04 August 2023

The Edge of Daybreak


Chiang Mai Film Festival

Taiki Sakpisit’s The Edge of Daybreak (พญาโศกพิโยคค่ำ) will be shown in both Chiang Mai and Songkhla later this month, as part of the Chiang Mai Film Festival and Pak Taii Design Week’s Singorama programme. Like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ) and Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s Anatomy of Time (เวลา), The Edge of Daybreak shows the twilight years of a former soldier who fought against the Communist insurgency. It begins with a flashback to that era, narrated by the old man: “I was leading my unit into the woods to catch the students.”

In all three films, the ex-soldiers are largely bedridden, and it’s implied that their lingering illnesses are the result of karma. In The Edge of Daybreak, the former general’s family believe that they are cursed and, as if to confirm this, the exquisite black-and-white camerawork lingers on images of decay, such as rotting food and their crumbling home. The violent legacy of the anti-Communist purge is also a curse on the country itself, and Taiki’s film offers a reckoning with Thailand’s past and a commentary on its continuing military rule.

Singorama

The Edge of Daybreak will be shown at Thailand Creative and Design Center’s Chiang Mai branch on 11th August, and at the Songkhla Art Center on 19th August. The Chiang Mai Film Festival runs from 8th to 12th August. It also includes Vichart Somkaew’s Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป) on 11th August; and Koraphat Cheeradit’s Yesterday Is Another Day and Weerapat Sakolvaree’s Nostalgia, both screening on 12th August. Pak Taii Design Week runs from 12th to 20th August.

Yesterday Is Another Day and Nostalgia were both previously shown as part of The Political Wanderer, a programme of short films at Silpakorn University. Nostalgia has also been shown at Wildtype 2022, Future Fest 2023, and the 26th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

“Giorgia Meloni... Fascista!”
(‘Giorgia Meloni... Fascist!’)


Sonic Park

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is suing Brian Molko, lead singer of the British rock band Placebo, for defamation after he called her a fascist at a concert in Italy last month. During the performance, Molko said: “Giorgia Meloni—pezzo di merda! Fascista! Razzista! Vaffanculo!” (‘Giorgia Meloni—piece of shit! Fascist! Racist! Go fuck yourself!’).

After the concert, at Sonic Park Stupinigi in Nichelino on 11th July, local police investigated Molko for defaming a public institution (namely, the office of the Prime Minister). Meloni has now filed a personal lawsuit against Molko, accusing him of libel. (More than a decade ago, Madonna was sued by French politician Marine Le Pen after depicting her as a Nazi at a concert.)

03 August 2023

The Cost of Freedom


The Cost of Freedom Chain Film Festival

A new short film about student activist Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul will have its premiere in New York this weekend. The Cost of Freedom documents Panusaya’s protests calling for reform of the monarchy and the abolition of the lèse-majesté law (article 112 of the criminal code). The film’s poster shows “112” carved into Panusaya’s arm, and a similar photograph appears in Karntachat Raungratanaamporn’s photobook End in This Generation.

The Cost of Freedom, directed by Primrin Puarat and Onarisa Sapsompong, will be shown at the Chain Theatre on 6th August, as part of the Chain Film Festival. (The festival runs from 4th to 13th August.) Panusaya was also the subject of The Commoner’s single รุ้ง (‘rainbow’), and her portrait has been painted by Jirapatt Aungsumalee and Tawan Wattuya.

Pheu Thai:
“The new government will not have Move Forward in its coalition…”


Thalu Wang

The eight-party coalition formed after Thailand’s election has collapsed, after Pheu Thai withdrew from the bloc yesterday. Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew announced at a press conference that his party had been unable to secure support from governing parties or senators, who refused to endorse a coalition that included the Move Forward Party. Pheu Thai is preparing to unveil a new coalition, relegating Move Forward to the opposition.

Move Forward won the most seats in the 14th May election, though their prime ministerial candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, lost a parliamentary vote on 13th July after criticism of his party’s pledge to amend the lèse-majesté law (article 112 of the criminal code). MPs and senators voted on 19th July to prevent a second round from taking place, and the legality of that decision is now under consideration by the Constitutional Court. When parliament votes again to select a new prime minister, Pheu Thai plans to nominate its candidate, Srettha Thavisin.

At yesterday’s press conference, Cholnan distanced his party from Move Forward and its lèse-majesté policy: “Pheu Thai and Mr Srettha will keep Section 112 intact and the new government will not have Move Forward in its coalition”. Pheu Thai’s withdrawal comes after Cholnan categorically denied persistent rumours that his party would abandon its alliance with Move Forward, a betrayal of principles that may cost Pheu Thai much of its grassroots support. (After the announcement, the Thalu Wang group staged a protest outside Pheu Thai’s headquarters in Bangkok, spraying the building with pig’s blood.)

01 August 2023

The Fight of His Life:
Inside Joe Biden’s White House


The Fight of His Life

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s Peril included coverage of the first few months of the Biden presidency, but Chris Whipple’s The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House is the first book to focus entirely on President Biden. Whipple covers the Biden administration from the election in November 2020 to last year’s midterms. Although he was granted an interview with Biden, it was conducted via email—preventing follow-up questions—presumably because White House staff were conscious of the President’s propensity for gaffes.

Whipple relies heavily on his more extensive access to Ron Klain, who was Biden’s chief of staff until earlier this year. He also interviewed numerous other senior figures in the administration, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, CIA director William Burns, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley. Whipple reveals Biden’s uneasy relationship with the Secret Service: “Wary of his own Secret Service agents, the president no longer spoke freely in their presence.”

Whipple’s strongest criticism of Biden relates to the US troop pullout from Afghanistan and the subsequent Taliban takeover of the country: “Both the decision to withdraw and its flawed execution belonged to him.” He presents conflicting accounts of the intelligence shown to the President prior to the withdrawal, which the White House regarded as flawed. Klain maintains: “Biden was being told by the military commanders [that] there would be a valiant defense of Kabul. That defense never showed up.” Blinken also blames “an intelligence assessment that proved to be wrong”.

This notion of an intelligence failure is rejected by the CIA: “President Biden, they insisted, was under no illusions. He understood the fragility of the Afghan military forces and had a clear-eyed view of the weaknesses of the Afghan political leadership.” Burns claims that the President was made fully aware of the risks, describing “a prescription for things unravelling pretty quickly... All of this, he said, was communicated to Joe Biden.” Similarly, Milley says that an imminent Taliban takeover had been foreseen: “The intelligence I saw predicted months”.

On the other hand, Whipple gives Biden considerable credit for his response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, even describing him in Churchillian terms: “Biden had a few things in common with Churchill”. Biden’s view of Russian President Vladimir Putin—that he has no soul—is well documented, though Whipple adds that Biden regards Putin as a dictator in the same mould as Adolf Hitler: “He thought the Russian tyrant personified the evil he’d seen memorialized at Dachau”.

Blood Is Blood


Gay Blood Acrylic Paint

In 2018, artist Stuart Semple created screen printing ink with trace elements of blood donated by gay men, which he used to print Blood Is Blood t-shirts with the slogan “THIS SHIRT IS PRINTED WITH THE BLOOD OF GAY MEN.” Last year, Semple began selling tins of the screen print ink itself, along with bottles of pen ink and acrylic paint, and canisters of spray paint, all containing traces of blood.

Bloody Art


Numerous artists have used blood as a medium recently, including Kristian von Hornsleth, Tameka Norris, Vincent Castiglia, Elito Circa, Ryan Almighty, Julia Fox, Axel, Ruby Martinez, Vinicius Quesada, and Maxime Taccardi. Andrei Molodkin uses blood to create sculptures and portraits satirising political figures. Pamela Schilderman (Ecology Now) used her blood and other bodily fluids to raise awareness of ecological damage. John O’Shea (Black Market Pudding) made black puddings from blood extracted from live pigs.

Products containing blood have also been commercially released, albeit in limited quantities. Tony Hawk sold Liquid Death skateboards decorated with paint containing his blood, and Nil Nas X sold Satan Shoes, modified Nike trainers containing a drop of his blood. Five albums have been released on blood-filled vinyl: Shout at the Devil (by Mötley Crüe), Maniacult (by Aborted), the Carrion soundtrack (by Cris Velasco), The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends (by The Flaming Lips) and the Friday the 13th soundtrack (by Harry Manfredini, rereleased by Waxwork Records). Gamnad737’s album Lets Kill [sic] was released on a blood-splattered CD.

Breaking Taboos


The most powerful artistic uses of blood have been attempts to destigmatise the blood of gay men. Semple’s ink and paint project was a protest against the ban on sexually active gay men donating blood in America. R.J. Arkhipov (Visceral) wrote poetry in blood to highlight the UK’s equally discriminatory blood donation restrictions. The magazines Audio Kultur (‘audio culture’) and Vangardist printed issues with blood donated by HIV+ men. Jordan Eagles has created installations (Blood Mirror and Blood Equality) from blood donated by gay men.

Menstrual blood has been tabooed for centuries. Artists including Ingrid Berthon-Moine, Portia Munson, Jen Lewis (Beauty in Blood), Christen Clifford (I Want Your Blood), and Sarah Levy have painted with their menstrual blood to challenge the taboo and normalise menstruation. In Levy’s case, she painted a menstrual blood portrait of Donald Trump, in reference to his sexist comment that journalist Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her—wherever”.

Thai Art and Politics


Several Thai artists have painted with blood. Pornprasert Yamazaki has shown his blood paintings at three exhibitions: Suicide Mind, Currency Crisis, and Swallow. Darisa Karnpoj (Vein/Vain) painted portraits in blood diluted with water. Kosit Juntaratip (Allergic Realities) used his blood to reproduce iconic news photographs. Manit Sriwanichpoom (Died on 6th October) soaked autopsy photographs in blood to commemorate the victims of state violence.

Blood has also been used by political protesters in Thailand. Protesters from Thalu Wang sprayed the Pheu Thai headquarters with pig’s blood after the party withdrew from Move Forward’s anti-military coalition. Thalufah splashed pig’s blood onto a sign at the Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction headquarters, in protest at the policies of health minister Anutin Charnvirakul. United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protesters painted pro-democracy banners in blood and wrapped them around the Democracy Monument.

31 July 2023

Portrait Gallery


Tanawin Aimla-or Napasin Samkaewcham
Napasin Samkaewcham Nathapong Samarngkay

The upper-left image is a digital portrait by Tanawin Aimla-or from this month, and on the upper-right is a digital portrait by Napasin Samkaewcham from earlier this year. Below these are two older digital portraits: in the lower-left is another picture by Napasin, from last year; and in the lower-right is one by Nathapong Samarngkay from 2021.

30 July 2023

The Murderer


The Murderer

Wisit Sasanatieng’s The Murderer (เมอร์เด้อเหรอ ฆาตกรรมอิหยังวะ) is his second film made for Netflix, after The Whole Truth (ปริศนารูหลอน). With The Murderer, he moves away from supernatural horror—his most consistent subject matter, in films such as Reside (สิงสู่), Senior (รุ่นพี่), and The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี)—and delivers his first horror-comedy (a Thai genre hybrid popularised by Yuthlert Sippapak’s Buppah Rahtree/บุปผาราตรี franchise).

The film’s greatest impact comes from its colour grading, a welcome return to the oversaturated palettes of Wisit’s Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร) and Citizen Dog (หมานคร). It also makes some pointed observations on xenophobia in Thai society: the Western protagonist, visiting his bigoted inlaws, is discriminated against throughout the entire film. Comedian Mum Jokmok gives a great performance as a frustrated cop; like the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, he gives conflicting explanations for the origin of his facial scar.

The Murderer is structured like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (羅生門), with each surviving character narrating their own unreliable account of how a sequence of improbable killings took place, dramatised in a series of flashbacks. The moral of the tale is spoon-fed to the audience in the final moments: “You can’t just blindly believe what people say. Pay no attention to all the noise out there. Make up your own mind.”

Rock Home Town


Rock Home Town

The lead singer of the Chinese rock band 暴力香槟 (‘violent champagne’) has been arrested in Shijiazhuang for ‘immoral behaviour’ after briefly dropping his shorts during a gig at Xiandan Livehouse on 22nd July. The crowd at the Rock Home Town festival encouraged him to go further, shouting: “Drop your pants!” (Earlier this year, a Chinese comedian was detained after using a People’s Liberation Army slogan as a punchline.)

29 July 2023

Donald Trump v. CNN:
“Bad rhetoric is not defamation…”


State of the Union

Donald Trump’s defamation lawsuit against CNN has been dismissed by a judge whom Trump appointed during his presidency. Trump sued CNN for $475 million last year, accusing the network of maliciously comparing him to Hitler by describing his false statements about the 2020 presidential election result as ‘the big lie’, a phrase used by Hitler in his autobiography Mein Kampf (‘my struggle’).

In his dismissal, issued yesterday, District Judge Raag Singhal criticised CNN’s inflammatory rhetoric, though he ruled that it was not libellous: “The Court finds Nazi references in the political discourse (made by whichever ‘side’) to be odious and repugnant. But bad rhetoric is not defamation when it does not include false statements of fact.” Singhal, appointed by Trump in 2019, concluded that “CNN’s statements while repugnant, were not, as a matter of law, defamatory.”

27 July 2023

Democracy after Death:
The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan



There will be a rare screening of Neti Wichiansaen’s film Democracy after Death: The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย เรื่องเศร้าของลุงนวมทอง) this evening. The rooftop screening, at Chiang Mai University’s Department of Media Arts and Design, was organised by Untitled for Film. (Democracy after Death was also shown in Chiang Mai last year.)

Democracy after Death’s voiceover narration is addressed to Nuamthong Praiwan, a pro-democracy protester who committed suicide in 2006. Nuamthong was also the subject of Prap Boonpan’s short film Letter from the Silence (จดหมายจากความเงียบ) and Rap Against Dictatorship’s music video 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’).

26 July 2023

Yesterday Is Another Day


Yesterday Is Another Day

Koraphat Cheeradit’s short film Yesterday Is Another Day is being shown today as part of The Political Wanderer, a programme of short films at Silpakorn University’s Faculty of Information and Communication Technology. (The programme also includes Weerapat Sakolvaree’s Nostalgia.)

In Yesterday Is Another Day, a high school student plays hooky and meets his girlfriend in a woodland. They take a walk, and joke about their future together, seemingly without a care in the world. But there are ominous signs of impending threats: they find a discarded handgun, and Koraphat inserts shots of a JCB digging up the forest.

Eventually, we learn that the student is being charged with lèse-majesté, for sharing Facebook posts. His court hearing is the following day, and he is likely to be jailed. (The film doesn’t state directly that he’s facing royal defamation charges, though it’s clear from the couple’s conversation: he explains that the sentence is three years per offence, which is the minimum jail term for lèse-majesté.)

Yesterday Is Another Day

The prospect of criminal charges for posting on social media is a reality for hundreds of people in Thailand today, many of whom are students. As the boy in Koraphat’s film says to his girlfriend, he has to face changing from “being a teenager to being a prisoner.” Recent student protests have called for the abolition of the lèse-majesté law, and the Move Forward Party’s manifesto includes a proposal to amend it, though this faced overwhelming opposition in parliament.

Yesterday Is Another Day is a powerful and moving reminder of the severe consequences of lèse-majesté, and what it must feel like to be criminalised at a young age for expressing opinions online. It’s a less angry film than Koraphat’s Tomorrow I Fuck with Yesterday Now! (ฉันแต่งงานกับปัจจุบัน ช่วยตัวเองด้วยเมื่อวาน และมีเพศสัมพันธ์กับวันพรุ่งนี้), though the two films do have something in common: their titles are both puns on ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’. (Yesterday Is Another Day refers to ‘tomorrow is another day’, popularised by Gone with the Wind).

24 July 2023

Pita Limjaroenrat:
“If the boat is leaking, we are supposed to fix the boat together, not kick others off the boat...”


Democracy Monument

After a second vote for Move Forward’s prime ministerial candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, was cancelled last week, the eight-party coalition that was formed after the election is looking increasingly fragile. Pheu Thai, Move Forward’s main coalition partner, is preparing to nominate its own PM candidate, and—taking no chances, given Pita’s misfortune—it has taken soundings from parties outside the coalition to gauge how much support its nominee might receive.

This weekend, Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew held meetings with representatives from Bhumjaithai, United Thai Nation, and other pro-military parties—all of which are considered persona non grata by Move Forward. Yesterday, he even met with Thammanat Prompao, the convicted heroin smuggler who represents the Palang Pracharath Party. These meetings dismayed many Move Forward and Pheu Thai voters, as United Thai Nation and Palang Pracharath are the political wings of the junta that deposed Pheu Thai in 2014.

The message Cholnan received from the pro-military parties, loud and clear, was that they wouldn’t endorse a Pheu Thai prime minister while Move Forward remained in the coalition. Cholnan has denied that he is seeking to form a new alliance, or that he is putting pressure on Move Forward, though Pheu Thai now faces a clear choice: power or principles. If it honours its pledge to Move Forward, the premiership seems out of reach; if it throws Move Forward under the bus, it would return to government but lose its credibility.

Pita used a weekend rally in Pattaya to send a message to Cholnan, imploring him to do the right thing. “We are all in the same boat,” he said, referring to the eight coalition parties. “If the boat is leaking, we are supposed to fix the boat together, not kick others off the boat.” Now that Pheu Thai is at the tiller, it’s all hands on deck to secure the next prime ministerial vote, though Move Forward may be forced overboard.

23 July 2023

Oppenheimer (IMAX Laser)


Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan’s five most recent films—Tenet, Interstellar, Dunkirk, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises—were all shown in IMAX 70mm on the full-size Krungrsi IMAX screen at Bangkok’s Paragon Cineplex. But Paragon’s IMAX 70mm projector was removed after it broke down during screenings of Tenet, and a laser projector was installed last year. A single laser projector is not capable of filling the 1.43:1 IMAX screen, so Nolan’s new film Oppenheimer alternates between 2.2:1 and 1.9:1 aspect ratios for its IMAX screenings at Paragon.

Regardless of the screening format, Oppenheimer is one of Nolan’s best films, with an impressive script that doesn’t dumb down its science or its politics. A dense biopic unfolding in non-chronological, staccato flashbacks, it orients the viewer with linear sequences shot in black-and-white (as in Memento). The camera often lingers on Cillian Murphy’s face, especially his piercing blue eyes, though there are also dazzling, abstract shots (created without resorting to CGI) of subatomic particles and vast explosions.

22 July 2023

The Colors of October


The Colors of October

The Colors of October: 50 Years of 14th October, 50 Artists (สีสันแห่งเดือนตุลา ห้าสิบปีสิบสี่ตุลา ห้าสิบศิลปิน) opens at g23 in Bangkok on 29th July. The exhibition marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 14th October 1973 protest and massacre, with works by fifty contemporary artists, and runs until 30th August. Surprisingly, the participating artists (with only one exception, Chokchai Tukpoe) do not depict the events of the protest itself, nor do they refer—even symbolically—to the violence of the event. Instead, there are numerous paintings of bucolic landscapes, plants, and clouds.

In October 1973, a group of students campaigned against military corruption after a decade of dictatorial rule by Thanom Kittikachorn. A dozen campaigners were arrested, prompting a rally at Democracy Monument by 2,000 Thammasat University students calling for their release. Within a week, the number had swelled to 500,000 people, the largest mass protest in Thai history. King Rama IX indicated his support for the movement, and assured protest leader Seksan Prasertkul that their demands would be met. The protest was successful, as Thanom was dismissed as prime minister and sent into exile, though the military shot and killed seventy-seven protesters.

The last exhibition commemorating the massacre, 14 ตุลา ผ่านสายตาศิลปิน (‘14th October through artists’ eyes’), was held on the 30th anniversary of the event. That exhibition featured only seven artists, though several of the works on show were produced in the immediate aftermath of the massacre and commented directly on the tragedy that unfolded. These included Chang Sae-tang’s Portrait of Chang Sae-tang (จิตรกรรมภาพเหมือน จ่าง แซ่ตั้ง ในปี), a haunting self-portrait of the artist’s bloodstained face and chest; and Pratuang Emjaroen’s Dhama and Adhama (ธรรมะ-อธรรม), which depicts bullet holes on the face of the Buddha.

19 July 2023

Pita Limjaroenrat:
“Until we meet again...”


Constitutional Court

Thailand’s Constitutional Court has suspended Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat from parliament with immediate effect, while it investigates his ownership of shares in the defunct TV channel iTV. After the ruling this afternoon, Pita left parliament saying, “goodbye until we meet again”. The court’s decision was timed to cause maximum political impact, as MPs and senators were due to vote on Pita’s nomination as prime minister later today. That vote was cancelled, ending Pita’s chances of becoming PM.

The court’s intervention came a week after the Election Commission of Thailand recommended Pita’s suspension. The timing of the ECT’s announcement was similarly impactful, coming on the eve of the first vote on Pita’s nomination as PM. Pita secured only thirteen votes from the 250 junta-appointed senators, and the debate on his nomination was overshadowed by senators and government MPs criticising Move Forward’s policy to amend the lèse-majesté law. The tone was set by Bhumjaithai MP Chada Thaiseth, who claimed that “our country will burn” if lèse-majesté was amended, adding: “How about I propose a law allowing people to shoot those insulting the monarchy?”

Constitutional Court

Another vote on Pita’s candidacy was due today, though after the court’s announcement MPs and senators voted instead to prevent the second round from taking place. (A parliamentary rule states that “[a]ny motion which has the same principle as the one lapsed shall not be submitted in the same session,” and last week’s vote was interpreted as a lapsed motion.) Three unelected bodies—the Senate, the ECT, and the Constitutional Court—have successfully prevented the election winner from assuming office. Protesters gathered at Democracy Monument this evening, burning a coffin symbolising the senators who blocked Pita’s nomination.

The political momentum has now shifted to Move Forward’s coalition partner Pheu Thai, which is likely to nominate its candidate Srettha Thavisin—who is more palatable to senators and government MPs—as prime minister. Pheu Thai has come under increasing pressure from other parties to abandon its alliance with Move Forward, though it has consistently denied any plans to do so. Pita has repeatedly hinted that Move Forward supporters would take to the streets if his party was excluded from the new government.

15 July 2023

Desire


Desire

Ohm Phanphiroj’s new photography exhibition Desire opened today at VS Gallery in Bangkok. The exhibition is split into two parts, on different floors of the gallery, and runs until 1st October (extended from 23rd August). (Desire is also the title of a compilation of Ohm’s erotic short films, available on DVD.) On the ground floor are Ohm’s nude portraits of fashion model Nicholas Mamedia, collectively titled Desejo, para Nico (‘desire, for Nico’), the artist’s visual expressions of desire for his muse.

On the upper floor, the dynamic is reversed, as the photographer—or his feminine alter ego—becomes the object of desire. For this series, Gina’s Journey, Ohm took a self-portrait as a ladyboy, known as Gina. (Almost exactly a century earlier, Marcel Duchamp created his own female persona, Rrose Sélavy.) Posing as Gina online, Ohm solicited nude photos from dozens of bi-curious men, who are unaware that their selfies are now on display in an art gallery.

Ohm Phanphiroj Rrose Selavy

Ohm’s work has always been controversial—his video Underage was withdrawn from another Bangkok gallery a few years ago—and Desire is no exception. The images submitted by Gina’s unwitting admirers are shown without consent, raising privacy issues. Many of them are also incredibly graphic: Desire is one of only a few exhibitions in Bangkok to feature such sexually explicit content, the others being Shotbyly’s Boy x Therapy, Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Life Show (เปลือยชีวิต), and Tada Varich’s Story of the Eye.

13 July 2023

“Fox repeatedly published defamatory falsehoods...”


Tucker Carlson Tonight

One of the rioters who took part in the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol on 6th January 2021 is suing Fox News for defamation. In a lawsuit filed yesterday, Ray Epps claims that former Fox host Tucker Carlson falsely implied that he was an undercover FBI agent involved in orchestrating the insurrection.

According to the lawsuit, “Fox repeatedly published defamatory falsehoods about Epps, including by broadcasting and rebroadcasting defamatory statements by Tucker Carlson”. It singles out the 6th January 2023 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight for “communicating as a fact that Epps was a federal agent planted to encourage supporters of Donald Trump to go into the Capitol building on January 6—the core false and defamatory allegation upon which this Complaint by Epps against Fox is predicated.”

In its defence against a previous libel action relating to Carlson, Fox argued that his comments “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts”, and that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carlson was dismissed by the network earlier this year.

12 July 2023

“The Election Commission will send a case to the Constitutional Court...”


Election Commission of Thailand

This morning, on the eve of a parliamentary vote to select a new prime minister, the Election Commission of Thailand has referred its investigation into Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat to the Constitutional Court, and recommended that he be suspended as an MP pending the court’s verdict. In a press release, the ECT announced: “The Election Commission will send a case to the Constitutional Court for ruling”. The ECT’s decision, timed to cause maximum impact, will seriously undermine Pita’s chances of becoming PM.

The ECT had been investigating Pita’s small stake in the television company iTV, as political candidates are prohibited from owning media shares. However, iTV has been defunct since 2007, when it lost its broadcasting licence, making its status as a media company debatable. The ECT ruled last month that complaints regarding Pita’s iTV shares were submitted after the statute of limitations had passed, though it also began investigating whether Pita had concealed his ownership when standing for election, which is a criminal offence.

Constitutional Court

Even more ominously, the Constitutional Court announced today that it will investigate whether Move Forward’s manifesto commitment to amend the lèse-majesté law constitutes an attempt to overthrow the monarchy. (Move Forward is not a republican party. Its lèse-majesté policy merely calls for a reduction in the fifteen-year maximum sentence for offenders, and a restriction on who can press charges.) If the court ruled against Move Forward, it would lead to the dissolution of the party and could even result in charges of treason.

The Constitutional Court has a history of dissolving anti-military parties, namely Thai Rak Thai, People Power, Thai Raksa Chart, and Future Forward. Indeed, the case against Pita is a carbon copy of the events leading to the disqualification of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of Future Forward. Thanathorn was dismissed as an MP by the Constitutional Court for ownership of media shares; the similar charges against Pita demonstrate that the conservative establishment is using the same playbook—and that Pita was naive to imagine he could avoid the same fate.

Prayut Chan-o-cha:
“I am announcing my retirement from politics...”


Democracy Monument

Prime Minister and coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has confirmed that he will leave politics once a new Thai government has been formed. He released a statement yesterday saying: “I am announcing my retirement from politics and resigning as a member of the United Thai Nation Party”. Prayut has dominated Thai politics for almost a decade, though his party won only thirty-six seats in this year’s election. A parliamentary vote will take place tomorrow to select his successor, though the front runner, Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, is facing suspension as an MP pending a ruling by the Constitutional Court on a legal technicality.

Prayut declared martial law on 20th March 2014, which was unconstitutional as only the monarch has the prerogative to invoke martial law nationwide. At the time, he claimed that “[t]he invocation of martial law is not a coup d’etat”, though he launched a coup two days later. He was appointed Prime Minister by the rubber-stamp National Legislative Assembly established by the junta, and gave himself absolute power under article 44 of the interim constitution. Prayut’s party lost the long-delayed 2019 election, though he was reappointed as Prime Minister thanks to the votes of the senators his junta had selected.

Thai prime ministers are limited to two terms—or eight years—in office, and last year the Constitutional Court ruled that Prayut had served as PM for only five years rather than eight, thus enabling him to remain in power. (The court’s verdict discounted his first three years as PM, before the new constitution came into effect.) But in his resignation statement yesterday, Prayut said: “Throughout the past nine years as Prime Minister, I have dedicated myself to the benefit of the beloved people”, confirming that, in fact, he had exceeded the two-term limit.

08 July 2023

Rama X:
The Thai Monarchy under King Vajiralongkorn


Royal Gazette

As the proverb says, don’t judge a book by its cover. But a forthcoming academic book, Rama X: The Thai Monarchy under King Vajiralongkorn, has been banned from distribution in Thailand on the basis of its cover. It will be published in the US later this year, and anyone importing it into Thailand faces up to three years in jail and/or a ฿60,000 fine. Police are authorised to confiscate and destroy any imported copies of the book, as it may contravene the lèse-majesté law.

The announcement of the ban was published in the Royal Gazette (ราชกิจจานุเบกษา) yesterday (vol. 140, no. 163, p. 45). It misidentified the book—the word ‘under’ is missing from the subtitle—though anyone charged with distributing it would presumably be unwise to rely on that technicality for their defence.

Rama X has not yet been published, thus the ban is based on its cover and the reputation of its editor, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic who left the country to avoid being detained by the junta after the 2014 coup. (Similarly, Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s book A Kingdom in Crisis was banned based on newspaper reviews.)

Official bans on books and print media are rare, as their announcement in the Royal Gazette draws attention to the publications in question (the so-called ‘Streisand effect’). Harry Nicolaides, for example, sold only a handful of copies of his self-published novel Verisimilitude, though it became an international headline once it was banned. An issue of the French magazine Marie Claire was banned seven years ago. Two books by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, A Coup for the Rich and Thailand’s Crisis, are also on the banned list. An issue of the Thai journal Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน; vol. 3, no. 4) was banned due to its interview with scholar Sulak Sivaraksa. The most notorious title on the list, Paul M. Handley’s The King Never Smiles, was published, like Rama X, by Yale University Press.

Pavin’s previous books, such as Coup, King, Crisis and “Good Coup” Gone Bad, were not banned, though they are not available within Thailand. Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine (vol. 22, no. 260) published an extensive article on the history of book censorship, and Underground Buleteen (no. 8) printed a list of books banned between 1932 and 1985.

04 July 2023

Kings of the Road


Kings of the Road

The classic Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit) is showing at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok this month. An early film by German new wave (das neue Kino) pioneer Wim Wenders, it was previously screened at a Wenders retrospective at the Thai Film Archive in 2016.

Kings of the Road will be shown on 6th, 7th, 10th, 11th, 14th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 23rd, 25th, and 26th July; and 1st, 9th, and 22nd August. On 8th July, it’s being shown as part of a triple bill along with two other Wenders titles, which have become known as his road movie trilogy.

02 July 2023

BirG√ľn



A Turkish journalist has been charged with encouraging terrorist organisations to target counterterrorism officials, and faces up to three years in jail if convicted. The charge stems from a complaint by Akın Gürlek, a government minister and former judge, who was mentioned in a newspaper article by Ayça Söylemez.

The article, which had the ironic headline “Yetenekli hâkim bey” (‘the talented judge’), was published by BirGün on 18th February 2020. In a statement to police after her arrest, Söylemez explained that she was merely giving background details on the judicial cases Gürlek presided over, “which are already publicly available information. Therefore, it cannot be said that I made Akın Gürlek a target of any organization.”

30 June 2023

From Forest to City


From Forest to City

Chatchawal Thongjun’s powerful short film From Forest to City (อรัญนคร) begins with an epigraph by Kittivuddho Bhikku, an influential Buddhist monk: “Killing a communist is not a sin.” This infamous quote gave nationalist paramilitary groups a licence to kill and, a few months later, they invaded Thammasat University’s campus and lynched dozens of students. The monk’s words—taken from an interview he gave to จัตุรัส (‘square’) magazine on 29th June 1976—also appear in Thunska Pansittivorakul’s documentary The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) and Manussak Dokmai’s short film Don’t Forget Me (อย่าลืมฉัน), and artist Sutee Kunavichayanont rendered the quotation as calligram.

From Forest to City is a black-and-white drama in three parts, narrated by a woman who survived the Thammasat massacre and joined the Communist insurgency. In the first part, smoke billowing from an oil drum signifies the hundreds of suspected Communists who were, as Anocha Suwichakornpong’s film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) explains, “set on fire in oil barrels.” In part two, comparing 1976 to the present day, the narrator regrets that Thailand hasn’t changed. Society remains irreconcilably divided, between student protesters and the conservative establishment.

Although the film is black-and-white, there are two flashes of colour: a red folding chair, and a yellow t-shirt. Thanks to Neal Ulevich’s famous photograph of a man beating a corpse with a folding chair, this single item of furniture has come to symbolise the entire Thammasat massacre. The yellow t-shirt in an otherwise black-and-white shot recalls Chai Chaiyachit and Chisanucha Kongwailap’s short film Re-presentation (ผีมะขาม ไพร่ฟ้า ประชาธิปไตย ในคืนที่ลมพัดหวน), in which the yellow t-shirts worn by monarchists are the only objects shown in colour.

From Forest to City Re-presentation

In part three, From Forest to City switches gear with a documentary montage of various dramatic episodes from modern Thai history: the Thammasat massacre, armoured personnel carriers demolishing red-shirt protest camps, riot police firing water cannon at students in Siam Square, and Arnon Nampa’s Harry Potter-themed protest. In an echo of Prap Boonpan’s sadly prophetic short film The Bangkok Bourgeois Party (ความลักลั่นของงานรื่นเริง), a yellow-shirt mob is seen attacking a pro-reform protester.

The montage of news footage is set incongruously to รักกันไว้เถิด (‘let’s love each other’), a Cold War propaganda song whose lyrics call for national unity. This technique—the ironic juxtaposition of uplifting music and images of state violence—has been used in several documentaries, including The Terrorists, This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน; also from Thunska), and บันทึกสีดำ (‘black record’).

29 June 2023

E. Jean Carroll:
“Oh yes, you did. That’s my response...”


CNN

Donald Trump and E. Jean Carroll are suing each other for defamation, based on interviews they each gave to CNN on the same day. Carroll was awarded $5 million in damages on 9th May after Trump was found guilty in a civil trial of sexually assaulting her, though the jury cleared him of rape. Carroll and Trump were interviewed on separate CNN shows on the day after the verdict.

Appearing on CNN’s This Morning, Carroll said of her rape allegation: “Oh yes, you did. Oh yes, you did. That’s my response.” (Her answer has been widely misquoted as “Oh yes, he did.”) According to Trump’s lawsuit, filed on 27th June, “these false statements were clearly contrary to the jury verdict”.

Carroll is also suing Trump for remarks he made on the same day. Reacting to the sexual assault verdict in a CNN interview, Trump said of Carroll: “I don’t know her, I never met her, I have no idea who she is.”

24 June 2023

BangLee Everything Everywhere


BangLee Everything Everywhere Horror in Pink No. 2
Hidden Agenda No. 5 Spanky Studio
Sun Rises When Day Breaks By the Time It Gets Dark
Deja vu Selfie Series

BangLee Everything Everywhere, a retrospective of works by Anuwat Apimukmongkon opened at the Head High Second Floor gallery in Chiang Mai on 18th March. The exhibition has since been extended, and now runs until 8th July (significantly later than its original closing date of 29th April). Anuwat paints self-portraits of his alter ego BangLee in a variety of styles—such as Cubism and Impressionism—imitating major modern artists like Picasso and Klimt. He has also copied photographer Manit Sriwanichpoom’s Horror in Pink (ปีศาจสีชมพู) series, by inserting himself into news photographs of the 6th October 1976 and ‘Black May’ 1992 massacres.

One particular image from 1976, taken by photojournalist Kraipit Phanvut, shows police colonel Watcharin Niamvanichkul aiming his pistol while nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Anuwat, Manit, and other Thai artists have produced numerous parodies of this photograph. Spanky Studio superimposed a clown’s head over Watcharin’s face. In Déjà vu (เดจาวู), Headache Stencil replaced the pistol with a futuristic ray gun. For his Selfie Series (เซลฟี่ ซีรีย์), Chumpol Kamwanna depicted himself taking a selfie while adopting the same pose as Watcharin. The pose was also restaged in Anocha Suwichakornpong’s film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) and View from the Bus Tour’s music video Sun Rises When Day Breaks (ลิ่วล้อ). Pornpimon Pokha’s Hidden Agenda No. 5 (วาระซ่อนเร้น หมายเลข 5) recreated the image in watercolour.

23 June 2023

Bastardgate


Daily Mirror

Next month marks the 30th anniversary of the ‘bastardgate’ scandal, when former UK prime minister John Major was recorded calling three of his cabinet ministers “bastards”. Major was speaking to ITN political editor Michael Brunson in an off-the-record conversation in Downing Street on 23rd July 1993, after they had taped a television interview. The exchange was not broadcast, but the cameras were still rolling.

Discussing current and former ministers who were briefing journalists against his policies on Europe, Major told Brunson: “You and I can both think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble. Do we want three more of the bastards out there?” This was widely regarded as a reference to the Eurosceptic cabinet ministers Michael Portillo, Peter Lilley, and Michael Howard.

The Observer newspaper published lengthy quotes from the “remarkably frank” conversation two days after it was recorded. Two days after that, the Daily Mirror printed the entire transcript (headlined “THE ‘BASTARDS’ TAPE IN FULL”). The tabloid also gave away free bastardgate cassettes to readers who sent in coupons. (The tapes began with an introduction by then-editor David Banks, who said: “this tape signifies our stand against the establishment’s attempts to gag this great newspaper.”)

Major devoted a chapter of his memoir John Major: The Autobiography to the controversy, admitting that he had been “careless... to have spoken to Brunson so freely”. At a lunch for Westminster journalists in 2013, he said that the “bastards” comment was “unforgivable”, then paused for effect and added: “My only excuse is that it was true.”

The Mirror’s bastardgate splash was followed a day later by the leaking of a different off-the-record conversation between Major and another journalist, Jonathan Dimbleby. This second recording was obtained by the Mirror’s tabloid rival The Sun, which dubbed it ‘Majorgate’. Speaking in 1992, Major could be heard complaining to Dimbleby that Conservative voters often refuse to take part in exit polls, which he described as “a high fuck-up factor among Tories.”

Bastardgate and Majorgate came shortly after two royal ‘-gate’ scandals, ‘Dianagate’ and ‘Camillagate’, which also involved illicitly recorded conversations. The ‘-gate’ suffix, most recently applied to ‘partygate’, originated with the Watergate scandal in the US.

20 June 2023

“Johnson committed a serious contempt...”


Boris Johnson

The UK parliament voted overwhelmingly yesterday to endorse an excoriating committee report into former prime minister Boris Johnson’s role in covering up the ‘partygate’ scandal. 354 MPs voted in favour of the report’s findings, and only seven voted against. Johnson resigned as an MP on 12th June, after receiving an advance copy of the report; in an unrepentant written statement, he denounced the committee as “the very definition of a kangaroo court.” (The partygate scandal was also one of the factors leading to Johnson’s resignation as prime minister last year.)

The House of Commons Committee of Privileges ruled that Johnson lied to parliament on multiple occasions. Their report states: “We conclude that in deliberately misleading the House Mr Johnson committed a serious contempt.” It goes on to say: “The contempt was all the more serious because it was committed by the Prime Minister, the most senior member of the government... He misled the House on an issue of the greatest importance to the House and to the public, and did so repeatedly.”

On 1st December 2021, the Daily Mirror published Pippa Crerar’s initial investigation into staff parties that took place at Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdown. On the same day as the Mirror’s front-page splash appeared, Johnson denied that any lockdown rules had been broken, telling parliament that “all guidance was followed” in Downing Street. A week later, he told parliament: “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Many more details of raucous Downing Street parties later emerged, and more than a hundred attendees (including Johnson) were fined by the police, though Johnson maintained that the gatherings were justifiable work events. The House of Commons committee concluded that Johnson’s claim that he was misinformed by his staff was “no more than an artifice.” Their report also found that he lied under oath when he appeared before the committee: “He misled the Committee in the presentation of his evidence.”

The committee’s report argues that “[t]here is no precedent for a Prime Minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House”, though Johnson’s case is not completely unprecedented: during the Suez crisis, Anthony Eden also lied to parliament. On 20th December 1956, in a final speech before his resignation as PM, Eden told the House of Commons: “I want to say this on the question of foreknowledge, and to say it quite bluntly to the House, that there was not foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt—there was not.” It later emerged that the UK had indeed colluded with Israel and France to coordinate their invasion of Egypt.

Cigar Aficionado


Cigar Aficionado

This month’s issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine (vol. 31, no. 4) is dedicated to classic movies, and includes a poll of readers’ favourite films. The magazine surveyed “a random group of readers”—presumably a small sample of subscribers—25% of whom voted for The Godfather. (The other films in the top ten list received less than 10% each.)

Cigar Aficionado has an older, male readership, and the magazine proclaimed The Godfather “the Greatest Film Ever Made” in a cover story last year, so the poll result was fairly predictable. Garrett Rutledge conducted the poll and, as he admits in the magazine, “we can’t say we’re all that surprised.”

Cigar Aficionado readers’ top ten films are as follows:

1. The Godfather
2. Casablanca
3. GoodFellas
4. The Shawshank Redemption / The Sting
6. Gladiator / Tombstone
8. The Godfather Part II / Heat / The Longest Day

17 June 2023

Boy x Therapy


Boy x Therapy

Shotbyly’s exhibition of male nude photography Boy x Therapy opened on 8th June, though not at a traditional art gallery. Instead, his work is on display at Krubb, one of Bangkok’s gay saunas.

A bathhouse is an appropriate venue for Shotbyly’s homoerotic imagery and, as a semi-private space, it’s able to display his full-frontal photographs. In fact, Boy x Therapy is the most sexually explicit photography exhibition in Bangkok in recent memory, and the only comparable examples are Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Life Show (เปลือยชีวิต) and Tada Varich’s Story of the Eye, both from more than a decade ago.

Shotbyly is a pseudonym for Patthakarn Sadubtham, and his exhibition runs until 14th July. Ten additional photographs have been added since the opening; some postcards are also on display, which are available to buy in a limited edition of eight sets.