25 September 2023

The Fall:
The End of the Murdoch Empire

The Fall

Rupert Murdoch—proprietor of The Sun, The Times, and Fox News—ran his media empire for more than seventy years, before finally retiring aged ninety-two. Murdoch was an endling, the last surviving member of an endangered (and now extinct) species: the press baron. He announced his retirement on 21st September, less than a week before the publication of a new book on the twilight of his career, which will be released tomorrow.

The UK edition of Michael Wolff’s book is titled The Fall: The End of the Murdoch Empire, and little did the author know how prescient that subtitle would be. (In the US, the subtitle is The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty.) This is Wolff’s second book on Murdoch: he previously wrote The Man Who Owns the News, an excellent biography that benefited from rare access to Murdoch himself and his immediate family.

As Wolff writes in his introduction to The Fall, “Murdoch hated my book about him,” so this second volume is an unauthorised account. But Wolff still has contacts close to Murdoch, explaining that this makes him “the journalist not in his employ who knows him best.” (This is actually rather modest for Wolff, who boasted in a November 2011 GQ article about Murdoch: “I know what he is thinking; I know how he is thinking it; I know the rhythms of the way he talks about what he thinks; I know what he remembers and I know what he forgets.”)

After that first Murdoch biography, Wolff wrote a series of books on Donald Trump’s presidency, starting with Fire and Fury, which relied for many of its revelations on Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief political strategist. Wolff similarly uses former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes as a major source in The Fall. The problem this time, though, is that Ailes resigned in disgrace in 2016, and died a year later. Despite this, The Fall is padded out with a prologue on Ailes, who Wolff still seems to admire.

The Man Who Owns the News contained extensive notes on its sources, but The Fall has no notes whatsoever. And while it’s become standard practice for writers of contemporary history to cite unidentified sources, Wolff goes a step further: often, he doesn’t even refer to individual sources, whether anonymous or otherwise. Also, Wolff didn’t approach Fox News to verify what he had written, breaking a basic rule of journalism. Then again, as he explains in his introduction, he sees himself as “a writer, perhaps more so than as strictly a journalist”.

This results in a book with plenty of colour but little evidence. Wolff adds novelistic details to his dialogue, telling us not only what the participants said, but also how they said it, how they felt, and even their body language at the time. He quotes Murdoch’s concerns about the Dominion Voting Systems defamation case, for instance: “quietly, but clearly” Murdoch said that the lawsuit “could cost us fifty million dollars”. Later in the same conversation—on Murdoch’s yacht—the tycoon banged a table, grumbled, scowled, and felt affronted. How Wolff knows all this is anyone’s guess.

Murdoch’s prediction of the Dominion payout was a gross underestimate, as Fox ended up paying almost $800 million for broadcasting Trump’s lies about election fraud. Wolff was in the courtroom when the judge announced that Fox had settled the case, and he reveals that Murdoch originally proposed firing host Sean Hannity as part of the settlement. (Ultimately, Tucker Carlson was sacked instead.)

Another of Wolff’s stylistic devices is to distance himself from the narrative, to an extent that sometimes misleads the reader. In Fire and Fury, he wrote that Trump telephoned an “acquaintance” without revealing that the acquaintance was Wolff himself. Likewise, in The Fall, he describes Ailes speaking to an “interlocutor” without disclosing that he was almost certainly the interlocutor in question. (He has also done this in recent interviews, with an anecdote about Murdoch, Trump, and a “guest” in a lift. In some interviews, he has identified himself as the guest, though in others he leaves the guest unnamed.)

When Murdoch retired last week—an event that Wolff did not foresee—he confirmed that his son Lachlan would take over as executive chairman. (As in the HBO series Succession, the long-term heir will only be determined once Murdoch dies.) In light of that announcement, Wolff’s reading of their relationship now seems off beam: “he seemed to wholly disregard whatever Lachlan might say. Could it be that the father had had it with the son?” It’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is apparently ‘no’.

24 September 2023

Wildtype 2023

Wildtype 2023

Wildtype, the annual season of short films programmed by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa and Sasawat Boonsri, returns next week. The event was held in several provinces in 2021 and 2022, though Wildtype 2023 has expanded significantly, with screenings at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok, Mueang Thong Rama in Phayao, Alien Artspace in Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai University’s Department of Media Arts and Design, Noir Row Art Space in Udon Thani, Lorem Ipsum in Hat Yai, 82 Jabang in Pattani, Grow Home in Chaing Rai, June Art Home in Phitsanulok, and Class Café in Korat. This year’s highlights include Koraphat Cheeradit’s Yesterday Is Another Day, Vichart Somkaew’s Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป), and Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s ANG48 (เอเอ็นจี48).

In Yesterday Is Another Day, a teenage boy enjoys what could be his last day of freedom, as he prepares to appear in court on lèse-majesté charges. Cremation Ceremony condemns three Thai politicians—Anutin Charnvirakul, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and Prayut Chan-o-cha—by slowly burning their portraits in a metaphorical act of retribution. ANG48 reappropriates footage from Chulayarnnon’s recent video works, including his banned film Birth of Golden Snail (กำเนิดหอยทากทอง).

Yesterday Is Another Day and Cremation Ceremony will be screened in Bangkok on 1st October, and in Chiang Mai on 5th October. Cremation Ceremony is showing in Udon Thani on 7th October and in Khon Kaen on 5th November. Yesterday Is Another Day will also be shown in Phayao on 1st October, in Pattani on 2nd October, in Chiang Rai on 7th October, and in Khon Kaen on 4th November. ANG48 will be shown in Bangkok, Pattani, and Phayao on 1st October; in Chiang Mai on 4th October; in Phitsanulok on 7th October; in Udon Thani on 8th October; and in Khon Kaen on 7th November. ANG48 and Yesterday Is Another Day will be screened in Hat Yai on 1st October. All three films will be screened in Korat on 1st October.

Yesterday Is Another Day had a previous screening at Silpakorn University in Bangkok. Cremation Ceremony has previously been shown at the AEY Space gallery in Songkla, at Lorem Ipsum in Hat Yai, and at the University of Phayao. Both films were also included in this year’s Chiang Mai Film Festival. ANG48 was first shown at the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok.

15 September 2023

Dragon Inn

Nitade Movie Club

King Hu’s Dragon Inn (龍門客棧) will be shown at Chulalongkorn University next week as part of a triple bill. The screening, organised by Nitade Movie Club, will be at the Faculty of Communication Arts on 19th September. Dragon Inn (also known as Dragon Gate Inn) set the template for the modern wuxia (martial-arts fantasy) film, and the genre was revived in the 2000s by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (臥虎藏龍) and Hero (英雄).

14 September 2023

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth

Veeraporn Nitiprapha’s novel The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth was originally published in Thai (ไส้เดือนตาบอดในเขาวงกต) in 2015, and was translated into English by Kong Rithdee in 2019. Veeraporn describes the shroud that descended over Bangkok following the events of May 2010: “After the fire was doused and the terrible incidents ended days later, the city would still find itself cloaked in an impenetrable haze that prevented it from knowing the truth of what had actually happened. That darkness would remain in place for many years.”

In an interview with the Electric Literature website, Veeraporn explained how the novel had been directly inspired by Ratchaprasong: “I was overcome with a deep, painful bitterness seeing the fashionable, well-educated, well-paid people of the city feeling content about the injuries inflicted upon the poorer, less educated people who were mostly from the upcountry. And it was important to write about that bitterness.” This situates the novel within a movement that Sayan Daenklom called “Post-Ratchaprasong art” (in the journal Read/อ่าน, vol. 3, no. 2).

The novel has an intentionally melodramatic narrative, in a parody of Thai lakorn (soap operas), particularly Club Friday (คลับฟรายเดย์เดอะซีรีส์). In the Electric Literature interview, Veeraporn linked the repetitive nature of soap plotlines to the vicious cycle of Thai politics: “they have the same old toxic storylines that keep repeating themselves, which is also very similar to how the general public keeps becoming involved with politics in the streets of Thailand.” (The short film The Love Cycle makes the same point, comparing lakorn remakes to the cycle of Thai coups.)

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth also describes the whitewashing of another notorious episode from the collective memory: “6 October was twelve years past and its memory had begun to fade. People were no longer even sure if it had actually happened.” (Similarly, all reminders of Ratchaprasong’s violent past have long since been removed.) The short films We Will Forget It Again (แล้วเราจะลืมมันอีกครั้ง) and Delete Our History, Now! (อำนาจ/การลบทิ้ง), and the exhibitions Amnesia and Unforgetting History, also address this social amnesia, which is a central theme in Thongchai Winichakul’s book Moments of Silence.

11 September 2023

The Series

6ixtynin9: The Series

Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s 6ixtynin9: The Series (เรื่องตลก 69 เดอะซีรีส์) was released on Netflix on 6th September (6/9). Pen-ek has remade his 1999 thriller 6ixtynin9 (เรื่องตลก 69) as a six-episode series with a new cast. In an interview with the Bangkok Post two days before the release date, he denied that the project was a straightforward remake: “I wouldn’t call it a remake because that wasn’t what I intended to do... I think this is a new version of the story and not a remake. There are more storylines, new characters and locations.”

The plot has certainly been expanded, though the events of the original film are all repeated. (Even the 1990s technology has barely been updated: the characters now have smartphones, but landlines and cassettes are still significant to the plot.) As in the film version, a young woman (Toom) loses her job and finds ฿1 million in a box outside her door. Like the similar setup in Shallow Grave, this unexpected windfall soon leads to unwanted visitors and bodies piling up. Alfred Hitchcock is another clear influence, especially Rope (bodies in chests) and Psycho (the swamp). Pen-ek even has a Hitchcockian cameo in the series, as an advertising executive.

While Toom’s plotline sticks closely to the film version, there’s a new subplot involving a police drugs raid (which takes up most of the final episode), and a mysterious woman in white who greets the deceased at the pearly gates. (This female Saint Peter is played by Veeraporn Nitiprapha, author of The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth/ไส้เดือนตาบอดในเขาวงกต). The heavenly sequences take the series into Magical Realist territory, when two dead characters are—literally—given a new lease of life. This initially seems like a reprieve for one man, though he dies again when a joke from the film version is actually carried out in the series (in a reference to In the Realm of the Senses/愛のコリーダ).

6ixtynin9: The Series

The series is more graphic than the film, as the film was made before Thailand’s movie rating system was introduced. (The sex scenes are framed similarly to those in Pen-ek’s Ploy/พลอย.) In an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, Pen-ek described how the censors instructed him to add a caption reassuring cinema audiences that Toom had been successfully apprehended by the police: “we were asked by the police to put the rolling credit saying that she was caught and went to jail.” Their justification wasn’t the usual crime-doesn’t-pay moral lesson; instead, it was a face-saving measure by the police: “if the girl could do this, the police look bad.”

The film was made, and set, in the aftermath of Thailand’s 1997 economic collapse (known here as the ‘tom yum goong crisis’). The new series was filmed shortly after the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused similar economic damage. Toom’s company goes bankrupt and—like real-life businesses such as Star Edu, owners of the Kaplan Thailand franchise—its management tries to avoid giving its staff the severance pay they’re legally entitled to.

The show also has a political message: news reports of pro-reform student protests are seen on TV sets throughout the series, starting with footage from 16th October 2020. Similarly, Snap (แค่... ได้คิดถึง), The Island Funeral (มหาสมุทรและสุสาน), Tang Wong (ตั้งวง), and Pen-ek’s short film Two Little Soldiers (สาวสะเมิน) are also punctuated by news reports of political violence. The series ends with an ominous written epilogue speculating on another state crackdown: “THE WIND OF CHANGE HAS BLOWN AWAY... TEAR GAS A YEAR LATER. BUT HOW LONG WILL IT LAST? ONLY TIME WILL TELL.”

The film version of 6ixtynin9 will be shown on 5th November in an outdoor screening at the historic Metropolitan Waterworks Authority building in Maen Si, Bangkok. The screening is part of the second กรุงเทพ กลางแปลง (‘Bangkok open air’) festival, which runs from 7th October to 12th November. The film was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2017. As part of a Pen-ek retrospective in 2018, it was screened on DVD at the Jam Factory and in 35mm at House RCA, and it was also shown at Alliançe Francaise as part of another Pen-ek retrospective that year.

Front Page —

Front Page - Headline

Last week, the Museum of Popular History organised an exhibition of vintage newspapers at the offices of iLaw in Bangkok. Front Page — Headline (บันทึกไว้บนหน้าหนึ่ง) was open from 3rd–8th September, and featured front pages covering historic political events such as the 14th October 1973 protest, the 2010 massacre, the 2006 and 2014 coups, Move Forward’s election victory, and the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

A reproduction of the infamous 6th October 1976 Dao Siam (ดาวสยาม) front page was also included. For many years, there was an unspoken taboo against reprinting the page in its complete form: it was removed before the opening of Thammasat University’s exhibition commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the 1976 massacre, and did not reappear until the 2020 exhibition. Although the headline appears in พลกแผนด นประวตการเมองไทย 24 มย 2475 ถง 14 ตค 2516 (‘overturning the history of Thai politics from 23rd June 1932 to 14th October 1973’), the photograph was blacked out.

The complete Dao Siam front page was first reproduced in Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine (vol. 28, no. 238), though it was not included in the online version of the article. In the past few years, it has appeared in four books: Prism of Photography (ปริซึมของภาพถ่าย), 45 ปี 6 ตุลาฯ (‘45 years of 6th Oct.’), Moments of Silence, and สงครามเย็น (ใน)ระหว่าง โบว์ขาว (‘the Cold War (in)between the white bow’). Exceptionally, it was displayed on the street outside Kinjai Contemporary gallery in Bangkok last year.

09 September 2023

Blade Runner

Blade Runner

Ridley Scott’s dystopian science-fiction classic Blade Runner will be shown next month at House Samyan in Bangkok. The film has been released in five different versions: the workprint, the US theatrical cut (with a studio-imposed happy ending), the international theatrical cut (with slightly more violence), the director’s cut (with a unicorn dream sequence), and the 2007 ‘final cut’ (with some CGI enhancements).

House Samyan will show the 2007 version on 6th, 7th, and 8th October. (The screenings are organised by Doc Club and Pub.) Blade Runner was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2017, at the Jam Café in 2019, and at Arcadia this year. (In fact, the film inspired much of Arcadia’s décor and branding.)

08 September 2023

The Exorcist

The Exorcist

This month sees another theatrical rerelease of William Friedkin’s classic horror film The Exorcist, which returns to Thai cinemas on 28th September. (Strangely, not at Halloween.)

The film is being advertised as an ‘extended director’s cut’, though that label is rather misleading: at the request of the screenwriter, Friedkin reinstated some sequences he had previously left on the cutting-room floor, so it would be more accurate to call it an extended writer’s cut. Friedkin also took the opportunity to add subliminal CGI demon faces in several scenes, and made some tweaks to the soundtrack.

The extended cut, originally marketed as The Version You’ve Never Seen, was first shown in 2000. (In the UK at Halloween, even midnight screenings were sold out.) When this version was released on blu-ray in 2010, Friedkin removed two of the CGI demon faces. It’s the 2010 version that will be rereleased later this month.

The rerelease marks the film’s fiftieth anniversary, and is also part of Warner Bros. 100, as 2023 is the studio’s centenary. Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz were also rereleased earlier this year as part of Warner Bros. 100. The Exorcist has been shown in Bangkok several times before: at Cinema Winehouse in 2016 and 2018, at Scala in 2018, and at Bangkok Screening Room in 2019.

03 September 2023

TinyTV Mini

TinyTV Mini

The TinyTV Mini, released this year, is the world’s smallest video player, with a 64x64 pixel OLED screen. It’s designed and manufactured in Ohio by TinyCircuits, the same company that created the Thumby, the world’s smallest games console.

The TinyTV Mini is styled to look like a vintage CRT television set. The Cube 2 and Cube 3 video players from MobiBLU, released more than fifteen years ago, had the same 0.6" screen as the new TinyTV Mini, but their overall dimensions were slightly larger.

Letter to Freedom

When most of us say ‘or I’ll eat my hat’, we don’t expect to be literally force-fed our headgear if we’re proven wrong. Architect Duangrit Bunnag, on the other hand, is clearly a man of his word.

Duangrit was a prominent Pheu Thai supporter who firmly believed the party’s categorical assurances that there was no backroom deal with the military. On 27th March, he tweeted: “ถ้าเพื่อไทยจับมือกับ พปชร. ผมจะยอมให้เอาขี้ปาหัว” (‘if Pheu Thai joins forces with Palang Pracharath, I will let people throw poo at my head’).

Pheu Thai broke its pledge, and invited the military parties Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation to form a coalition government. But unlike Pheu Thai, Duangrit kept his word, releasing a statement titled Letter to Freedom (จดหมายสู่อิสรภาพ) pledging to allow people to fling excrement at him.

Yesterday at exactly 3:14pm, Duangrit sat in a protective suit and mask for precisely eleven minutes, while people flung cow dung at him. The timing had political significance, as Pheu Thai’s coalition consists of 314 parliamentary seats and eleven parties, and the 4kg of dung represented his opinion of the four parties at the heart of the coalition: Pheu Thai, Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath, and United Thai Nation.

Duangrit designed the Jam Factory and the original Thailand Creative and Design Center. Yesterday’s event—which was both public self-flagellation and scatological performance art—took place at Mirror Art, part of the Mirror Foundation charity in Bangkok.

29 August 2023

Letter to Freedom

Letter to Freedom

Architect Duangrit Bunnag posted a written statement on X this morning, pledging to honour an earlier ‘I’ll eat my hat’-style comment. Duangrit, prominent a Pheu Thai supporter, had been so confident that the party would never go into coalition with the military that he pledged to allow people to fling excrement at him if he was proved wrong. On 27th March, he tweeted: “ถ้าเพื่อไทยจับมือกับ พปชร. ผมจะยอมให้เอาขี้ปาหัว” (‘if Pheu Thai joins forces with Palang Pracharath, I will let people throw poo at my head’).

Despite categorical assurances to the contrary, Pheu Thai invited the military parties Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation to form a coalition government. Unlike Pheu Thai, Duangrit has kept his word, in a statement titled Letter to Freedom (จดหมายสู่อิสรภาพ).

In his open letter, Duangrit (who designed the Jam Factory and the original Thailand Creative and Design Center) announced that he will turn excrement-flinging into performance art on 2nd September. At precisely 3:14pm, for exactly eleven minutes, he will subject himself to whatever is thrown at him, in an event at Mirror Art, part of the Mirror Foundation charity in Bangkok. The timing of the event has political significance, as Pheu Thai’s coalition has 314 parliamentary seats and eleven parties. The gallery will supply 4kg of cow dung, representing the four parties at the heart of the coalition: Pheu Thai, Bhumjaithai, Palang Pracharath, and United Thai Nation.

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver

Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro, will be showing at the House Samyan cinema in Bangkok next month. Screenings will take place on 29th and 30th September; and 1st, 6th, 7th, and 8th October.

Taxi Driver was previously shown at the Scala cinema in Bangkok in 2018, and at Bangkok Screening Room in 2019. Scorsese’s epic new film Killers of the Flower Moon, also starring De Niro, opens in Thai cinemas on 19th October.

28 August 2023


Two performance artists have each been given suspended sentences, after being found guilty of violating the lèse-majesté law and the Flag Act. Vitthaya Klangnil and Yotsunthon Ruttapradit—both Chiang Mai University students and cofounders of the group Artn’tdisplayed a modified version of the Thai flag at CMU in 2021. The charges against them were filed by Srisuwan Janya, head of the Constitution Protection Association pressure group.

The Flag Act prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. The Status in Statu (รัฐพิลึก) exhibition featured a roll of fabric modified in a similar way to Artn’t’s flag, but avoided prosecution. Supamok Silarak’s documentary Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) followed Vitthaya during the police investigation into his protest art.

27 August 2023

This Is Not a Just Image, It Is Just an Image

Breathless This Is Not a Just Image, It Is Just an Image

A partial Jean-Luc Godard retrospective will take place in Chiang Mai next month, organised by Dude, Movie. In addition to his extraordinary film career, Godard was famous for his aphorisms, one of which (“ce n’est pas une image juste, c’est juste une image”) provides the title for the retrospective: This Is Not a Just Image, It Is Just an Image.

The season begins on 2nd September with Godard’s masterpiece, Breathless (À bout de souffle). Screenings on 2nd and 3rd September will take place at Halo House, and the retrospective concludes with rooftop screenings hosted by Untitled for Film at Chiang Mai University’s Department of Media Arts and Design from 7th–9th September.

Breathless is one of the most influential films ever made, and one of a handful of essential classics of world cinema. It will also be shown at Alliance Française in Bangkok on 13th September and 1st November, and it has been shown in Bangkok twice before: in 16mm in 2010, and at an open-air screening in 2011.

Madame X:
Music from the Theater Experience

Madame X: Music from the Theater Experience Madame X: Music from the Theater Experience

Madonna’s Madame X Tour will be released on vinyl as a triple album on 22nd September. The album cover is reminiscent of Madonna’s Erotica album, and the back cover recreates a shot from the Erotica music video. A limited-edition picture-disc version is also available, with a cover showing Madonna’s eyes closed, as if in ecstasy.

This is the first release of the Madame X Tour on any physical format, as it was previously available only on digital streaming platforms. The digital version was titled Madame X: Music from the Theater Xperience, and the vinyl album has almost the same title, but it uses the conventional spelling of Experience.

The album track listing is: God Control, Dark Ballet, Human Nature (followed by an a cappella version of Express Yourself), Vogue, I Don’t Search I Find, American Life, Batuka, Fado Pechincha, Killers Who Are Partying, Crazy, Welcome to My Fado Club (incorporating La Isla Bonita), Extreme Occident, Rescue Me (a pre-recorded spoken interlude), Medellín, Frozen, Come Alive, Future, Like a Prayer, I Rise, Sodade, and Crave. The final two tracks were not included in the previous digital version.

26 August 2023

Sondhi Limthongkul:
“I will definitely sue…”


Media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul has filed defamation charges against the online news organisation Prachatai. The lawsuit, issued on 22nd August, claims that Prachatai misrepresented Sondhi’s opinion and falsely implied that he supports another coup. Addressing Prachatai via Manager (ผู้จัดการรายวัน), the newspaper he owns, he said: “I will definitely sue... be prepared to receive a summons”.

In a Facebook post on 31st July, Sondhi had speculated on the future of Thai politics, listing thirteen potential scenarios, the last of which was a coup, which he described as “ไร้ความชอบธรรม” (‘illegitimate’). Later that day, Prachatai reported Sondhi’s comments on its website, though its headline omitted the word ‘illegitimate’.

Prachatai’s headline arguably did misrepresent Sondhi’s comments. But the first sentence of the article rectified this by quoting his reference to an ‘illegitimate coup’. The article also went on to quote Sondhi’s list of thirteen scenarios in full.

Whatever Sondhi’s current view on the legitimacy of coups, he has certainly supported them in the past. Prachatai quoted him on 21st January 2012, speaking on ASTV: “Soldiers, don’t sit still. Come out and seize power.” That was an unequivocal call for a coup, accurately summed up by Prachatai’s headline at the time: “Sondhi urges military to stage a coup”.

Other news organisations have also quoted Sondhi appearing to endorse coups. In an interview with the Bangkok Post exactly fifteen years ago (26th August 2008, p. 3), he said that “soldiers today are cowards”, implying that they were not brave enough to launch another coup. The New York Times quoted him saying: “I see a coup as not a bad thing,” and reported that “Sondhi publicly called for yet another military intervention” (3rd November 2020, p. 10; reprinted in the next day’s international edition, p. 3).

Sondhi’s PAD campaign paved the way for the 2006 coup, either intentionally or otherwise. At that time, Sondhi also sued another news outlet for defamation, claiming that Kom Chad Luek (คมชัดลึก) had misrepresented his comments about King Rama IX. In that case, the editor resigned and the newspaper suspended publication for five days.

24 August 2023

๕๐ ปี ๑๔ ตุลา
(‘50 years of 14th Oct.’)

Sunset at Chaophraya II

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 14th October 1973 protest, when half a million people gathered at Democracy Monument in Bangkok calling for an end to Thanom Kittikachorn’s military dictatorship. After King Rama IX intervened, Thanom fled into exile, though seventy-seven protesters were shot dead by the army. A screening programme at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, ๕๐ ปี ๑๔ ตุลา (‘50 years of 14th Oct.’), will commemorate the anniversary next month.

The season includes The Moonhunter (14 ตุลา สงครามประชาชน), a prestigious biopic of protest leader Seksan Prasertkul, screening in 35mm. Sunset at Chaophraya II (คู่กรรม ภาค ๒) is overshadowed by The Moonhunter but is arguably a better film, ending with a realistic and violent recreation of the 1973 massacre. Angel (เทพธิดาโรงแรม) features documentary footage of the protest intercut with a social realist narrative. Tongpan (ทองปาน) was produced in the brief period of political freedom after the events of 1973.

The Moonhunter will be shown on 15th and 19th October, Sunset at Chaophraya II on 13th and 25th October, Angel on 13th and 24th October, and Tongpan on 21st October. Tongpan will be screened in 16mm. (It has been shown at the Film Archive before, and at Noir Row Art Space, Cinema Oasis, and the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.)

The programme also includes two documentaries: the feature-length อนุทินวีรชน 14 ตุลาคม (‘diary of 14th October heroes’), showing on 14th October; and the short film วันมหาวิปโยค (‘the tragic day’), on 15th October. อนุทินวีรชน 14 ตุลาคม features unique colour and black-and-white footage of the massacre, while วันมหาวิปโยค includes colour footage of the atmosphere among the protesters.

Thai Cinema Uncensored includes a complete survey of films related to 14th October 1973 and its aftermath. Thai Film Archive director Chalida Uabumrungrit analysed the two documentaries in the Thai Film Journal (วารสารหนังไทย, vol. 18). The Colors of October (สีสันแห่งเดือนตุลา) exhibition at g23 in Bangkok also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the event.

Pink Flamingos

Pink Flamingos

The Thai Film Archive at Salaya will show the classic exploitation film Pink Flamingos on 17th September. Directed by John Waters, Pink Flamingos is a masterpiece of bad taste. On its first release, it was compared to Luis Buñuel’s notorious silent film Un chien andalou (‘an Andalusian dog’). Fifty years later, it remains the ultimate example of transgressive cinema.

Pink Flamingos was previously shown in Bangkok in 2017, without a censors’ rating. But for next month’s screening, it was submitted to the censors and, surprisingly, rated ‘20’ without cuts. This sets a new precedent, as Pink Flamingos features hardcore content—admittedly, it’s more parody than pornography—that has never been passed by the Thai censors before. (Thai Cinema Uncensored examines the history of sex in Thai films.)

23 August 2023

DMZ International Documentary Film Festival

Songs of Angry People
Damnatio Memoriae

Two feature-length Thai documentaries—Uruphong Raksasad’s documentary Songs of Angry People and Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Damnatio Memoriae (ไม่พึงปรารถนา)—will have their world premieres at the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival in South Korea next month. The festival runs from 14th to 21st September, with screenings taking place near the demilitarised zone on the border with North Korea.

Songs of Angry People, premiering on 15th September, is a record of the protest movement that began in 2020, when students campaigned for reform of the monarchy and a return to democracy. Songs of Angry People is only the second feature-length documentary covering the protests, after Supong Jitmuang’s Mob 2020–2021. Uruphong’s previous films include Agrarian Utopia (สวรรค์บ้านนา) and Worship (บูชา).

Damnatio Memoriae, a collage film about Asian state propaganda in the Cold War era, will premiere on 17th September. Thunska’s previous films include Danse Macabre (มรณสติ), Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์), Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา), Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), Reincarnate (จุติ), and This Area is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน).

Prime Minister Strettha Thavisin

Srettha Thavisin

Srettha Thavisin was elected Prime Minister yesterday, ensuring that Pheu Thai’s coalition will form the next government. Srettha won the bicameral parliamentary vote just a few hours after former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Pheu Thai’s de facto leader, returned to Thailand. The timing was surely not a coincidence: it’s possible that Thaksin’s return was conditional on Pheu Thai inviting the political wings of the military junta into its coalition.

Srettha, along with other Pheu Thai executives, had categorically ruled out working with either of the military parties, Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation. After both parties joined the bloc, Srettha argued that “it is necessary to forget what we said.” With the military parties on board, a majority (153) of the junta-appointed senators endorsed Srettha’s nomination as PM, whereas Move Forward’s prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat secured only thirteen senators’ votes last month.

The military seemingly regard Pheu Thai as the lesser of two evils, and struck a deal to prevent Move Forward, the election winners, from forming a government. Quid pro quo: in exchange for abandoning Move Forward in favour of the military parties, Pheu Thai’s prime ministerial candidate has been elected and Thaksin has returned to Thailand, presumably with assurances that his eight-year prison sentence will be overturned.

But at what cost? Pheu Thai has invited the fox into the henhouse, and the military will resist any proposed democratic reforms, so plans to draft a new constitution are likely to be scaled back. An elected Pheu Thai government was deposed by the 2014 coup, but the military parties will now remain at the cabinet table, in a Faustian pact that the party’s grassroots supporters are unlikely to forget.

22 August 2023

Thaksin Shinawatra:
“It’s time for me to be with the Thai people...”

Thaksin Shinawatra

Thaksin Shinawatra’s private jet landed in Bangkok at 9am this morning, ending fifteen years of the former prime minister’s self-imposed exile. “It’s time for me to be with the Thai people,” Thaksin told Nikkei Asia, before boarding his flight to Thailand. He was taken from the airport to the Supreme Court, where his eight-year sentence for corruption and abuse of power was confirmed, though his voluntary return suggests that he is confident of a royal pardon. (His first act after walking out of the airport terminal was a performative prostration before a portrait of King Rama X.)

Thaksin has been the single most influential figure in Thai politics over the past two decades. In 2001, he won the country’s first landslide election victory, and he became the first elected PM to serve a full term in office. The protest movements that have polarised contemporary Thai politics are defined entirely by their stances on Thaksin and his regime: the People’s Alliance for Democracy started its campaign after he sold his stake in Shin Corp., the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protests escalated when his assets were frozen, and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee opposed a plan to vacate his corruption conviction.

Thailand’s military and royalist establishment has pulled out all the stops to eradicate Thaksin’s legacy, to no avail. The PAD and PDRC protests paved the way for coups in 2006 and 2014, respectively. The Constitutional Court dissolved three of his proxy parties: Thai Rak Thai, the People Power Party, and Thai Raksa Chart. Despite all this, parties funded by Thaksin won every election from 2001 to 2019, and he has hand-picked four prime ministers: Samak Sundaravej, Somchai Wongsawat, Yingluck Shinawatra—and now Srettha Thavisin, who won a parliamentary vote this afternoon. After trying and failing to remove Thaksin, the military has struck a deal with him instead, to prevent the election winners, Move Forward, from assuming office.

21 August 2023

Srettha Thavisin:
“It is necessary to forget what we said...”

The new coalition government led by Pheu Thai was unveiled at a press conference this afternoon. There will be a total of eleven parties in the bloc, including United Thai Nation and Palang Pracharath, the political wings of the military junta.

Before the announcement, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, one of Pheu Thai’s most senior executives, acknowledged that collaborating with the two military parties was a violation of its principles. She told reporters yesterday: “Of course, Pheu Thai has [a] price to pay, that is the criticism of the people. We humbly accept [this] and apologise for making many disappointed and sad.”

Being propped up by Pheu Thai is a humiliation for the military, which deposed Thaksin Shinawatra—Paetongtarn’s father and the party’s de facto leader—in the 2006 coup and ousted Pheu Thai itself in another coup eight years later. But this is outweighed by the extraordinary staying power of the two military parties: despite losing the election, they are able to remain in government, and will each receive four cabinet posts.

The reputational damage caused by today’s announcement is far worse for Pheu Thai: for months, its executives had categorically ruled out working with either UTN or Palang Pracharath, and now it has signed a deal with both of them. At a separate press conference after the coalition announcement, Pheu Thai’s prime ministerial candidate stressed that the two parties were needed to secure a majority government, “so, it is necessary to forget what we said.”

The coalition has 314 MPs, and the presence of UTN and Palang Pracharath makes it almost certain that senators will endorse Srettha in tomorrow’s prime ministerial vote. The election winners, Move Forward, have been relegated to the opposition alongside the Democrats and five smaller parties.

20 August 2023

Please... See Us

Please... See Us

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s powerful short film Please... See Us (หว่างีมอละ) will be shown tonight in an outdoor screening at the Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai, as part of an all-day, all-night arts festival running for twenty-four hours. The event, organised by Neo Lanna, is raising awareness of a petition for a new, more democratic constitution.

The current charter was drafted by the military junta, and rewriting it was one of the manifesto policies of this year’s election winners, Move Forward. But they have since been relegated to the opposition by runner-up Pheu Thai, and Pheu Thai’s willingness to form a coalition with military parties such as United Thai Nation has raised doubts about the chances of the constitution being completely rewritten.

Please... See Us includes an extended sequence in which a real pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand. This transgressive film was previously shown at Wildtype 2021, Signes de Nuit (‘signs of the night’), and the 25th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

Don’t Expect Anything!

The entire cast of a new film have been arrested by the Burmese military government, on charges of blasphemy and insulting the dignity of the monkhood. Thirteen actors—including a twelve-year-old girl—and the film’s Swiss director, Didier Nusbaumer, were arrested on 8th August.

The feature-length drama Don’t Expect Anything! (ဘာမှမမျှော်လင့်ပါနဲ့) was uploaded to YouTube on 24th July, and remains online despite the arrests. It was produced by Dhamma Pictures, a non-profit organisation that promotes Buddhist teachings.

Representation of Buddhist monks is also a highly sensitive issue in the Thai film industry, most recently leading to censorship of the horror film Hoon Payon (หุ่นพยนต์). Thai Cinema Uncensored includes a complete history of the various controversies surrounding the depiction of Buddhist monks on film.

Barry Lyndon

Barry Lyndon

Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon will be shown at Chulalongkorn University next week. The screening, organised by Nitade Movie Club, will be at the Faculty of Communication Arts. The film depicts the rise and fall of a rogue who inveigles his way into high society before being cast out in disgrace—coincidentally, it will be shown on 22nd August, the day that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is planning to return to Thailand.

There has been a revival of critical interest in Barry Lyndon over the last decade, with three documentaries on the making of the film: the radio programme Castles, Candles, and Kubrick; an episode of the TV programme Hollywood in Éirinn; and Making Barry Lyndon on the Criterion blu-ray. There is also a book on the film, The Making of a Masterpiece, by Alison Castle.

19 August 2023

Pura Luka Vega

Pura Luka Vega

Filipino drag artist Pura Luka Vega is facing criminal charges after dressing as Jesus and singing Ama Namin, a Tagalog translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Vega posted a video of the performance on X (the new name for Twitter) on 9th July; the clip went viral, and the artist has since deleted it. Senators in the Philippines have condemned the video as blasphemous, and police are investigating complaints that it violates article 201 of the country’s penal code, which prohibits public indecency.

Artist Mideo Cruz faced the same charge in 2011, when his installation Poleteismo (‘polytheism’) was shown at the Kulo (‘boil’) exhibition in Manila, though he was ultimately vindicated by the Supreme Court in 2013. Kittredge Cherry’s book Art That Dares discusses previous examples of gay and feminine depictions of Christ.

18 August 2023

“UTN will join the Pheu Thai government...”

Democracy Monument

United Thai Nation has joined Pheu Thai’s coalition, confirming a longstanding suspicion that Pheu Thai would rely on the support of pro-military parties to form the next government. UTN spokesman Akaradej Wongpitakroj told a press conference yesterday afternoon: “We want the country to move forward so UTN will join the Pheu Thai government”. UTN’s thirty-six MPs brings the coalition’s total to 274, which is a majority in the House of Representatives. More pressingly, UTN’s involvement will make the junta-appointed senators more likely to endorse Pheu Thai’s prime ministerial candidate, Srettha Thavisin.

UTN was founded as a political vehicle for Prayut Chan-o-cha, who led a coup against Pheu Thai in 2014, though Prayut announced his retirement last month. Pheu Thai’s executives had categorically denied any plans to work with either of the two military parties—UTN and Palang Pracharath—though their coalition lacked a parliamentary majority. (Despite the support of Bhumjaithai and seven smaller parties, they had only 238 seats.) This made an alliance with the military almost inevitable, though it has angered many pro-democracy Pheu Thai voters.

On 16th August, the Constitutional Court declined to rule on parliament’s rejection of Move Forward’s second attempt to nominate Pita Limjaroenrat as prime minister, arguing that Pita himself had not personally petitioned the court. With no legal requirement for parliament to vote again on Pita’s nomination, Pheu Thai will instead nominate Srettha on 22nd August. Palang Pracharath’s MPs have confirmed that they will vote for Srettha, though he will not receive Move Forward’s votes as Pheu Thai withdrew from Move Forward’s anti-military bloc.

16 August 2023

The 100 Best Movies of the Past Ten Decades

The 100 Best Movies of the Past Ten Decades

The latest issue of Time magazine (vol. 202, no. 5), dated 14th August, features a list of the 100 greatest films of the past century. Stephanie Zacharek, one of Time’s film critics, compiled The 100 Best Movies of the Past Ten Decades: ten films from each decade, from the 1920s to the 2010s, in chronological order.

As Zacharek readily admits, the list is “marked by what some will see as glaring omissions,” such as Tokyo Story (東京物語), Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Godfather. Stanley Kubrick’s films are nowhere to be found. In fact, when compared to Dateline Bangkok’s list of the 100 greatest films, only a quarter of the entries are common to both lists.

Time published its first greatest-films list in 2005, compiled by Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel. From that selection of 100 titles, Corliss and Schickel chose Nine Great Movies from Nine Decades—none of which are included in Zacharek’s list.

For F*ck’s Sake:
Why Swearing Is Shocking, Rude, and Fun

Rebecca Roache covers a lot of ground in For F*ck’s Sake: Why Swearing Is Shocking, Rude, and Fun, her study of the power that swear words possess. The most interesting chapters are those that deal with an often overlooked aspect of swearing: the use of distancing devices such as quotation marks and asterisks to mitigate offence.

The book also discusses broader issues such as the regulation and reappropriation of swear words, including the destigmatisation of the c-word. Roache argues that reclaiming sexist language would not necessarily reduce misogynistic social attitudes: “If all we do is start using cunt in polite company, we’re going to achieve little more than upsetting people. Cunt alone can’t cure misogyny.”

Philip Gooden’s Bad Words and What They Say about Us, Peter Silverton’s Filthy English, Ruth Wajnryb’s Language Most Foul, and David Sosa’s Bad Words cover similar ground to Roache. Geoffrey Hughes wrote An Encyclopedia of Swearing, expanded from his earlier book Swearing. Forbidden Words, by Keith Allan and Kate Burridge, is the most authoritative guide to linguistic taboos, and Allen also recently edited The Oxford Handbook of Taboo Words and Language.

12 August 2023

Pheu Thai:
“We won’t betray the people...”

Multiple Thai news organisations are reporting today that Pheu Thai has invited one or even both of the political wings of the military junta—the Palang Pracharath and United Thai Nation parties—into its coalition government. After withdrawing from election-winner Move Forward’s anti-military bloc, Pheu Thai first formed a partnership with Bhumjaithai, which was later joined by seven smaller parties, though with only 238 seats they have so far been unable to form a majority government.

Joining Pheu Thai’s coalition is, on one level, a humiliation for the military, which deposed Thaksin Shinawatra, the party’s de facto leader, in the 2006 coup. But this is outweighed by the extraordinary staying power of the military parties: despite coming a distant fourth and fifth in the election, they are able to remain in government, propped up by Pheu Thai, an ostensibly pro-democracy party. Exactly how much leverage the military has, and how much Pheu Thai is prepared to sacrifice to secure Thaksin’s return from self-imposed exile, will only be apparent once the new cabinet is announced.

The reputational damage caused by the coalition is far worse for Pheu Thai, whose executives had repeatedly and categorically denied persistent rumours of a deal with the military parties. At a press conference on 29th May, Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew claimed: “There’s no such deal... Pheu Thai doesn’t make such a deal”. He also promised, in a phrase that has come back to haunt him: “We won’t betray the people”. The party’s about-turn will indeed be seen as a betrayal by many of their grassroots supporters, whose endorsement of Pheu Thai was a protest vote against the military’s involvement in politics.