08 March 2010

Ten Evil Scenes Of Thai Politic

Ten Evil Scenes Of Thai Politic
A new exhibition by Vasan Sitthiket, titled Ten Evil Scenes Of Thai Politic [sic], opens on 11th March at Number One Gallery, Bangkok. It will close on 3rd April.

Vasan is refreshingly direct in his treatment of politics, sex, and religion. His new paintings, for example, explicitly depict politicians such as Thaksin Shinawatra and Suthep Thaugsuban as thoroughly corrupt figures succumbing to the temptations of sex and money. Some of his video works, including the scatological There Must Be Something Happen, were shown at From Message To Media.

26 February 2010

"To confiscate all of the wealth
of Mr Thaksin would be unfair..."

The Supreme Court ruled today that more than half of Thaksin Shinawatra's assets, frozen in 2007, will now be confiscated. The Assets Examination Committee froze seventy-six billion baht pending the outcome of an anti-corruption investigation, and Thaksin was convicted in absentia in 2008.

Of the total assets in question, forty-six billion baht will be seized, and the remaining thirty billion will be returned. The Supreme Court judge delivering the verdict said: "To confiscate all of the wealth of Mr Thaksin would be unfair".

The Court ruled that Thaksin had attempted to conceal his personal wealth while he served as Prime Minister, by transferring his 48% stake in Shin Corp. to his children. It was his sale of Shin Corp. to Temasek in 2006 that sparked the PAD's anti-Thaksin protests, which led to a coup against him and four subsequent years of political instability.

Circus Christi

Circis Christi
An exhibition at Granada University in Spain has been closed following protests from Catholic groups. The show, Circus Christi by Fernando Bayona, features a series of photographs depicting Jesus as a gay man; he is also shown making love with Mary Magdalene. The exhibition opened on 11th February and closed after less than a week; it was originally scheduled to run until 5th March.

A fantasy scene featuring Jesus and Mary making love, from Martin Scorsese's film The Last Temptation Of Christ, caused controversy in 1989, and DH Lawrence's novella The Escaped Cock (1929) also depicts Jesus and Mary's sexual relationship. Jesus has previously been depicted as gay in two films (Matthias von Fistenberg's Passio, 2007; Ed D Louie's He, 1974), a poem (James Kirkup's The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, 1976), a lithograph (Enrique Chagoya's The Misadventures Of The Romantic Cannibals, 2003), a play (Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi, 1998), and a magazine illustration (Johnny Correa's Resurrection, in The Insurgent, 2006).

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24 February 2010

Enjoying Cursive Writing

Jesus
A series of exercise books for children, Enjoying Cursive Writing I-IV, has provoked violent demonstrations in Batala, India. The books contain a drawing of Jesus holding a can of beer and a cigarette, and their publisher, Ram Mohan Jha, has been arrested.

The image in question, used to illustrate the word 'idol', was sourced from the internet; three years ago, it appeared on the front page of a Malaysian newspaper, Makkal Osai, and it also provoked violent protests when it was published by the Hyderabad newspaper Sakshi on 13th July 2008.

23 February 2010

Game Change

Game Change
Game Change: Obama & The Clintons, McCain & Palin, & The Race Of A Lifetime (also published with the more manageable title Race Of A Lifetime: How Obama Won The White House), by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, is a journalistic account of the 2008 American presidential election campaign. Like Andrew Rawnsley's The End Of The Party (which covers contemporary UK politics), Game Change benefits from hundreds of senior yet unattributed sources.

The book's overall tone is rather gossipy, though it contains numerous revelations. While Barack Obama is certainly an infinitely better President than John McCain would have been, McCain was an amusing presidential candidate during the campaign (with hilarious appearances at the Al Smith Dinner and on Saturday Night Live). Game Change shows that McCain is privately much less entertaining, quoting angry outbursts directed at his wife. Hillary Clinton's aggressive plans to challenge Obama are also discussed, and Sarah Palin is revealed to be even more ignorant than we first thought.

The End Of The Party

The End Of The Party
The End Of The Party: The Rise & Fall Of New Labour is Andrew Rawnsley's sequel to his excellent Servants Of The People. The earlier book is an authoritative account of Tony Blair's first term as British Prime Minister; with the same access to senior yet unattributed sources, The End Of The Party covers Blair's second term and Gordon Brown's succession. Whereas the previous book centred on Brown's rows with Blair (deliberately omitted from Alastair Campbell's The Blair Years), the new volume discusses Brown's bad-tempered relations with his staff.

Despite the international impact of his bank bail-out scheme, Brown's leadership has been heavily criticised after a series of U-turns and chronic presentational failures. There have been at least three internal attempts to remove him as Labour leader, the latest of which (organised by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt, with cabinet ministers offering Brown delayed and qualified support) came too late for Rawnsley's book.

15 February 2010

Nuit & Brouillard

Nuit & Brouillard
The Holocaust documentary Nuit & Brouillard was directed by Alain Resnais, better known for his oblique French New Wave classics Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year At Marienbad. With a poetic narration, it intercuts contemporary footage of the concentration camp at Auschwitz with archive footage of dying and dead Holocaust victims.

Scenes of bodies bulldozed into mass graves shocked audiences even ten years after the atrocities took place, though arguably even more disturbing are the mountains of hair and personal effects removed from the millions of victims. Holocaust footage had previously been included in the drama The Stranger, and of course Schindler's List remains the most famous Holocaust film, though neither can convey the horror of the Holocaust as Nuit & Brouillard does.

My Own Private Idaho

My Own Private Idaho
Gus van Sant's visually and emotionally powerful road movie My Own Private Idaho was one of a group of films from the early 1990s known as New Queer Cinema, all of which were independent films with gay themes (arguably the first being Poison by Todd Haynes). The potentially controversial subject-matter (young male hustlers) was offset by the unexpected casting: teen idols River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, both of whom were risking their mainstream appeal by starring in the film.

The narcoleptic central character, played by Phoenix (who, of course, would die of a drugs overdose two years later), first appears on an empty highway. It feels like the build-up to the crop-dusting sequence from North By Northwest. We return to this road at the end of the film, when Phoenix is bundled into a car by an unseen driver. This was originally intended as a happy ending, with the driver's identity revealed, though van Sant ultimately filmed the sequence in long-shot to maintain ambiguity. To me, the ending has echoes of the tragic conclusion to Easy Rider.

A Clockwork Orange is another key reference, with similar scenes of young gang-members using intentionally unidiomatic dialogue. The brightly-coloured credits and inter-titles are an homage to Kubrick's film, though the (incongruous) Shakespearean dialogue was apparently inspired by Chimes At Midnight (which is namechecked, as is Rio Bravo) and the film is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry IV.

Gus van Sant has also directed the black comedy To Die For and an oddly anachronistic Psycho remake. Several of his films, including My Own Private Idaho, take place in Portland, Oregon though he is now most famous for Good Will Hunting which, like The Departed, stars Matt Damon and is set in Boston. Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix had previously appeared together in I Love You To Death. Reeves later appeared in superior blockbusters such as Speed, Devil's Advocate, and The Matrix, though his more recent films (The Lake House and a remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still) have been much less successful.

13 February 2010

Film Talk

Thai film director Thunska Pansittivorakul gave a Film Talk yesterday at The Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok. He discussed his experiences at international film festivals, and screened two films: Vous Vous Souviens De Moi? and Middle-Earth. (Thunska premiered the latter at the 11th Thai Short Film & Video Festival.)

11 February 2010

Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Revenge

Revenge
Revenge is the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the television series hosted by Hitchcock for a decade and first broadcast on 2nd October 1955. The series was apparently devised by Lew Wasserman, who advised Hitchcock to capitalise on his celebrity status by appearing on TV. Royalties from the CBS show gave Hitchcock a substantial income, as did his shares in Wasserman's MCA talent agency. At a time when the rest of the film industry was competing with TV using gimmicks such as 3D (which even Hitchock could not avoid) and Cinerama, the idea of a film director producing a TV show was unexpected. (Thomas Schatz discusses this in The Genius Of The System.)

Hitchcock directed seventeen half-hour episodes of the show (and one hour-long episode of the programme's successor, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), though he appeared at the beginning of every episode to set the scene with a droll monologue. The dramas themselves featured several actors from Hitchcock's films, including Claude Rains and Vera Miles. Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia, also appeared in several episodes. (She also appeared in three Hitchcock films: Stage Fright, Strangers On A Train, and Psycho.) Famously, Hitchcock used members of the show's crew to film Psycho (the subject of recent books by David Thomson and Philip J Skerry), in order to cut costs and produce an AIP-style thriller.

Revenge, directed by Hitchcock, stars Vera Miles, who later appeared in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man and Psycho (and was unsuccessfully groomed for the lead role in Vertigo, later replaced by Kim Novak). Her character suffers a nervous breakdown and is subsequently attacked by an unidentified man, and her husband attempts to track down her attacker. In the establishing scenes before the attack, Miles is sexy and confident, and she then makes an effective transition to post-traumatic confusion (similar to her character in The Wrong Man). The episode's conclusion is rather predictable, though it's an effectively suspenseful and succinct drama.

There are two inexplicable moments: a female character looks at Miles's legs for slightly too long, and Miles is seen holding the head of a carnation. The carnation clearly suggests the Miles has been 'deflowered', though its status as a clue to the attacker's identity is not explained, and potential suspicions about the other female character are also unresolved.

02 February 2010

The Purple Rose Of Cairo

The Purple Rose Of Cairo
In Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo, Mia Farrow plays Cecilia, a downtrodden Depression-era housewife, who finds escapism in glamorous Hollywood movies. When she sees The Purple Rose Of Cairo (the film-within-the-film, Allen's parody of a 1930s high-society melodrama), one of its characters, Tom, breaks the fourth wall by stepping out of the screen and into the cinema.

Cecilia and Tom fall in love, though his fellow characters are left standing around on screen, unable to continue the film because Tom is missing. Though Cecilia recognises the impossibility of a real relationship with Tom, she ultimately returns to the short-term escapism of the movies, with Fred Astaire in Top Hat as her only consolation.

Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr was the first film to feature interaction between cinema audiences and fictional characters as a plot device. The idea was later ripped off by the critical and commercial flop Last Action Hero (and the Thai horror film Coming Soon). Allen played on the confusion between fantasy and reality in his Stardust Memories, with the actors commenting on their own performances; in Play It Again, Sam, Allen's character is visited by Humphrey Bogart as he appeared in Casablanca; and Allen's brilliantly acerbic Deconstructing Harry features characters from a novel who invade the life of the author, as does the recent film Stranger Than Fiction. Finally, Bruce La Bruce's Otto features a character who thinks she's a silent movie character, consequently appearing in black-and-white and speaking via inter-titles.

01 February 2010

Orson Welles: The One-Man Band

Orson Welles: The One-Man Band
Orson Welles: The One-Man Band, directed by Vassili Silovic with Ojar Kodar, features clips and out-takes from various unfinished Orson Welles films. The footage was left to Kodar by Welles in his will, and the film's title comes from a sketch in which Welles played both a busker and his unappreciative audience. (Welles saw himself metaphorically not as a one-man band but as a "friendly neighbourhood grocery store" in an age of supermarkets.)

The documentary includes extracts from The Other Side Of The Wind, which resembles Easy Rider with its zooms and jump cuts. Impressive footage from The Merchant Of Venice (Welles as Shylock, with gothic locations and masked extras), The Deep (later filmed by Phillip Noyce), and the television pilot The Orson Welles Show (featuring the Muppets!) is also included. In one hilarious clip, a butler who thinks he's a chicken keeps his job because his employer needs the eggs; this traditional joke later appeared at the end of Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Footage of Welles reading from the novel Moby Dick now appears somewhat dated, and there is unfortunately no mention of Don Quixote.

An alternate version of the documentary, narrated by Welles acolyte Peter Bogdanovich, also exists. Filmographies of unfinished Welles projects are included in Discovering Orson Welles and Orson Welles At Work.

28 January 2010

Гендерной Программы

Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova was arrested in Tashkent last month, after police claimed that her photographs insulted Uzbekistan. She has directed several controversial documentaries, though the formal charges relate to a book of her photos, titled Гендерной Программы Посольства Швейцарии, published in 2007.

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23 January 2010

Only In New York

Only In New York
Only In New York: Photographs From Look Magazine, edited by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins, is the catalogue of an exhibition of images from the Museum of the City of New York archives. It features photos of New York from the 1940s-1950s taken by staff photographers from Look magazine, including Stanley Kubrick.

Some of Kubrick's contact sheets featuring images of the Copacabana nightclub are included, as are several of his portraits of Walter Cartier (the subject of his film Day Of The Fight), Rocky Graziano, Rosemary Williams, and others. Selections of Kubrick's Look photos have previously been published in several books: Ladro Di Sguardi (direct reproductions from published Look layouts), Still Moving Pictures (an exhibition catalogue), and Drama & Shadows.

22 January 2010

Cinema 2000-2009

My favourite films of the decade, in chronological order:
  • Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
  • Tears Of The Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, 2000)
  • Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
  • Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002)
  • City Of God (Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund, 2002)
  • OldBoy (Park Chan-Wook, 2003)
  • Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
  • Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
  • Cache (Michael Haneke, 2005)
The worst movie of the decade:
  • Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (Michael Bay, 2009)

21 January 2010

Melanz Ostateczny

Sklot
Prosecutors in Poland are considering bringing charges against the Sklot nightclub in Warsaw, after it distributed flyers depicting Adolf Hitler. The Hitler drawing was being used to promote a club night, Melanz Ostateczny, which will take place on 20th February, though images glorifying Nazism are illegal in Poland.

(Last year, Ottmar Horl was threatened with prosecution in Germany, when his Nazi gnome was shown in Nuremberg. However, he was not prosecuted, and he subsequently displayed 1,200 Nazi gnomes in Straubing.)

12 January 2010

Orson Welles At Work

Orson Welles At Work
Orson Welles At Work, by Jean-Pierre Berthome and Francois Thomas, was originally published in French, as Orson Welles Au Travail. The production histories of Welles's films are accompanied by large production stills, storyboards, and annotated script pages, using materials obtained from archival research.

There is a detailed Welles bibliography and filmography, and a brief chronology. Jonathan Rosenbaum's Discovering Orson Welles features a comparable filmography; Peter Bogdanovich's This Is Orson Welles has a more detailed chronology (compiled by Rosenbaum), plus appendices on The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch Of Evil. The ...At Work series also includes Bill Krohn's acclaimed Hitchcock At Work, about Alfred Hitchcock.

10 January 2010

Time Out Film Guide 2010

Time Out Film Guide 2010
The eighteenth edition of the Time Out Film Guide (labelled 2010 though published last year) contains 500 new capsule film reviews, edited by John Pym (who took over from Tom Milne), and written by distinguished critics including Gilbert Adair, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Mark Kermode.

18,500 films are reviewed in total, mostly taken from Time Out magazine's London cinema listings. While two other annual guides (Radio Times Guide To Films and VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever) include more reviews, they are largely restricted to mainstream films, in contrast to Time Out's unique emphasis on arthouse cinema. Time Out is also the only major guide to resist star-ratings. Unfortunately, though, its thematic index has now been discontinued. (As a substitute, VideoHound includes extensive thematic indexes; the excellent Halliwell's Film Guide has apparently ceased publication, after its awful Movies That Matter edition.)

This new edition reviews thirty-six films which were screened at Cannes last year - including Antichrist ("as wildly implausible as it is provocatively gruesome"), Broken Embraces ("self-reflective melodrama"), Inglourious Basterds ("wild and childish revisionist revenge fantasy"), and Enter The Void ("swirling camerawork, hallucinatory sense of real time and narrative maelstrom of sex, drugs and death") - though they are not yet incorporated into the main alphabetical reviews section.

04 January 2010

Psycho In The Shower

Psycho In The Shower
Psycho In The Shower
Psycho In The Shower: The History Of Cinema's Most Famous Scene (previously published as The Shower Scene In Hitchcock's Psycho), by Philip J Skerry, is a study of the Psycho shower scene (the eponymous Moment Of Psycho that David Thomson also discusses in his recent book). Except, of course, you can't write a whole book about one scene, even if it is the greatest scene since Battleship Potemkin's 'Odessa Steps' montage; thus, discussion of the shower scene is supplemented by interviews with Psycho cast and crew, precursors in Hitchcock's filmography, reactions from viewers, subsequent cultural references, and even an anecdotal account of the author's research process. Like Thomson, Skerry gives a detailed account of the film's first half though loses interest in the exposition after the shower scene.

Skerry tabulates the shower scene into a series of acts and shots, which reads like a maths textbook: "in this shot, and in the next shot, number 13, which is an almost exact duplicate of number 12"... zzzz. The extended interviews with star Janet Leigh, writer Joseph Stefano, and assistant director Hilton Green are much more interesting. Skerry attempts to debunk some of the rumours which have built up around Psycho, though in doing so he politely contradicts the conflicting accounts of his interviewees. He uses film stills to demonstrate that a knife does cut Leigh's skin in a split-second shot, and that her breasts are visible behind the opaque shower curtain.

The book also contains a previously unpublished photograph of a shot which was cut from all known prints of the film: Leigh's body-double, Marli Renfro, slumped naked over the bath. For Psycho fans, this exclusive photo automatically makes the book worth buying. In his valiant search for "the ur-Psycho", Skerry viewed laserdisc, VHS, DVD, and off-air versions of the film for comparison, though he is apparently unaware of the uncensored print which has been repeatedly broadcast on European TV.

03 January 2010

The Moment Of Psycho

The Moment Of Psycho
In his new book, The Moment Of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America To Love Murder, David Thomson (author of the surprisingly good Have You Seen...?) claims that Psycho, released in 1960, symbolises the transition from an apparently innocent 1950s to the violence and sexual freedoms of the 1960s. Thomson sees Psycho not only as a milestone in the relaxation of film censorship (leading to Bonnie & Clyde, The Wild Bunch, etc.), but also as a cultural precursor of increasing violence in society (JFK's assassination; the Vietnam war).

I've seen Psycho more times than I can remember; Hitchcock's low-budget shocker, in which Marion Crane steals $40,000 and is murdered in the shower by Norman Bates, is an ideal case study for anyone interested in filmmaking or film analysis. It arguably epitomises the shift from classical to post-classical Hollywood, and indeed David Bordwell divides Hollywood history into pre-1960 (The Classical Hollywood Cinema) and post-1960 (The Way Hollywood Tells It).

Thomson pays particular attention to the first half of Psycho, up to and including the shower scene. He notes the fatalism in Marion's relationship with her lover, and especially savours the parlour conversation between Marion and Norman ("One needs to see this scene several times to catch all the nuances"). However, he's disappointed by the unconvincing plot device (Norman's schizophrenia) in the film's second act, which, he writes, "is as fabricated and spurious as the first hour is solid and resonant".

The Moment Of Psycho, at less than 200 pages, feels like an extended essay with a lot of padding: a production history of The Birds, a mainly expository summary of Psycho's first half, capsule reviews of films influenced by Psycho, and even a chapter on American highways. It would be more satisfying as a single fifty-page chapter, minus the superfluous digressions.

Appropriately enough, Psycho is one of the most analysed films in cinema history. Raymond Durgnat's scene-by-scene analysis (A Long Hard Look At Psycho), Richard J Anobile's visual guide (The Film Classics Library: Psycho), Stephen Rebello's comprehensive production history (Alfred Hitchcock & The Making Of Psycho), and Philip J Skerry's new study of the shower scene (Psycho In The Shower) are also worth reading.

02 January 2010

Bruno

Bruno
Bruno is a spoof documentary starring Sasha Baron Cohen as the eponymous central character. It was directed by Larry Charles, who also made several episodes of the excellent Curb Your Enthusiasm.

An early scene featuring a pilot for the fake TV show A-List Celebrity Max Out is hilariously obscene and tasteless ("Keep it or abort it?"; "Bruno!"). Unfortunately, the remainder of the film is little more than a remake of the similarly episodic Borat (also directed by Charles), with the main character supposedly abandoned by his sidekick. The sketches become more drawn-out, less funny, and less plausible as the film goes on.

26 December 2009

Twist & Shout

Twist & Shout
Giant Torayan
Mega Death
Twist & Shout: Contemporary Art From Japan is a multi-media exhibition featuring Japanese art from the past decade, at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre from 20th November 2009 to 10th January 2010. The exhibition makes full use of the BACC's gallery spaces, with large artworks in corridors, in specially-created rooms and huts, and on the ceiling.

Kusama Yayoi's Dots Obesssions (1999) features polka dots stuck to the floor, on the walls, and hanging in mid-air. Yanobe Kenji's Giant Torayan (2005; a metal robot standing three storeys high), is the exhibition's most iconic sculpture, though Miyajima Tatsuo's Mega Death (1999; vast LED displays emitting an ominous blue glow) is an even more stunning installation.

Many of the artists are influenced by Sekaikei, a narrative genre which avoids historical, political, or social commentary, and the result is a collection of hyper-real pieces in a bright Pop Art style.

25 December 2009

What Is Design?

What Is Design?
Citroen DS1
An expanded version of TCDC's What Is Design? opened on 21st November. The former exhibition's VW Beetle has been replaced by a Citreon DS1, and recent examples of Thai product design have been added to the collection.

The collection is organised geographically, according to the 'genius loci' (Genius Of The Place) principle. It's scheduled to run until 31st November 2016.

Cinema Now

Cinema Now
Cinema Now, written by Andrew Bailey and edited (like Art Cinema, and over fifty other Taschen film books) by Paul Duncan, profiles sixty contemporary directors and a selection of their most recent films. Each director is introduced with a single paragraph of text, followed by several pages of film stills.

Some of the featured directors (and their films) are: Pedro Almodovar (All About My Mother; Talk To Her; Volver), Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain), Catherine Breillat (Romance; Anatomy Of Hell), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros; Babel), Michael Haneke (Cache), Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich; Adaptation), Fernando Meirelles (City Of God), John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus), Christopher Nolan (Memento), Gyorgy Palfi (Taxidermia), Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy; Sympathy For Lady Vengeance), Alexander Payne (About Schmidt; 14e Arrondissement), Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Invisible Waves), Cristi Puiu (The Death Of Mr Lazarescu), Tsai Ming-Liang (Goodbye, Dragon Inn), Gus van Sant (My Own Private Idaho), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady; Syndromes & A Century), Wong Kar-Wai (In The Mood For Love; 2046), and Zhang Yimou (Curse Of The Golden Flower). Notable omissions include Wisit Sasanatieng, Gaspar Noe, Lars von Trier, and Quentin Tarantino, all of whom made their debuts in the 1990s and are still producing consistently interesting films.

23 December 2009

Art Cinema

Art Cinema
Art Cinema, written by Paul Young, edited by Paul Duncan, and published by Taschen, is a survey of avant-garde filmmaking from its origins in the 1910s to the present day. Each chapter focuses on a specific film/art genre, such as Surrealist Cinema, Abstraction, The City Symphony, Structuralism, Expanded Cinema (a term borrowed from Stan van der Beek and Gene Youndblood), and Collage, amongst others. The format is similar to Amos Vogel's seminal Film As A Subversive Art: a series of short essays accompanied by numerous rare film stills with extended captions.

Young's survey is comprehensive in scope though lacking in detail. There are less than 200 pages, most of which are dominated by large, full-colour images which limit the historical or analytical content of the text. There is a reasonable bibliography, though the filmography, with only ten entries, is absurdly brief. Also, the non-chronological organisation coupled with the lack of an index limits the book's potential as a source of reference. It is, however, a beautiful coffee-table book, full of superbly reproduced photographs.

19 December 2009

Avatar

Avatar
Avatar is James Cameron's first feature film in twelve years. After the success of Titanic (eleven Oscars, equal to Ben-Hur; record-breaking box-office exceeding $1,000,000,000), he concentrated on television documentaries, as presenter of 2001: The Making Of A Myth and executive producer of The Lost Tomb Of Jesus.

Like Stanley Kubrick's delayed (and ultimately posthumous) AI, Cameron postponed the development of Avatar until CGI was sufficiently advanced. Apparently, it was the motion capture technology used to create Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings (I, II, and III) that convinced him to begin production. Cameron himself has also been a CGI pioneer: the morphing effects of the T-1000 were the highlights of Terminator II, the action sequel to his intelligent noir/SF The Terminator.

Avatar has a whole new world to introduce: Pandoran flora and fauna (bioluminescent and fascinating), Na'vi mythology, and even a new language. The result bears comparison with the ecosystem and mythology in Star Wars IV-VI, and Avatar may revolutionise SF in a similar way, though it also results in similarly flat, expository dialogue. (There is an obligatory "You are not in Kansas" Wizard Of Oz reference.) Avatar's plot revolves around a mineral called unobtainium, though this (as its name suggests) is merely a MacGuffin, providing the initial motivation for the characters to assume their avatar forms (a process similar to The Matrix, and also a metaphor for Avatar's motion-capture technology).

The invasion of Pandora has clear parallels with America's wars against Vietnam and Iraq, a point hammered home by the script ("hearts and minds"; "shock and awe"). The extensive battle footage is surely aimed at teenage boys (Hollywood's current favourite demographic), though this is offset by the film's Titanic-style romance and its conservationist, pacifist message (a painful reminder of "I know now why you cry" from Terminator II).

I'm not usually a fan of CGI, as it's too often used as an easy alternative to traditional effects (as in, for example, the most recent King Kong remake), though in Avatar the CGI enables Cameron to create a stunningly photo-realistic ecosystem populated by believable motion-capture characters. Before its release, Avatar was breathlessly described as 'the future of cinema' by reviewers who had not seen it; while not representing a paradigm shift in filmmaking itself, the film's epic spectacle and subtly immersive 3D will hopefully lure YouTube/iPod viewers back into cinemas. (Avatar was conceived and filmed as a 3D production, though a 2D version is also screening at some cinemas.)

18 December 2009

Leo Body Paint 2010

Leo Body Paint 2010
According to the Thai Ministry of Public Health, charges may be brought against Boon Rawd after it distributed a Leo Body Paint 2010 calendar featuring models painted with the Leo logo. Leo is a beer brand brewed by Boon Rawd, and the Ministry claims that the brewery is using the calendar to promote alcohol in contravention of last year's Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.

This is not the first time a risqué calendar has been banned in Thailand. Five nudie calendars were banned in 1968, and another in 1970.

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01 December 2009

Daily Xpress

Daily Xpress
The Nation newspaper relaunched itself today, dropping the business slogan it adopted in 2008. This puts it back in direct competition with its (slightly better) rival, the Bangkok Post.

This "minor revamp", as the newspaper described it yesterday, includes the termination of the Daily Xpress. In a letter to readers yesterday, the Xpress's editor wrote: "This is the last issue of Daily Xpress", and signed off with "SEE YA". The Xpress was launched in 2008; subsequently, its pagination shrank and its original content declined, and its design was never modified or updated.

28 November 2009

Metro

Metro
Author Magdy El Shafee and his publisher, Mohamed El Sahrqawi, have been fined 5,000 pounds by an Egyptian court. They were convicted of writing and distributing an 'immoral' text, namely the graphic novel Metro, which was confiscated last year.

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27 November 2009

Muhammad: The 'Banned' Images

Muhammad: The 'Banned' Images
Gary Hull's book Muhammad: The 'Banned' Images includes reproductions of the controversial Jyllands-Posten Mohammed caricatures and a selection of historical Mohammed images including The Remaining Signs Of Past Centuries (censored from a French textbook). Its cover is a rather bland depiction of an actor portraying Mohammed.

Hull describes his (self-published?) book as a "supplement" and "errata" to Jytte Klausen's book The Cartoons That Shook The World, as Hull includes Mohammed caricatures which were removed by Klausen's publisher. However, Klausen has not endorsed Hull's publication, and the two books have no official connection. The books Blasphemy and L'Affaire Des Caricatures provide more insightful coverage of the debate surrounding images of Mohammed.

Story Of The Eye

Story Of The Eye
Story Of The Eye, an exhibition of watercolour paintings by Tawan Wattuya and photographs by Tada Varich, was inspired by Georges Bataille's disturbing novella of the same name. It shares Bataille's fascination with sex and death, as Tada's photographs include borderline hardcore images and a foetus preserved in formaldehyde. Tawan's paintings are even more graphic, though less realistic.

Story Of The Eye is at Gossip Gallery, Bangkok, from 12th November until 12th December. (The anthology film L'Erotisme was also inspired by Bataille.)

23 November 2009

Napoleon

Napoleon
Napoleon
Napoleon
Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made, edited by Alison Castle, is a collection of ten volumes (Reference, Script, Production, Notes, Correspondence, Chronology, Text, Costumes, Location Scouting, and Picture File), and a poster, packaged inside an enormous, hollow book. It's outrageously expensive and extremely heavy (10kg), and is limited to 1,000 numbered copies (mine being #246).

Kubrick started pre-production for a proposed epic Napoleon Bonaparte biopic in 1968, and his research included collecting over 300 Napoleonic books (all of which are listed in Castle's bibliography), a database of 17,000 images (of which Castle reproduces 6,000; the full database is online), and 25,000 biographical index cards (of which Castle reproduces 100). The project was ultimately cancelled, however, after the box-office failure of another Napoleon film, Waterloo.

Castle's book, published by Taschen, features full reprints of Kubrick's Napoleon treatment and screenplay, and two drafts of his production notes. Selections from his thousands of letters, notebooks, and costume photographs are also included. Lengthy conversations between Kubrick and historian Felix Markham are meticulously and comprehensively transcribed.

After Kubrick died, his archive materials were displayed in a temporary Stanley Kubrick exhibition, and the permanent Stanley Kubrick Archive was established. The exhibition catalogue, published in 2004, contains a chapter about Napoleon (The Best Movie (N)ever Made, by Eva-Maria Magel), and Alison Castle's 2005 book The Stanley Kubrick Archives also includes a Napoleon chapter (The Epic That Never Was, by Gene D Phillips).

18 November 2009

The September Issue

The September Issue
The September Issue is RJ Cutler's fly-on-the-wall documentary following Vogue editor Anna Wintour and her senior staff as they prepare the magazine's September 2007 issue. Wintour was the inspiration for the Miranda Priestly character in The Devil Wears Prada, and The September Issue contains little that will soften her public image - even an initially sweet scene with her daughter, Katherine, concludes with Wintour encouraging an unwilling Katherine to become a fashion editor. (She seems genuinely supportive of a young Thai designer, Thakoon Panichgul, but that might change once he becomes truly established.)

The film basically confirms our perceptions of Wintour (her instant dismissals of clothes, photos, or comments she doesn't like), though more surprising are the supporting cast of Vogue's editorial staff. The likable, hippyish, down-to-earth Grace Coddington clomps around the office, and has Wintour's fashion instincts plus humour and sensitivity. In contrast, Andre Leon Talley is almost a caricature; with his ridiculous capes and designer towels, he looks like a huge, spangly potato.

16 November 2009

Reincarnate

Reincarnate
Thunska Pansittivorakul's new film, Reincarnate, is a fictionalised portrait of Thunska and his leading actor, Panuwat Wisessiri. Panuwat discusses the filming process with Thunska, while never breaking character, thus blurring the boundary between behind-the-scenes footage and the scenes themselves. The camera films Panuwat's body as he sleeps, showers, and relaxes.

Thunska and Panuwat play Jenga, with the red, yellow, and blue blocks symbolising the various political groups in Thailand. (UDD supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra wear red shirts; their antagonists, who support the current government, wear blue shirts; the monarchist, anti-Thaksin PAD wear yellow shirts.) Thunska's film This Area Is Under Quarantine was more overtly political, though it was consequently banned. (His earlier films were screened at a retrospective in 2008.)

Reincarnate is arguably Thunska's most explicit film, with a brief sequence (featuring Tharapong Buasai) which is visually similar to, and even more graphic than, his short documentary Unseen Bangkok. In both films, the same camera angle is used, foregrounding a particular part of the anatomy, which the director can't resist touching. Reincarnate was intended partly as a protest against the 2009 Thai cinema ratings system, which prohibits frontal nudity amongst many other taboos; unsurprisingly, the film has not been submitted to the national ratings board.

There are some beautiful images in the film, such as Panuwat, in silhouette, framed by an open window. The film's ending, in which Panuwat describes giving birth to a daughter, who then entices his spirit to leave his body, is deliberately ambiguous, and tonally similar to the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who was a co-producer of Reincarnate.

15 November 2009

7th World Film Festival of Bangkok

7th World Film Festival of Bangkok
7th World Film Festival of Bangkok
This Area Is Under Quarantine
The 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok finished today, after opening on 3rd November. All screenings took place at Paragon Cineplex (the same as the 6th Festival, whereas the 5th was held at Esplanade Cineplex).

A Letter To Uncle Boonmee, part of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Primitive installation (which also includes Phantoms Of Nabua), was screened on 9th and 15th November, though a screening of For Alexis was cancelled. A Letter To Uncle Boonmee is similar to Morakot, with the camera gliding slowly though an empty building accompanied by a voice-over.

Sadly, This Area Is Under Quarantine, by Thunska Pansittivorakul, was not shown, after the Ministry of Culture refused to give it a rating. Fortunately, it has been screened at less censorious film festivals earlier this year, such as the Rotterdam International Film Festival (the Netherlands), the Torino International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (Italy), Queer Lisboa (Portugal), and the Q! Film Festival (Indonesia).

video

11 November 2009

The Remaining Signs Of Past Centuries

Histoire Geographie
Why We Left Islam
Mohammed: The Profit Of Islam
A copy of a medieval illustration from The Remaining Signs Of Past Centuries by Abu Rayhan Biruni has been censored from a French textbook, Histoire Geographie (written by Eric Chaudron and Remy Knafou). The book was originally published uncensored in 2005, though Mohammed's face was pixelated for the fifth edition's second printing.

(Jyllands-Posten published twelve Mohammed caricatures in 2005, inspiring numerous satirical Mohammed cartoons.) Mohammed, as depicted in The Remaining Signs Of Past Centuries, appears uncensored on the covers of two books published last year: Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out (Susan Crimp and Joel Richardson) and a reprint of Mohammed: The Prophet Of Islam (HEE Hayes).

09 November 2009

Controverses

Controverses
Controverses: Une Histoire Juridique & Ethique De La Photographie, by Daniel Girardin and Christian Pirker, is a Swiss exhibition catalogue featuring some of the most controversial photographs in history. The images include early publicity photos, photojournalism, and art photography.

One of the most powerful photographs is a picture of a severed hand, from a victim of the World Trade Center terrorist attack. The image (2001), by Todd Maisel, was published by only a single newspaper (New York's Daily News), while other American papers made a collective decision to avoid printing photographs of the victims.

The two Iraq wars have produced similarly controversial images (not included in the book). A photo by Ken Jarecke of an Iraqi soldier's charred body was rejected by all newspapers except The Observer (which printed it on 10th March 1991), and "a gruesome image of a young child's head split open" was the subject of much debate in the UK media before finally being printed by The Guardian (on 28th March 2003).

Arguably the most shocking picture is Kevin Carter's photograph (1993) of a vulture following a starving Sudanese child. After taking the photograph, Carter shooed the potential scavenger away, though he was later criticised for not helping the child any further.

The book includes some famously provocative images, such as Oliviero Toscani's Benetton poster showing a nun kissing a priest (1992) and Andres Serrano's Piss Christ (1987). A Robert Mapplethorpe self-portrait (1978) is included, though it's one of Mapplethorpe's less graphic images.

Several controversial photographs of naked children are featured, including a sexualised portrait by Irina Ionesco (1970) of her daughter Eva, and notorious images by Graham Ovenden (1984) and Jock Sturges (1989). Annelies Strba's Sonja In Her Bath (1985) and a portrait of Brooke Shields by Gary Gross (1975), both of which have been removed by the police from UK galleries, are also included. Nan Goldin's "Klara and Adda Belly Dancing" [sic] is mentioned though not reproduced.

A paparazzo photo of Princess Diana taken by Jacques Langevin in the moments before her car crash (1997) is included. The infamous photo of Diana receiving first aid after the crash is mentioned in the text without being reproduced.

03 November 2009

Suicide Mind

Suicide Mind
Suicide Mind
For his new installation, Suicide Mind, Pornprasert Yamazaki has painted in his own blood on paper and ceramics. His works on paper, large reproductions of Thai and American banknotes, are hung on the walls, while on the floor are ceramic tiles painted with flower patterns. In the centre stands a vase of dead roses on a stone plinth. (The decaying flowers recall last year's Perishable Beauty exhibition and Otto Berchem's Deadheading from The Suspended Moment.)

Like Pornprasert, Kosit Juntaratip is another Thai artist who uses blood in his work. Blood has also featured in two recent Bangkok exhibitions: Kristian von Hornsleth's Deep Storage Art Project, and Chen Lingyang's Twelve Flower Months (from Women In A Society Of Double-Sexuality).

Suicide Mind opened at Whitespace Gallery in Bangkok on 23rd October, and will close on 6th December. The exhibition also includes a video showing Pornprasert extracting and painting with blood.