Alexander
29. Pink Flamingos
30. All About Eve
31. Scarface
32. Terminator II
33. Three Colours: Blue
34. The Royal Tenenbaums
35. The Ladykillers
36. Fight Club
37. The Searchers
38. Mulholland Drive
39. The Ipcress File
40. The King of Comedy
41. Manhunter
42. Dawn Of The Dead
43. Princess Mononoke
44. Raising Arizona
45. Cabaret
46. This Sporting Life
47. Brazil
48. Aguirre: The Wrath Of God
49. Secrets & Lies
50. Badlands

This list was selected by a committee including David Puttnam, Jason Solomons, Karen Krizanovich, Tessa Ross, and Menhaj Huda. Like the recent list by Andrew Collins, The Godfather and Citizen Kane are inexplicably omitted. Scarface is the remake rather than the Howard Hawks original.

How To Be A Film Buff

Andrew Collins, film critic for Radio Times magazine, has produced a list of twenty-five essential films, called How To Be A Film Buff. Each entry also has an alternative, making a total of fifty films. The full list is as follows:
  • Casablanca (or Citizen Kane)
  • The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (or Nosferatu)
  • Blade Runner (or 2001: A Space Odyssey)
  • A Matter Of Life & Death (or The Red Shoes)
  • Out Of The Past (or The Big Sleep)
  • La Dolce Vita (or Bicycle Thieves)
  • High Noon (or The Searchers)
  • Rear Window (or Psycho)
  • The Hidden Fortress (or Rashomon)
  • Bonnie & Clyde (or Easy Rider)
  • Bringing Up Baby (or His Girl Friday)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
  • Un Chien Andalou (or L'Age d'Or)
  • Armageddon (or Con Air)
  • Heaven's Gate (or Dances With Wolves)
  • Annie Hall (or Manhattan)
  • Singin' In The Rain (or An American In Paris)
  • Paths Of Glory (or A Few Good Men)
  • Performance (or Blow-Up)
  • Bride Of Frankenstein (or Dracula)
  • Blackboards (or The Apple)
  • The Day The Earth Stood Still (or Invasion Of The Body-Snatchers)
  • Pulp Fiction (or Reservoir Dogs)
  • Shoah (or Night & Fog)
  • Winter Light (or The Silence)
Mostly, the alternate choices are films of equal quality to their main counterparts, though not in all cases. Bride Of Frankenstein, for example, is paired with the much weaker Dracula. (Paths Of Glory has A Few Good Men as its alternate choice, but I think we all know that, in this case, no alternative is necessary, least of all A Few Good Men.) It's strange that La Dolce Vita and Bicycle Thieves are paired, as they seem more like opposites. There is a choice between Armageddon or Con Air - how about a third choice of 'neither'?

There is a distinct lack of epics here: no Gone With The Wind, no Metropolis, no Apocalypse Now, and no Lawrence Of Arabia. Unusual, and certainly regrettable, is the lack of The Godfather. The biggest surprise, though, is that Citizen Kane is one of the alternative choices and not on the main list: it's an essential film, especially in a list titled How To Be A Film Buff.

An Encyclopedia Of Swearing

An Encyclopedia Of Swearing
Geoffrey Hughes's 1991 book Swearing is still the only serious academic text on the subject, though it's quite thin and its sources are now outdated. So his new book, the much expanded (though not significantly updated) An Encyclopedia Of Swearing, is a milestone in the field.

The Encyclopedia includes entries for key historical periods (such as medieval, Renaissance, and Restoration), significant writers and texts (including William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Lady Chatterley's Lover), and swearwords themselves. Of course, I turned first to one entry in particular. The entry for this word discusses medieval usage, a brief (Germanic and Latin) etymology, the Earl of Rochester, and two outdated variants. There is no mention of feminist reappropriation, though, and no discussion of contemporary usage.

In his introduction, Hughes explains that the book is not a dictionary - it does not include a comprehensive list of all known swear words. (For a better analysis of offensive words, see Hugh Rawson's Dictionary Of Invective; for a definitive list of terms, see Jonathon Green's Cassell Dictionary Of Slang.) As an encyclopedia, however, this new book is valuable for its account of the history of swearing - a history often summarised, though rarely described in as much detail as found in Hughes's Encyclopedia.

There are brief repetitions throughout the book, with several anecdotes and quotations duplicated in different entries. Also, he writes that Mary Whitehouse personally influenced Kubrick's decision to withdraw A Clockwork Orange from the UK: "Her objection... led to the director withdrawing the film from showings in Britain", though in reality Kubrick's action was a result of death threats his family received.

The Encyclopedia provides a necessary historical account of swearing, though its sources don't seem sufficiently up-to-date. There are a couple of token references to HBO, though Hughes appears much more comfortable when quoting from medieval manuscripts than from contemporary popular culture.

14 July 2006

Solo

Solo
Bangkok's annual French arts festival, La Fete, ended yesterday with Solo, a modern dance performance by Philippe Decoufle (first performed in 2004). It was amusing and entertaining, though a bit too whimsical, with tricks and jokes in place of substance.

The performance began with Decoufle explaining that dance is essentially autobiographical, prompting him to sit at a desk and show us snapshots of his friends and family. This may have demonstrated his charm, though it had nothing whatsoever to do with modern dance.

After this quirky introduction, the performance developed into a multi-media spectacle. Using video cameras and projectors, Decoufle was able to interact with a reversed projection of his own image. With another camera, he could infinitely replicate his every movement on a large screen behind him, in a tribute to Busby Berkeley's musical choreography.

It was the Berkeley tribute section that was the most impressive in the show. Somehow, the multiplied images of himself spiralled into the distance, and each one was delayed by a split second, so that, when Decoufle moved, he was followed by a virtual chorus line of his own reflections. (A live video version of the mirrored corridors in Citizen Kane, The Lady From Shanghai, and Enter The Dragon.) Further camera tricks produced a video kaleidoscope of Decoufle's multiplied body.

Decoufle has worked as a clown, a mime, and a filmmaker, and these skills were all central to Solo. Only at the end of the performance did the cameras and screens disappear, leaving the performer isolated (truly solo) and actually dancing.

30 June 2006

I'm Going To Tell You A Secret

I'm Going To Tell You A Secret
Madonna's new live album and documentary both have the same (slightly cumbersome) title, I'm Going To Tell You A Secret. The album includes highlights from the Reinvention Tour, and the documentary, like Truth Or Dare, includes concert footage and backstage sequences.

In the documentary, she is filmed in her car after (I think) the concert I saw, and she says it was her best Reinvention show thus far and her sweatiest show ever. We have an insight into life with Guy Ritchie and her children, though the best material is the live footage of Vogue and Nobody Knows Me. The only downside is that, towards the end, it goes into preachy Kabbalah overdrive.

The album's track-list is: The Beast Within, Vogue, Nobody Knows Me, American Life, Hollywood, Die Another Day, Lament, Like A Prayer, Mother & Father, Imagine, Into The Groove, Music, Holiday, and a demo of I Love New York.

29 June 2006

"Crown Prince Jigme Girlfiend"

Jigme and mystery woman
Earlier this month, Thailand celebrated King Bhumibol's sixtieth anniversary. Royalty from other nations came to join the festivities, and the whole event received extensive, reverent coverage throughout the Thai media. By far the most popular royal guest was Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, heir to the throne of Bhutan. Jigme has set hearts aflutter, and has become quite a pin-up. However, there is one photo of him that can't be distributed.

The most popular Thai web forum (Pantip) and newspaper (Thai Rath) both printed the picture, showing Jigme and an un-named woman. Thai Rath captioned it "Crown Prince Jigme Girlfiend [sic] From Bhutan paparazzi”. Yesterday, the police Department of Special Investigation imposed a ban on any further circulation of the image, though how they intend to enforce this remains unclear. It has been quietly removed from pantip.com's archives.

27 June 2006

The Passion Of The Christ

The Passion Of The Christ
Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ is, according to a recent Entertainment Weekly article, the most controversial film of all time. Roger Ebert has written: "the film is the most violent I have ever seen. It will probably be the most violent you have ever seen." Well, speak for yourself, Roger. The violence is protracted and excruciating, though superlatives are inappropriate.

The film, essentially a passion play, concentrates solely on the final twelve hours of Jesus's life, beginning with his arrest. Christ's near-fatal scourging, his arduous walk along the stations of the cross, and his crucifixion, are all unflinchingly documented. If Jesus did suffer and die for us, these events should certainly be presented unsanitised. A similar representation can be found in Matthias Grunewald's altarpiece The Crucifixion, depicting an emaciated, almost gangrenous Christ. The message, then, is that Christ suffered. However, there seems to be no other message besides this.

Jewish groups accused the film of anti-Semitism, claiming that Jews are portrayed in the film as a baying mob calling for Christ's death and then accepting moral responsibility for it. In fact, though it does occasionally deviate from the New Testament, the narrative is largely traditional. Pontius Pilate is presented as a rather weak leader, sympathetic to Jesus, with Herod depicted as effete and similarly sympathetic. The true villain is Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, who personally demands Jesus's death.

When the Jews bay for Christ's blood, they are merely following Caiaphas's instigations. Thus, the film - like Monty Python's hilarious Life Of Brian - can be seen as a comment on the dearth of independent thought amongst crowds. (Life Of Brian takes this much further, of course, and criticises the unquestioning worship of organised religion itself.)

Best In Show

Best In Show
Michael Dickinson's collage Best In Show has been seized by Turkish police, and the artist faces charges of insulting the Turkish Prime Minister. The collage portrays PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a dog being petted by George W Bush. Last Year, another Turkish cartoonist was fined for depicting Erdoğan as a cat.

14 June 2006

Old School

Old School
I saw Wedding Crashers in February, but that's more of a romantic comedy than a true Frat Pack film. No such luck with Old School - this is pure Frat, and its plot (in which a group of almost-middle-aged men form a fraternity group) actually gave the Frat Pack its name.

Some people think that Will Ferrell is a comedy genius. I am not one of those people. Luke Wilson, like his brother Owen in Wedding Crashers, outshines the other leads. I didn't actually laugh at anything, though.

The film (by Todd Phillips) seems like Fight Club lite, with Vaughn as Brad Pitt and Wilson as Edward Norton. The director says this was a conscious decision, and the similarities between the two films are extensive. There's also a reference to The Graduate, when The Sound Of Silence is played as Ferrell falls into a swimming pool.

Old School is tamer than key frathouse films National Lampoon's Animal House and Porky's, though really there's not much point in making a tame frathouse film. (I saw the unrated version; the theatrical version is even tamer.)

11 June 2006

Bangkok Inside Out

Bangkok Inside Out
Bangkok Inside Out
Bangkok Inside Out, an A-Z guide to the city by Daniel Ziv and Guy Sharett published in 2004, has been banned because it focused too much on the city's drawbacks, including counterfeiting, gambling, and sex-tourism, according to Ladda Tangsuphachai at the Ministry of Culture. The book provides an irreverent and honest account of contemporary Bangkok life, though clearly it's too honest for the Ministry of Culture. In particular, they objected to the chapter about the Patpong nightlife district and a photograph of a topless bar-girl sitting on a man's lap.

The worst part is Ladda's irrational rationale for her censorship. She told Kom Chad Luek on 22nd November last year: "According to the constitution, the press has freedom to publish, so all we can do is to take the problematic books off the shelf." So, she has no power to prevent the publication, but instead she can remove the books after publication. Fortunately, some copies are still on sale, at Bookazine (Silom Complex) in Bangkok.

The case is very similar to that of Bangkok After Dark, a travelogue exploring the "perfumed pleasure palaces" of Bangkok's sex-tourism industry. That book, by Fred Poole (writing under the pen name Andrew Harris), was banned in 1968.

10 June 2006

Harper's

Doron Nissimi
The June issue of American magazine Harper's features a cover story analysing the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons. It also includes an anti-Semitic version of Kurt Westergaard's Mohammed caricature, in which Doron Nissimi has covered the bomb/turban with a Hassidic hat.

08 June 2006

Iran-E-Jomee

Iran
A cartoonist and newspaper editor have been arrested in Iran after cartoons sparked riots in the country last month. The drawings, aimed at children, were published on 12th May in Iran-E-Jomee, a weekly supplement to the state newspaper Iran.

One cartoon depicts a cockroach saying the Azerbaijani word "Namana?" ('what?'), leading to riots by Iranian Azerbaijanis who felt insulted by a cockroach speaking in their language. Cartoonist Mana Neyestani and editor Mehrdad Ghasemfar have been arrested, and the newspaper has been closed down.

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01 June 2006

The Devil's Discus

The Devil's Discus
The Devil's Discus
A Thai translation of Rayne Kruger's book The Devil's Discus, an analysis of the circumstances surrounding the death of King Rama VIII, has been banned. The book was published in English in 1964, and that edition was banned in Thailand upon publication. (Sulak Sivaraksa was investigated for lèse-majesté last year, after publishing an article on Rama VIII's death.)

A Thai translation of The Devil's Discus was submitted by former Prime Minister Pridi Banomyong as evidence to support his defamation lawsuit against the newspaper Siam Rath in 1970. (Pridi, who served as Rama VIII's regent, was one of several people scapegoated for the King's unexplained shooting.) The translation was published anonymously by two Thammasat University students in 1974, and has since been distributed in various samizdat editions. It was officially banned yesterday, after more than thirty years.

25 May 2006

Confessions Tour

Confessions Tour
Madonna's Confessions Tour has begun. The headline-grabber this time is her performance of Live To Tell, during which she wears a crown of thorns and appears crucified on a giant cross. Confessions concentrates primarily on her latest album; it doesn't even include the once-traditional Madonna tour encore, Holiday.

The tour set list is: Future Lovers, Get Together, Like A Virgin, Jump, Live To Tell, Forbidden Love, Isaac, Sorry, I Love New York, Ray Of Light, Let It Will Be, Drowned World/Substitute For Love, Paradise (Not For Me), Music, Erotica, La Isla Bonita, Lucky Star, and Hung Up.

South Park: Cartoon Wars I-II

South Park
South Park
An episode from the current season of South Park has been censored by Comedy Central in the US. The episode - Cartoon Wars II, broadcast on 12th April - was a comment on the American media's refusal to reproduce the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed caricatures. The short sequence featuring Mohammed was replaced by a black screen. Both this episode and the one preceding it (Cartoon Wars I, 5th April) also include parodic censorship of other Mohammed images.

Ironically, however, Mohammed can be seen at the start of every episode in the 2006 season, as he appears in the opening titles sequence. Also, he appeared prominently in the 2002 season's opening titles and the episode Super Best Friends (4th July 2001), and these appearances are not censored when the episodes are repeated or syndicated. Also, last year the FX series 30 Days included a cartoon depiction of Mohammed, in its Muslims & America episode broadcast on 29th June 2005.

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09 May 2006

The Film Snob*s Dictionary

The Film Snob*s Dictionary
This little book (titled The Film Snob*s Dictionary, written with an asterisk instead of an apostrophe) is a crib-sheet for wannabe cineastes. But, while you could flick through this book and gain a basic knowledge of cult cinema, it's always better to actually watch the films themselves.

The entries (by David Kamp and Lawrence Levi) are all slightly critical: mainstream films are derided as populist, and intellectual films are derided as elitist. It seems that there's an agenda to everything, with passion for cinema replaced by reservation and sometimes cynicism. The list of differences between 'films' and 'movies' is very funny, though.

08 May 2006

"A one-party election is not normal..."

The Thai Constitutional Court today announced that the 2nd April general election, won by Thai Rak Thai, was invalid. They decided that the Election Commissioners were biased in favour of TRT, and that new EC regulations regarding polling booths were illegal. For the general election, polling booths were repositioned, so that EC staff could watch people as they voted. The Constitutional Court has declared this a gross invasion of privacy, and scheduled a new general election for 15th October. Thaksin will remain caretaker Prime Minister until the election, but will resign once a new PM is chosen by the winning party.

The Court's decision comes after the King made a rare public intervention in the political situation. In a speech to the Constitutional Court judges, he directly criticised the election, saying "A one-party election is not normal". For the past few months, anti-Thaksin protesters, who wear yellow to signify loyalty to the King, have called for a royally-appointed prime minister, citing article seven of the constitution. However, in his speech the King unequivocally dismissed any such proposal: "Article seven does not empower the King to make a unilateral decision. It talks about constitutional monarchy but does not give the King power to do anything he wants. If the King made a decision, he would overstep his duty and it would be undemocratic".

05 May 2006

Same Sky

Same Sky
Same Sky
The October-December 2005 issue of Same Sky (volume 3, number 4), a radical left-wing Thai journal, has been banned. The editor has been contacted by the police, who claim that the magazine (specifically its interview with Sulak Sivaraksa, publisher of Seeds Of Peace) constitutes lèse-majesté.

Last year, Same Sky distributed a VCD containing footage of the Tak Bai incident (volume 2, number 4). Seventy-eight Muslim protesters suffocated when they were packed into trucks by the military in Tak Bai, and VCDs featuring footage of the incident were banned by the government.

30 April 2006

Misselijke Grappen

Misselijke Grappen
Misselijke Grappen
Pseudonymous Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot has published a book of his cartoons titled Misselijke Grappen. The book includes gratuitously offensive images of Mohammed having sex with his bride Aisha and the writer Anne Frank.

27 April 2006

Ash Red

Ashred Gao Qiang
Late last month, Chinese authorities raided the Ash Red exhibition in Beijing and ordered the removal of more than twenty artworks, including a painting of Mao Zedong by Gao Qiang. Other Mao images were also removed from the exhibition, which had opened a week before the works were confiscated.

25 April 2006

The Lumiere Brothers' First Films

The Lumiere Brothers' First Films
Workers Leaving The Lumiere Factory
The Sprinkler Sprinkled
The documentary The Lumiere Brothers' First Films presents eighty-five of Auguste and Louis Lumiere's earliest works, dated 1895-1897. Their most famous films are all included, such as Workers Leaving The Lumiere Factory (the first film they ever made, thus the first film to be projected), Train Arriving At A Station (especially shocking to its original audience, as it depicts a train heading towards the camera), and The Sprinkler Sprinkled (the very first fictional narrative in cinema).

The films are presented impeccably: windowboxed to prevent cropping, restored from their original negatives, and with no modern graphics obscuring the image. We can see their unusual diagonal perspectives and multi-layered compositions, and the surprising depth of focus the Lumieres achieved. The commentary, by Bernard Tavernier, is passionate and witty.

The films are grouped thematically (children, work, travel, etc.), though this makes it difficult to ascertain their chronological order. It would be useful to have an accompanying list of the French titles and their release dates, though this is certainly a fascinating and priceless documentary compilation nonetheless.

07 April 2006

The Aristocrats

The Aristocrats
The Aristocrats (by Paul Provenza) is a documentary about the world's most offensive joke, supposedly an old Vaudeville tradition recited backstage amongst comedians as a furtive rite of passage. The joke is as follows: a man walks into a talent-agent's office and says, "I have a great act for you". The act consists of multitudinous defilements. After he finishes describing it, the talent-agent asks him what it's called. He replies: "The Aristocrats!". The set-up and punch-line are always the same, with the body of the joke providing an opportunity for extended improvisation.

In this documentary, 100 comedians give their own interpretations of the joke and its significance, with the film effectively representing a barometer of contemporary taboos. Gilbert Gottfried, who was performing in New York a few weeks after the Twin Towers were destroyed, made a 9/11 joke and was heckled by the audience. To recover, he told them The Aristocrats instead, one of the first times it had been performed in public. In the documentary, Gottfried is praised as a fearless pioneer for daring to make The Aristocrats public, however it seems to me that he would have been more daring if he had continued with the 9/11 material.

Our true contemporary taboos are race, sexuality, disability, religion, and terrorism - one comedian not involved in the documentary, Jerry Sadowitz, would have surely contributed the most truly fearless, shocking version of the joke. Having said that, my favourite version of the joke is Howie Mandel's, because he claimed that the only English word his Polish grandmother knew was...

Inside Deep Throat

Inside Deep Throat
Inside Deep Throat, by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, is a documentary about the film Deep Throat. It discusses the making of the film, the backgrounds of its stars and director, the film's distribution, convictions, and cultural impact.

The central argument of this rather polemical film is that Deep Throat represents a triumph of art, pioneering spirit, independent filmmaking, and enlightenment, suppressed by feminists, courts, and governments. The fact is, though, that the independent film movement began in the 1940s and 50s, the sexual revolution happened in the 1960s (both predating Deep Throat), and exploitation films have always been about money rather than art.

Some heavyweight names are interviewed, including Camille Paglia, Linda Williams, and Annie Sprinkle, though they aren't given enough time to develop their arguments. (The DVD commentary track, however, does include extra interview material.) Deep Throat's director (Gerard Damiano) and male star (Harry Reems) also contribute, though Linda Lovelace died shortly before the documentary was filmed.

The most notable omission is Chuck Traynor, Lovelace's husband, who beat her and (perhaps) forced her into making Deep Throat amongst other less savory films. Lovelace's contention that, when we watch Deep Throat, we are watching her being raped, is neither supported nor rejected, though the extent of her consent is an issue that requires the sort of balanced, in-depth analysis missing from this documentary.