Sunday, July 6, 2008

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's shorts in San Francisco

San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has a program of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's short films, the second part of which screens today. The YBCA had planned to show the shorts a week ago, but some were delayed in shipping, so they screened Syndromes and a Century for free.

An enthusiast for Joei's films, Hell on Frisco Bay's Brian, was deeply disappointed that he would not be able to view the rescheduled shorts on the big screen, but the YBCA folks accommodated him by letting him watch the screeners.

So now Brian makes the connection with several shorts, most of which I have not seen.

Here is a summary of shorts and some of the things Brian says about them:

Program 1 (July 2)
  • The Anthem (2006) -- "One of my favorites ..."
  • Windows (1999) -- "Perhaps the piece I most wish I could have seen on as large a screen as possible ..."
  • Malee and the Boy (1999) -- "Made before his first feature, Mysterious Object at Noon, this color video work feels if not like a technical, then a spiritual precursor to the latter ..."
  • Like the Relentless Fury of the Pounding Waves (1996) -- "This film brought forth connections to many of Apichatpong's credits, but none more than a film he did not direct but is credited with contributing a story idea to: I-San Special, made by Mingmongkul Sonakul in 2002 ..."
  • Thirdworld (1998) -- "This is the piece that felt the most impenetrable to me upon a single viewing."

Program Two (July 6)
  • Worldly Desires (2005) -- "For Apichatpong, the forest is an important sphere in which the expected norms of culture and society cannot hold the same deep influence that they can in civilization and especially inside government buildings ... Is it coincidence that his feature film that traverses territory farthest from the forest, Syndromes and a Century, is the one that has had the most publicly visible struggles with the self-appointed arbiters of cultural norms?"
  • 0116643225059 (1994) -- "Shows that the budding director was from very early in his career concerned with investigating the schism between soundtrack and image, as he has been in most if not all of his subsequent works."
  • Ghost of Asia (2005) -- "The most purely enjoyable of all the pieces I viewed ..."
  • My Mother’s Garden (2007) -- "I had to wonder if Apichatpong's time studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago overlapped at all with [Jim] Trainor's employment as a professor there, if he had come across Trainor's work by some other means, or if he was wholly ignorant of Trainor yet shared some aesthetic strategies nonetheless."
  • Luminous People (2007) -- "This is the only piece I did not get a chance to see on screener ..."

The program is similar to what was shown earlier this year at New York's Anthology Film Archive. Seems that one film missing from the Yerba Buena program is Morakot, which was shown in New York and was recently screened in Bangkok as a video installation in the Tomyam Pladib exhibition at Jim Thompson House. Projected in dark room with just a few cold, steel benches for seating at the back of the room, Morakot was a chilling counterpoint to the fun interactivity of the rest of the exhibit, even as it made connections to Joei's other works.

And that's the point that Brian makes throughout his review -- that there is a connectivity in Joei's films to all his other works. He quotes critic Chuck Stephens, from the commentary track of Strand Releasing's Blissfully Yours:

Something in one film will establish something that will recur in the next film, or there'll be a reminder of something in one film from a previous film.

His films make personal connections as well. And those connections will be different for each viewer. For me, Anthem will forever be connected to Syndromes and a Century, because Anthem is spliced into the beginning of the film print for Thailand. I've seen it twice, once in 2006 at the Bangkok press screening of Syndromes and again this year as part of the censored Syndromes and a Century: Thailand's Edition. The reel is designed as an "audio-visual purification service" and is meant to be played before all films, similar to the THX or Dolby soundchecks (or, indeed, another anthem).

Ghosts of Asia will always be connected to the 2004 tsunami, because I first saw it in the package of Tsunami Digital Short Films back in 2005.

Worldly Desires, included as a special feature on the new British Film Institute DVD release of Syndromes and a Century, will take on new meanings for viewers who watch it in that context. For me, it will be hard to separate it from the one-two punch of Shinya Tsukamoto's harrowing Haze and the trippy Magician(s) by Il-gon Song, because I saw Worldly Desires as one of the Digital Short Films by Three Filmmakers for the 2005 Jeongju International Film Festival.

See also:


  1. Thanks so much for the linkage and commentary, WiseKwai!

    I liked reading your own resonances. I'd forgotten that Worldly Desires was packaged with Haze on the festival circuit; I saw Haze in a separate context as well, and have not yet seen Magician(s).

    This is the first time I've seen Apichatpong's nickname spelled as "Joei". Just a couple months ago you typed it as "Joe"- why the switch?

  2. Brian, the "Joei" spelling is closer to how I've heard his nickname pronounced by Thai folks, and it's something I've only picked up on recently. Internationally, I'm sure he doesn't mind being referred as just plain old Joe.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Emerald is featured in the Yerba Buena program. Here is review.


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