13 July 2021

Dismantle

Dismantle
God Is Dead
Who Will Stop the Rain 5th October 1976
Dao Siam What a Wonderful World
The Sound of Silence 5th October 1976
Daily News Have You Ever Seen the Rain
The group exhibition Dismantle (ปลด) opened yesterday at Joyman Gallery in Bangkok. It will run until 22nd August, although access will be limited as the city entered another lockdown today, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Each of the works on display makes a strong political statement, though the most provocative are Kespada Moonsuwan’s oil painting God Is Dead (a head shrouded in red silk) and Narath Boriboonhiranthana’s holographic video projection I Will Wear Red at Your Funeral (a woman dancing in front of an upturned urn; ฉันหวังให้คุณตายและฉันจะใส่ชุดสีแดงในงานศพของคุณ). Both works refer to the same person, who is, of course, not mentioned by name.

The gallery is dimly lit, and the walls are painted black, making the black labels accompanying each exhibit almost illegible. This is presumably intentional, as the explanatory texts are sometimes incendiary. In his artist’s statement, Kesapada says: “I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE RUMOR TURNING TO THE REAL STORY” [sic], a reference to a recent viral rumour. In her statement, Narath is equally blunt: “I HOPE YOU DIE, AND I AM GOING TO WEAR A RED DRESS IN YOUR FUNERAL” [sic].

Thasnai Sethaseree, a lecturer at Chiang Mai University who publicly defended two students after they created a banner representing the Thai flag, has produced a series of four painted collages for the exhibition. Each painting reproduces the front page of a Thai newspaper dated 5th October 1976, the day before the 6th October massacre. Thasnai has covered the headlines in bright colours and given them optimistic titles taken from vintage pop songs, to show how the news coverage of the period ignored the impending political crisis.

The four collages are: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, based on the front page of Daily News (เดลินิวส์); Who Will Stop the Rain, based on เสียง ปวงชน (‘the people’s voice’); What a Wonderful World, based on Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม); and The Sound of Silence, based on ชาวไทย (‘people of Thailand’). Other Thai newspaper front pages from October 1976 are reprinted in Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย).

12 July 2021

Dark

Dark
Dark
Dark
Jirapatt Aungsumalee’s exhibition Dark opened at VS Gallery in Bangkok yesterday. Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise is also on show at the same gallery, though the city began another lockdown today, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Because of this, Dark has been extended from 11th September to 13th November.

Dark features portraits of anonymous military officers and state bureaucrats against black backgrounds, their faces obscured and their positions only identifiable from their uniforms. As the catalogue puts it, these figures occupy seats of power interchangeably, like a horrific game of musical chairs (“ณ ที่นั่งแห่งอำนาจอย่างกับเกมเก้าอี้ดนตรีสยองขวัญ”).

There are also equally dark paintings inspired by the recent anti-government protests. These are titled ประกาย (‘spark’) and สีสัน (‘colourful’), suggesting that the protesters and their symbols—such as Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul (ประกาย I) and an inflatable yellow duck (สีสัน I)—offer a ray of light in the darkness.

11 July 2021

A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise

A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise
The Death in 2020-2021
A Blue Man I
Anuwat Apimukmongkon’s exhibition A Blue Man in the Land of Compromise opened this afternoon at VS Gallery in Bangkok, though the city begins another lockdown tomorrow, due to the coronavirus pandemic. (The exhibition was originally scheduled to run from 24th April to 20th June. It has now been extended to 13th November.)

The centrepiece, The Death in 2020-2021 [sic], is a vast, 10m-long canvas depicting the eponymous blue man amongst a sea of dead bodies. An inflatable yellow duck is also present, in reference to the protesters who used inflatable ducks to defend themselves from water cannon last October and November. The blue man also appears in a group of smaller paintings, this time in various sexual positions. In A Blue Man I, he is at the centre of an orgy, a representation of corrupt decadence similar to Vasan Sitthiket’s Ten Evil Scenes of Thai Politic [sic].

Unlike Manit Sriwanichpoom’s equally incongruous pink man (พิ้งค์แมน), the blue man’s colour has a symbolic meaning in Thailand, and he wears an ornate crown (of gold leaf). An artist’s statement affixed to the gallery wall offers some context: “With a knife in his hand, a blue man wounds people who denied him, also anyone who have no faith in his love” [sic]. This allusion to lèse-majesté is reinforced by the exhibition’s title, as Rama X described Thailand as “the land of compromise” during a walkabout on 2nd November last year.

10 July 2021

Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok

Journalist Emma Larkin’s first novel, Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok, was published in May. (Born in Thailand, Larkin uses a pen name to avoid scrutiny from the authorities while she reports from Myanmar.) The eponymous Aeon is a former Communist insurgent, who fled to the jungle following the 6th October 1976 massacre.

Aeon has since returned to Bangkok, though he (like the city) remains haunted by state violence against civilian protesters. Working as a history teacher, he sees first-hand how 6th October has been whitewashed from the national curriculum—a point made by Vasan Sitthiket in his video Delete Our History, Now! (อำนาจ/การลบทิ้ง)—and searches for what little evidence remains, “the seldom-seen photographs of semi-conscious students burned on funeral pyres made of tyres, and dead bodies hung from the tamarind trees on the parade ground.”

The novel is set in 2009, when red-shirt protesters instigated violence during the Songkran holiday. As one character says, “Did you hear they attacked the Prime Minister’s car?”—Abhisit Vejjajiva’s motorcade was mobbed, an incident recreated in Wisit Sasanatieng’s film The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง). The red-shirt protests culminated in another state crackdown, in 2010, though the novel focuses on the aftermath of the 1992 ‘Black May’ massacre.

In the days following ‘Black May’, there were credible rumours of military vehicles disposing of hundreds of bodies, who were omitted from the official tally of victims. Larkin recounts the “talk of an army truck driving into a bone mill on the outskirts of Bangkok late one night, the cargo heaped under its tarpaulin conspicuously absent when it drove out again, and reports of military helicopters flying east from the city towards the border with Burma, dropping bodies into the impenetrable jungle below.”

The story’s starting point is a fictional incident that seems to confirm these rumours: bodies found in a sunken shipping container and buried in wasteland. The novel presents these grisly discoveries as proof of “an operation to deal with the ‘excess collateral damage’ resulting from the crackdown on protesters at Sanam Luang”, though a government spokesman dismisses the matter out of hand: “Gazing wearily at the nation, he appeared to ad lib as he took off his spectacles and said in a more casual, almost avuncular tone, ‘So, it’s best that you all go about your business now and forget this incident.’”

Larkin was inspired by two works of political history: William A. Callahan’s Imagining Democracy (now scarce, but the best account of ‘Black May’ in English) and Thongchai Winnichakul’s Moments of Silence. (Aeon “tracked down some of the leaders of the right-wing gangs that had massed in Sanam Luang”, in an echo of the Silence of the Wolf chapter in Thongchai’s book.) Comrade Aeon’s Field Guide to Bangkok is one of several recent novels set in times of Thai political conflict, including Sunisa Manning’s A Good True Thai, Duanwad Pimwana’s ในฝันอันเหลือจะกล่าว (‘indescribable fiction’), Uthis Haemamool’s ร่างของปรารถนา (‘shadow of desire’), and Jakkapan Kangwan’s Altai Villa (อัลไตวิลล่า).

09 July 2021

Thai Cinema Uncensored

Bangkok Post
My book Thai Cinema Uncensored is reviewed in today’s Bangkok Post newspaper, on page 10 of their Life arts supplement. In his review, Chris Baker (who co-authored the excellent Thaksin) calls it a “splendid book.” He also describes it as a “fascinating book which has relevance for film, contemporary culture and politics in general.”

26 June 2021

The L/Royal Monument

The L/Royal Monument
Intersection of Wills
Interregnum
Captain Justice / The Unforgiven Blues
Creation-Conclusion / Jojo and the Bookstalk
The Masterpiece
Prior to 2014, Wittawat Tongkeaw was known primarily for his landscape paintings, though since the coup his art has become increasingly political. The works in his new exhibition The L/Royal Monument (นิ/ราษฎร์) at Subhashok Arts Center in Bangkok, displayed in four themed sections, provide a commentary on modern Thai politics expressed through coded metaphors and symbolism.

The exhibition’s first room, Interlude, draws on Wittawat’s background as a landscape painter, though these landscapes have political subtexts. Two of the paintings refer to the 2010 massacre of red-shirt protesters: Intersection of Wills (ราษฎร์​ประสงค์) shows Ratchaprasong, the focal point of the protest, and Interregnum (สิ้นสุดพุทธาวาส) depicts a relief sculpture from Wat Pathum Wanaram, a temple sheltering six protesters who were killed by military snipers. Like Pachara Piyasongsoot’s Anatomy of Silence (กายวิภาคของความเงียบ), these paintings represent politically-loaded locations; to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, they are ‘guilty landscapes’. The theme of this first room is transition, symbolised by expansive sunsets and tiny details (a traffic light about to turn green). The political significance of this transition is suggested by the exhibition’s other rooms.

The second room, Imagining Law-abiding Citizens, features paintings of four pro-democracy campaigners, all of whom have been charged with lèse-majesté. They include Captain Justice (ทนายอานนท์), a portrait of Arnon Nampa, who led protests last year calling for reform of the monarchy; and The Unforgiven Blues (หมอลำแบงค์), a portrait of Patiwat Saraiyaem, an actor who was jailed for his performance in the play เจ้าสาวหมาป่า (‘the wolf bride’) and later appeared in Ten Years Thailand. Each portrait has a blue background, in an allusion to that colour’s idiomatic and symbolic meanings: blue indicates the artist’s sadness at the persecution of the four subjects, though it also traditionally represents the monarchy, as in Wittawat’s previous exhibition, 841.594.

The other two rooms, Memorabilia and The Artist’s Trial, feature installations and projections. In the latter room is Jojo and the Bookstalk (โจโจ้ผู้ฆ่ายักษ์), a precarious pile of books and journals, the texts that led to Wittawat’s political awakening, known in Thai as ta sawang. The book stack includes the notorious banned issue of Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน). Two other installations in the same room are especially provocative: Creation-Conclusion (เริ่ม-จบ) is a painting of the sky on an upturned easel, and The Masterpiece (มาสเตอร์พีซ) is a weather-beaten painting hung back-to-front. The Thai word for ‘sky’ (fah) is a metaphor for the monarchy, and the upturned easel resembles a guillotine. The subject of the back-to-front portrait can be guessed from its propagandistic original title, พระเกียรติคุณ กว้างใหญ่ไพศาล (‘his honour spread far and wide’), which is still faintly visible on the reverse.

The L/Royal Monument opened at SAC Gallery in Bangkok on 22nd June, and was originally scheduled to run until 18th September but has now been extended to 31st October. Its opening coincides with the anniversary of Thailand’s 1932 transition to constitutional monarchy and, as Wittawat writes in the exhibition brochure, the “physical components—names, plaques, monuments” commemorating this have been systematically removed from public spaces.

21 June 2021

Reincarnations III

Reincarnations III
Reincarnations III
Reincarnations III
Ruangsak Anuwatwimon’s exhibition Reincarnations III: Ecologies of Life is part of his ongoing research into mankind’s detrimental impacts on plant and animal life. With Monstruous Phenomenon at 1Projects, he examined the genetic mutations caused by nuclear radiation in Japan, and Reincarnations III focuses on animals driven to extinction by hunting.

Two of these extinct creatures were native to Thailand: Schomburgk’s deer—a life-sized sculpture of which is the exhibition’s centrepiece—and a subspecies of the Bhutan glory butterfly. The exhibition includes a mounted butterfly specimen, alongside a drawing of it on a postage stamp and a description of it in a textbook. The effect is similar to Joseph Kosuth’s installations demonstrating the principles of semiotics.

Reincarnations III opened at Warin Lab Contemporary in Bangkok on 12th May, and runs until 10th July. Ruangsak’s sculpture Transformations was included in ห้องเรียนวาฬไทย (‘Thai whale classroom’) at HOF Art Space, and his similar Ash Heart Project installation was part of the Dialogues exhibition at BACC.

15 June 2021

C+nto and Othered Poems

C+nto and Othered Poems
Joelle Taylor’s poetry collection, C+unto and Othered Poems, was published last week. Cunto is an inflection of the Italian verb cuntare, meaning ‘narrate’. As the title of Taylor’s seven-part poem, it may also be a pun on ‘canto’ (and, of course, ‘cunt’). For publication, the title is printed as C+unto, and in her poetry Taylor sidesteps the c-word in favour of its etymological origin, the Latin cunnus.

11 June 2021

The Art of Thai Comics

The Art of Thai Comics
The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes, by comics scholar and collector Nicolas Verstappen, was published this week. This is the first book in English on the history of Thai comics (also available in a Thai edition: การ์ตูนไทย ศิลปะและประวัติศาสตร์), and it provides a definitive history of the subject, from pioneers such as Prayoon Chanyawongse (“The King of Thai Cartoons”) to contemporary comic zines.

The Art of Thai Comics is both a coffee-table book with beautifully-reproduced illustrations and a meticulously researched, comprehensive survey of Thai comic history. In both aspects, it surpasses the leading Thai-language book on the subject, A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014 (140 ปี การ์ตูน เมืองไทย).

Scot Barmé discusses early Thai satirical cartoons—including Sem Sumanan’s caricatures of Rama VI—in Woman, Man, Bangkok. For more on Asian comics, see Mangasia (by Paul Gravett). Comics: A Global History (by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner) covers American, European, and Japanese comics since 1968. The World Encyclopedia of Comics (by Maurice Horn) features biographies of hundreds of comic artists. Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels (by Roger Sabin) is an introduction to the entire field of comic art.

10 June 2021

A 140-Year History of Cartoon
in Thailand from 1874 to 2014

A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014
A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014
A 140-Year History of Cartoon in Thailand from 1874 to 2014 [sic] (140 ปี การ์ตูน เมืองไทย: ประวัติและตำนาน พ.ศ. 2417-2557), by Surrealist artist and photographer Paisal Theerapongvisanuporn, was published in 2018. Paisal’s book was the first comprehensive historical account of Thai comics. (Nicolas Verstappen, author of The Art of Thai Comics, praises it as “the first complete overview of the history of Thai comics”.)

The opening chapters deal with the early history of Thai cartoons, followed by a decade-by-decade examination of Thai comics since 1957. (The authoritative text is accompanied by black-and-white illustrations, some of which appear to be photocopies.) An epilogue discusses political cartoons in Thai newspapers, including a 2014 example depicting a tank chasing a pencil around Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, highlighting military intimidation in the aftermath of the coup.

Scot Barmé discusses early Thai satirical cartoons in Woman, Man, Bangkok. For more coverage of Asian comics, see Mangasia (by Paul Gravett). Comics: A Global History (by Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner) covers American, European, and Japanese comics since 1968. The World Encyclopedia of Comics (by Maurice Horn) features biographies of hundreds of comic artists, and Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels (by Roger Sabin) is an introduction to the entire field of comic art.

06 June 2021

Battle for the Soul

Battle for the Soul
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage detailed the Republican Party’s radical transformation in the Trump era, and Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul: Inside the Democrats’ Campaigns to Defeat Trump examines the Democratic Party’s regrouping during Trump’s term of office. Whereas Trump led the Republicans down a path (or cul-de-sac) of extremism, the 2020 Democratic nominee—Joe Biden—was aligned with his party’s moderate wing (though his presidency has been more progressive than many predicted).

Battle for the Soul’s title is adapted from an article Biden wrote for The Atlantic magazine in 2017, in the aftermath of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally: “We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.” The book features Biden’s first Oval Office interview as President, in which he draws “a direct line” between Trump’s endorsement of the Charlottesville white supremacists and the 6th January storming of the Capitol.

Although Dovere covers the Democratic Party after Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s Obama who provides the book’s juiciest quotes. At off-the-record fundraising events with Democratic Party donors, he called Trump “a racist, sexist pig”, “that fucking lunatic” and, for good measure, “that corrupt motherfucker”.

03 June 2021

“Do you hear the people sing?”

Reform
The Commoner
Ta Lu Fah
Paeng Surachet
In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship’s single My Country Has (ประเทศกูมี) encapsulated the frustrations of anti-coup protesters. In 2020, when the protests expanded to include calls for reform of the monarchy, the band released Reform (ปฏิรูป), a song whose lyrics address Prayut Chan-o-cha and King Rama X directly. (Lines such as “pawns have a king captured” in the song’s official English translation are even more blunt than the Thai original.)

The video for Reform—blocked by the government on YouTube—was filmed at Siam Square in Bangkok on 16th October 2020, and includes footage of riot police using water cannon to disperse the protesters. The music video for Elevenfinger’s เผด็จกวยหัวคาน (‘get rid of the dickhead’) was also filmed during the protests, and is even more confrontational than Reform. Elevenfinger hurls insults at Prayut and others, and lyrics such as “ละควรรีบๆตาย” (‘hurry up and die’) are as subtle as a brick through a window.

The lyrics of another recent song are addressed directly to Rama X: Paeng Surachet’s กล้ามาก เก่งมาก ขอบใจ (‘very brave, very good, thank you’). Its title is an ironic appropriation of a comment made by the King to one of his supporters during a walkabout on 23rd October 2020, and its lyric video features animated yellow ducks in reference to the inflatable ducks used by protesters to protect themselves from water cannon.

Paeng’s song takes the form of a breakup message to an unfaithful lover, with lines such as “ประนีประนอมได้ไหม ไม่ compromise นะถ้าทำตัวเเบบนี้” (‘Can we compromise? No, I won’t compromise if you behave this way’). ‘Compromise’ is a reference to a comment by the King on another walkabout: on 2nd November 2020, he told a reporter that “Thailand is the land of compromise.” Paeng later released a music video for the song, featuring protest leaders Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul and Parit Chirawak in angel costumes.

Panusaya and Parit also performed guest vocals on a new version of The Commoner’s track Commoner’s Anthem (บทเพลงของสามัญชน), released last month with a music video featuring footage of pro-democracy protests. (Parit was recently hospitalised after going on hunger strike for forty-six days, and was released on bail on 11th May; Panusaya was bailed on 6th May.) The Commoner’s video คนที่คุณก็รู้ว่าใคร (‘you know who’) also features protest footage, and Parit and Panusaya are name-checked in the lyrics of Hockhacker’s song Pirates (โจรสลัด).

Protesters have also reappropriated existing songs. Do You Hear the People Sing? (from the stage musical Les Misérables) was sung at several of last year’s protests in place of the national anthem. Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan performed his hit single 12345 I Love You at a protest near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on 14th November 2020, leading the crowd in chants of “ai hia Tu” instead of “I love you” during the chorus. (Ai hia is a strong insult, and Tu is Prayut’s nickname.) Chaiamorn was released on bail on 11th May, after burning a portrait of Rama X outside Bangkok’s Klongprem prison on 28th February.

Chaiamorn also performed 12345 I Love You outside Thanyaburi Provincial Court on 14th January, with Phromsorn Weerathamjaree, leading to lèse-majesté charges being filed against both of them. Whereas Chaiamorn usually sang Prayut’s nickname during the chorus, at Thanyaburi they used a nickname for the King instead. Phromsorn was also charged with lèse-majesté for singing three traditional royalist songs at the same event—สดุดีมหาราชา (‘praise the King’), ต้นไม้ของพ่อ (‘father’s tree’), and ในหลวงของแผ่นดิน (‘the king of the land’)—which he performed with altered lyrics.

Ai hia Tu” also appears in the lyrics of Rap Against Dictatorship’s latest single, Ta Lu Fah (ทะลุฟ้า), and another line—“Burn this image”—is also a reference to Chaiamorn. The ‘sky’ in the title is metaphorical, and the lyrics refer indirectly to “someone in the sky. Fuck knows he’s alive.” (This is a reference to a recent rumour that went viral online.) The music video, directed by Teeraphan Ngowjeenanan, includes footage of recent REDEM protests, which also feature in the lyrics (“Gunshots from the police as REDEM marches in line”).

02 June 2021

American Carnage

American Carnage
Tim Alberta’s American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump reveals how Republican Party factions battled each other and Donald Trump for the soul of the party. (Edward-Isaac Dovere’s new book Battle for the Soul offers a similar account of the Democrat Party’s internal divisions in the Trump era.)

American Carnage covers a decade of intramural conflict, from the rise and fall of the Tea Party to the Republican Party’s gradual embrace of Trump’s disruptive populism. Sources include former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and an Oval Office interview with President Trump. (The book was published in 2019.) Its title is taken from the key soundbite of Trump’s inauguration speech: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now” (a speech that George W. Bush described as “some weird shit”).

Alberta sets out his stall on the very first page, writing that Trump “spent his first two years as president conducting himself in a manner so self-evidently unbecoming of the office—trafficking in schoolyard taunts, peddling brazen untruths, cozying up to murderous tyrants, tearing down our national institutions, weaponizing the gears of government for the purpose of self-preservation, preying on racial division and cultural resentment”. And all of that was before the double impeachment and attempted insurrection.

In his most evocative and alarming passage, Alberta describes Trump revelling almost maniacally in the adulation he received from (in Hillary Clinton’s words) the deplorables at his rallies: “Preparing to take the stage, the president seemed to feel it all—the crowd, the music, the energy, the media glare—coursing through his veins. “I fucking love this job!” he howled into the November night.”

01 June 2021

Democracy.exe

Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them
Democracy.exe
White Bird
Aomtip Kerdplanant
The Untitled for Film group held a screening of short films on 29th May, providing a platform for young, independent directors to respond to seven years of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. The event, Democracy.exe, was originally to form part of the Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them season at the RDX Offsite gallery in Bangkok. The season was scheduled to run from 3rd April to 24th May, with the Democracy.exe films to be shown from 2nd to 8th May, though the screening ultimately took place online (streamed via Facebook Live) due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The programme began with Panya Zhu’s White Bird, in which an origami bird (representing a dove of peace?) is seen at various locations around Bangkok, including Ratchaprasong, the 14th October 1973 Memorial, Democracy Monument, and Thammasat University. These are all sites with histories of political violence and are thus, to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, ‘guilty landscapes’. (Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Planking and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s painting What a Wonderful World feature similarly ‘guilty landscapes’, silent witnesses to past traumas.) Prayut’s announcement of his coup is heard on the soundtrack, and the film ends with the lowering of the Thai flag, symbolising the country’s political regression.

Democracy.exe also featured four short documentaries by Ratakorn Sirileark, filmed at anti-government protests last year. 21 October 2020: The Event Nearby the Government House and 8 November 2020: The Unintentional Mistake (8 November 2020: มือลั่น) were, like the others in the series, filmed in black-and-white. In 17 November 2020: Tear Gas and Water Canon [sic], Ratakorn documents the grossly disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannon by riot police, with Paint It, Black by the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. (This is also the subject of Sorayos Prapapan’s short film Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship.) The title of Ratakorn’s 26 October 2020: The Owner of the Mutt is a reference to King Rama X, who has a pet poodle.

The final film in the programme was Aomtip Kerdplanant’s 16 ตุลา (‘16 Oct.’), a drama in which three student protest leaders debate their tactics in the aftermath of the 2014 coup: should they apply for a protest permit, or not?; should they organise a flashmob, or a large-scale rally? The three students could, of course, be substitutes for Arnon Nampa (released on bail today), Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Parit Chirawak; they also resemble the protagonists of Sunisa Manning’s novel A Good True Thai.

16 ตุลา shows how the students’ lives have changed in the years since their initial campaign, indicating how seasoned protesters can become disillusioned, and how Prayut has become entrenched in Thai politics. The title is a conflation of two massacres, on 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976, which have been whitewashed to such an extent that many people believe they are synonymous. The film ends with a written caption endorsing the three demands of the real-life student protest movement: Prayut’s resignation, a democratic constitution, and reform of the monarchy.

Cunts

Cunts
Cunts, the Los Angeles punk band who began playing live in 2018, released their self-titled debut album, Cunts, in 2019. The album is available on vinyl and CD. Cunts are by no means the first band to use the c-word in their name: there is also a band called The Cunts, and others include Anal Cunt, Selfish Cunt, Rotten Cunt, Cuntsaw, Märy’s Cünt, Cunt Grinder, Filthy Maggoty Cunt, and Prosthetic Cunt.

21 May 2021

Panorama

Panorama
Yesterday, the BBC published Lord Dyson’s report into its 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana, and Panorama broadcast its own account of the controversy. John Dyson, a former Justice of the UK Supreme Court, was commissioned by the BBC to conduct an independent investigation into how journalist Martin Bashir secured his extraordinary interview with Diana.

Bashir has never spoken publicly about Diana; a BBC2 Arena documentary marking the interview’s tenth anniversary included contributions from everyone involved, except Bashir. In 1996, The Mail on Sunday reported that he showed fake bank statements to Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, in order to gain access to her. The BBC denied the Mail on Sunday report, and the story was forgotten until the interview’s twenty-fifth anniversary last year, when the BBC’s three terrestrial rivals all broadcast their own investigations into Bashir and the bank statements.

Dyson’s report describes Bashir as “unreliable and, in some cases, dishonest”. It also criticises the BBC’s 1996 internal investigation into the matter as “woefully ineffective”, as BBC management did not attempt to corroborate Bashir’s denials and did not make its findings public. The BBC demonstrated greater transparency yesterday, with the Dyson report and the Panorama broadcast, though Bashir had been a senior BBC journalist until his resignation last week, and the Panorama programme’s transmission had been delayed for five days.

Yesterday’s Panorama episode—Princess Diana, Martin Bashir and the BBC—marked the BBC’s first public criticism of Bashir, and it pulled no punches: “Martin Bashir spun a web of elaborate lies... Martin Bashir’s reputation lies in ruins”. (And that was before the opening titles.) Aside from the bank statements, Dyson and Panorama provide another key document: Charles Spencer’s notes from the initial meeting he arranged between Bashir and Diana. These notes (published yesterday by The Daily Telegraph) show how Bashir undermined Diana’s trust in her senior staff by feeding her outlandish conspiracy theories that, according to a public statement by Prince William, “contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia, and isolation”.

11 May 2021

Artn’t

Vitthaya Klangnil
This morning, two Chiang Mai University art students facing criminal charges turned their police summonse into a performance art event. Outside the police station, Vitthaya Klangnil carved “112” into his chest with a knife, in a protest against article 112 of the Thai criminal code (lèse-majesté). Vitthaya and fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit have been charged with contravening the lèse-majesté law and the Flag Act, following their display of a banner depicting the Thai flag without its central blue stripe (which symbolises the monarchy).

The two students are co-founders of the art group Artn’t. They displayed their modified flag in March at the Faculty of Fine Arts, and the Constitution Protection Association (a self-appointed moral watchdog) filed charges against them under the Flag Act, which prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. The lèse-majesté charges stem from anti-monarchy graffiti written on the artwork.

The students were both released on bail this afternoon. (Parit Chirawak and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan were also bailed today.) The banner is similar to a piece by Mit Jai Inn shown at last year’s Status in Statu exhibition. Mit’s installation, titled Republic of Siam, was a large roll of fabric with a pattern of red and white stripes, thus it also resembled a Thai flag without the symbolic blue stripe.

06 May 2021

Reside

Reside
Following The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) and Senior (รุ่นพี่), Reside (สิงสู่) makes three ghost films in a row for director Wisit Sasanatieng. It also sees Wisit reunited with Ananda Everingham, who previously starred in The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง). (Reside was released in 2018, and its international title is The Summoning. This month’s planned Wisit retrospective at the Thai Film Archive has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Reside begins with an archetypal horror scenario: a small group stuck in an isolated house. Ananda’s character spells out the inevitable: “The road downhill has been cut by flash floods. We’ll be stranded here for a while.” This Old Dark House cliché is acknowledged self-referentially by another member of the group, who complains that “the lights go out every time it rains. Like in a horror film.”

For most of the running time, the characters are possessed one-by-one by spirits summonsed during a seance (one of whom transforms into a malevolent tree!). This leads to other intentional horror references, including several inevitable nods to The Exorcist, with possession resulting in spider-walking and projectile vomiting. The spirits seem relatively easy to exorcise, though, and they’re not particularly scary. The twist ending isn’t especially surprising, either.

Putin’s People

Putin's People
Five lawsuits have recently been filed against the author and publisher of Putin’s People. Catherine Belton’s book (subtitled How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West) received superlative reviews when it was published a year ago. Belton was the FT’s Moscow correspondent for six years, and Alexei Navalny brandished a copy of her book in his viral video Дворец для Путина: История самой большой взятки (‘Putin’s palace: the world’s biggest bribe’).

Roman Abramovich filed the first libel suit on 22nd March, challenging Belton’s allegation that he purchased Chelsea FC on Vladimir Putin’s instructions. Belton writes that “Putin directed Abramovich to buy the club, claimed a Russian tycoon and a former Abramovich associate.” Aside from these two off-the-record sources, she also interviewed Sergei Pugachev, whom she quotes directly: “Putin personally told me of his plan to acquire the Chelsea Football Club in order to increase his influence”.

Pugachev, a defector from Putin’s inner circle, was described by a UK High Court judge in 2017 as “a person quite willing to lie and put forward false statements deliberately if it would suit his purpose.” Belton acknowledges his reputation as an unreliable witness, though she quotes him extensively nevertheless.

On Tuesday, the FT revealed that four other lawsuits were filed against Belton and her publisher, HarperCollins, last month. In what appears to be a coordinated campaign to silence any criticism of Putin’s regime, the Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Shalva Chigirinsky sued for libel, as did the Kremlin-controlled oil company Rosneft. Peter Aven, Fridman’s business partner, sued for breach of data protection.

03 May 2021

REDEM

REDEM
A protest by REDEM (Restart Democracy) outside Bangkok’s Criminal Court yesterday evening ended with riot police firing rubber bullets at protesters for the third time this year. REDEM protesters gathered at Victory Monument yesterday afternoon, and marched to the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road. They had intended to march past the military barracks on Viphavadi Rangsit Road, where rubber bullets were used against them on 28th February, though access was blocked and the protest route was diverted.

When the protesters reached the Criminal Court, REDEM handed out tomatoes and eggs, which were thrown at the Court entrance. REDEM announced the end of the short demonstration at 6pm, and most protesters dispersed, though some stragglers remained, throwing firecrackers at the Court building. They later retreated to nearby Ratchadaphisek Soi 32, where they were confronted by riot police armed with water cannon and rubber bullets.

Rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon were also used against REDEM protesters at Sanam Luang on 20th March, after they pulled down shipping containers erected to block access to the Grand Palace. Several journalists reporting on the demonstration were also hit by rubber bullets, and clashes with riot police continued late into the night.

30 April 2021

The Film Book

The Film Book
The second edition of Ronald Bergan’s The Film Book was published last month, ten years after the first edition, with a slightly tweaked subtitle (A Complete Guide to the World of Movies). The earlier edition included a list of 100 essential films (which first appeared in Bergan’s book Film), and the new edition adds an additional eight recent films to the list.

The extra titles in the “Must-See Movies” list are There Will Be Blood, White Material, Inception, Twelve Years a Slave, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Black Panther, and Parasite (기생충). Bergan also wrote Understanding Cinema and co-wrote 501 Must-See Movies (which has been updated in second, third, fourth, and fifth editions).

Wisit Sasanatieng

Tears of the Black Tiger
Citizen Dog
The Red Eagle
Senior
The Unseeable
Reside
Nang Nak
Slice
Next month, the Thai Film Archive at Salaya has programmed a complete retrospective of films directed by Wisit Sasanatieng. (The Archive held a mini Wisit retrospective in 2010.) The season begins in style with 35mm screenings of Wisit’s classic Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร), tentatively scheduled for 4th and 16th May. The other planned screenings in May are as follows: Citizen Dog (หมานคร) on 16th and 25th, The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง) on 11th and 19th, Senior (รุ่นพี่) on 21st and 30th, The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) on 20th and 26th, and Reside (สิงสู่) on 22nd and 27th.

Two films written by Wisit will also be shown in the month-long season: Nang Nak (นางนาก) on 11th and 22nd, and Slice (เฉือน) on 14th and 30th. Wisit also wrote the screenplay for Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง), though it’s not included in the retrospective as it was screened at the Archive only a few months ago. All screenings are free, though the schedule will be delayed, as cinemas and other entertainment venues are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.