Friday, May 23, 2008

Photo essay: Ratana Pestonji - 100 Years

On May 22, 2008, to celebrate the 100th birthday anniversary of pioneering Thai filmmaker Ratana Pestonji (May 22, 1908-August 17, 1970), a special event was held at the National Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom.

Ratana Pestonji's grandsons check out the wax figure of their grandfather. Their likeness to him is uncanny. Their mother is Ratana's daughter, Ratanavadi Ratanabhand.

Actors Suthep Wongkamheng and Chalee Intharawijit also check out the museum exhibit, which includes the Country Hotel set. Suthep played the lead role in Dark Heaven (Sawan Mued, 1958), and Chalee co-starred.

Actor Tom Wisawachart and Ratanavadi Ratanabhand (Ratana's daughter). They starred in Phrae Dum (Black Silk) in 1961.

The effervescent director and comic actor Dokdin Kanyamarn with Edel Pestonji.

Colorful actress Orissa na Ayutthaya was a child in Dear Dolly (Tukkata Jaa, 1951). Many children were auditioned for the role, but they started crying in the presence of the lights and camera. Orissa didn't, though. She's a natural.

The National Film Archive is seeking to put handprints, footprints and autographs of Thai filmmakers and actors in the concrete outside its small cinema, similar to Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Actor Prompong Nopparit, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, was the first to make his impressions in this new initiative.

Action star Sombat Metanee showed up late, making an "entrance" during a talk by Ratana's family, friends and colleagues. After the talk, it started to rain, and under cover of umbrellas, Sombat planted his hands and feet in concrete outside the theatre, and then posed for a photo with Dome Sukwong, the director of the National Film Archive.

The marquee was lit up for the premiere of the documentary film, Signature: The Life and Work of RD Pestonji. The film was hastily put together, actually completed and subtitled at the last minute. Rough in spots, I would think not much more work would be needed to fine tune it and bring it up to the level of something that could be included on a special-edition DVD or featured in a festival screening.

It has clips from all his films, including extremely degraded footage from the tragically lost Santi Veena, and a surviving still from his first film, Tang, from 1937, which won a prize at film festival in Scotland. Ratana was handed a trophy cup for the film by director Alfred Hitchcock.

Among the most eye-popping footage is from Sugar Is Not Sweet, an extremely colorful romantic comedy that Ratana made with the intention of it being his most overtly commercial film.

There's also footage from Dear Dolly, which has no sound, and another film I'd never heard of, Diamond Finger, which features a stunning performance of khon dancing. Essentially, it brings khon to the level of filmed spectacle of a Busby Berkeley musical. It's amazing.

Most of the people who showed up for the celebration -- Ratana's two sons, Santa and Edel, and his daughter, Ratanavadi -- are interviewed, as are actor Suthep Wongkamheng, Orissa na Ayutthaya, Dark Heaven actress Seubneung Kanpai and many others. New Wave directors Wisit Sasanatieng and a very animated Pen-ek Ratanaruang are also interviewed about the influence of Ratana's films had on them.

Seeing the footage from Country Hotel, Dark Heaven, Black Silk and Sugar Is Not Sweet on the big screen, while sitting in the audience with people who were appearing on the screen was a magical, emotional experience that I will not forget.

Snapped the photo just a hair too late. Wisit Sasanatieng, right, poses for pictures in the museum with Santa Pestonji, second from left, and Ratanavadi Ratanabhand. Santa later added his hand and footprints and signature to the pavement outside.

The Adventure of Sudsakorn animator Payut Ngaokrachang has a late dinner and talks with a fan. He has an incredibly detailed illustrated book of his work.

Payut worked with Ratana after Ratana had stopped making films in the mid-1960s and was making commercials for a living. They collaborated on a hilarious animated commercial for a brand of patent medicine or whisky (not sure which) that was racy and politically incorrect by today's standards. Ratana actually made Payut a camera to use for the animation.

Eventually, Payut, 79, made his hand and feet impressions in the concrete outside the cinema.

Not many people posed with the standee of an iconic scene from the off-the-rails Country Hotel. But while waiting for Payut to make his way outside, Dome and another archive official good naturedly took their place behind the photo.

The Thailand Post set up a special table where they offered postcards with a special commemorative stamp for the Ratana Pestonji 100 Years celebration.

See also:
(Photos via the Thai Film Journal photostream at Flickr)

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post. As close as I can come to having been there, unfortunately--missed it by two days.

    Thanks for the coverage.


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