Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Thai Film Archive treasures unearthed on YouTube

Every day, for the past year or so, the Thai Film Archive has been uploading clips to its official channel on YouTube, sharing a wealth of public-domain footage, this-day-in-history newsreels, documentaries and other historical film artifacts.

The effort is a fantastic public service, and makes the archive's holdings available to everyone, or at least those who have an Internet connection.

However, it's not very English-friendly – the Thai Film Archive, after all, exists to serve the Thai people first. So for those who don't understand Thai, keeping track of the significance of the uploads can be a daunting task.

Thankfully, The Nation has an article that points to a few of the highlights.

Among them is the first Thai feature film, 1927's Chok Song Chun (โชคสองชั้น, Double Luck). A 2012 entry in the Films as National Heritage Registry, just 55 seconds is what remains of the movie, mostly consisting of a fight scene and a car chase. It was made by the Wasuwat Brothers' Sri Krung Studio, which was Thailand's first major movie studio. Today, the studio's bright yellow building has been replicated on the grounds of the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, and it houses the Thai Film Museum and serves as one of the archive's icons.

Most significant is another 2012 entry in the film registry, the first Thai animated film, Payut Ngaokrachang's Hed Mahassajan (เหตุมหัศจรรย์ , The Miraculous Incident) from 1955. In the seven-minute short, Payut cheekily inserts himself into the action as he witnesses the events leading up to a traffic pileup in Bangkok. Payut has been called "the Walt Disney of Thailand", but the film reminds me more of Tex Avery.

Do not adjust your settings – there is no audio with the clip. It was made during the heyday of live dubbing, in which a troupes of voiceover artists would accompany films and provide all the dialogue and sound effects during the screenings. And now that Hed Mahassajan is on YouTube, it's ripe for remix treatments. Perhaps budding filmmakers, animators, composers and sound-effects artists might try their hand at adding soundtracks of their own.

And one more gem to feast your eyes on, and listen to, The Diamond Finger – an eye-poppingly gorgeous staging of a classical Thai dance episode from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana. From 1958, the 27-minute film is directed by pioneering auteur Ratana Pestonji and is staged by the Fine Arts Department, with narration by Thai statesman MR Kukrit Pramoj.

Out of respect to the Archive and the care it has taken, I won't embed the videos here, so head on over to the YouTube channel and start watching.

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