Friday, August 5, 2011

Thai Film Archive celebrates trains and Ratana Pestonji

I guess I visit the Thai Film Archive every six months or, and it's easy to get overwhelmed each time I'm out there. I probably don't visit often enough.

Every time I go, there's something new. Since I was there in January, a major addition to the grounds is an old steam locomotive, which has been repainted, greased and made to look like it's ready to chug off down the tracks, that is if there were tracks for it to run on. It'll be the centerpiece of a "movie town" that archive director Dome Sukvong is building. A luxury dining car is being added behind the locomotive, on which they'll show train movies, like Buster Keaton's The General, the iconic stunt from which Dome happily recreated.

Dome notes that lots of hard-core movie fans and film archivists are also railfans. There must be something about the clicky-clack sound of films running through projectors and trains on the track. For Thailand, there's a stronger, historical connection. One of the key developers of the film industry in Thailand was the Topical Film Service of the Royal State Railways of Siam, formed in 1922 to shoot newsreels and documentaries as well as commercial features. The Topical Film Service had a hand in the now-lost Hollywood silent film Miss Suwanna of Siam.

There's also workers at the Archive building a new "Black Maria", a replica of Thomas Edison's historic movie studio, which had a retractable room and rotated to catch the sun.

Other additions include the monkey ghost, catfish and palanquin of the princess from Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

The archive's Sri Salaya Theater now has daily programs, and thanks to a pair of 35mm projectors, some of the movies are on film. There's also a new sound system and a coffee shop selling neat souvenirs.

They are not only showing Thai movies, but also a lot of foreign films. However, not all have English subtitles. For those that do, I'll try to list them in my weekly updates on the Bangkok Cinema Scene blog. Show times are at 5.30 on weekdays (moving to 6pm in September) and 1pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

In addition to Dome, the archive now has a deputy director, Chalida Uabumrungjit, and assistant director Sanchai Chotirosseranee.

This month's program at the Sri Salaya Theatre includes "Memorial to Ratana Pestonji", which pays tribute to the pioneering director who strove for innovations in the Thai film industry and put Thai movies on the world cinema map.

His features include Black Silk (แพรดำ, Prae Dum), which is not only regarded as the first Thai film noir, it's also one of the first Thai films to compete at an overseas festival. It screened in competition at the 1961 Berlin Film Festival. It'll screen at 1pm on Friday, August 12, with English subtitles.

Another of his films is 1958's Dark Heaven (Sawan Mued), about a singing garbageman who enters into a tragic romance with an orphan girl. It'll show at 1pm on August 14.

Pestonji's other directorial efforts. include Country Hotel and Sugar Is Not Sweet. He served as cinematographer on 1955's Chua Fah Din Salai (Forever Yours), which was remade last year as Eternity starring Ananda Everingham and "Ploy" Chermarn Boonyasak as the chained-up cheating lovers.

You can read more about the activities at the Archive in a Nation story today, and follow the events on its Facebook page or at its website.

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