Sunday, May 21, 2006

In memoriam: Cherd Songsri

Thai director, screenwriter and producer Cherd Songsri passed away on May 20, 2006 in Ramathibodi Hospital in Bangkok. He had battled cancer for the past four years.

Both The Nation and the Bangkok Post had obituaries. MovieSeer has a profile and interview done in 2001, when he made his last film, Behind the Painting.

He got his start carving shadow puppets from animal skins. He was also a schoolteacher and a magazine editor, as well as a writer of television and radio shows. His first picture was called Norah. It was made in 1966 on 16mm, and was one of the biggest hits of the 16mm era in Thailand.

Cherd was a staunchly independent director. When it's said that he was a director, screenwriter and producer, it really means it -- he did all those tasks on all his pictures. So I guess that makes him the godfather of the Thai indie film movement.

He was also the first Thai director to make movies with international audiences in mind. He got the idea to make films about his idealized vision of Thai culture from the olden days after he went to film school at UCLA and thought it would be great to show old Siam to the world.

Among his films was Plae Chow (The Old Scar), from 1977, which is a fondly remembered classic tale of doomed lovers in rural Thailand. It won a prize at the Three Continents Festival at Nantes, France in 1981.

I'd have to see it again, but I think Adirek "Uncle" Watleela managed to get Cherd on set for a brief appearance in last year's Ghost Variety, in which just about every Thai director or producer made an appearance.

He's written a book about his cancer fight, A Diary of Death.

Cherd is said to have been elusive about his age, saying he stopped counting birthdays when he was 28. But The Nation said he was 75.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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