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October 11, 2012

The Screen at Kamchanod

screen at kamchanod 1.jpg

Pee Chang Nang
Songsak Mongkolthong - 2007
Welcome International All Region DVD

I'm not sure of the incident that inspired the film is true or not, but the legend of a screening at an outdoor theater has certainly taken hold in the Udon Thani region of Thailand. And while Songsak does include a bit of what the audience might expect or even demand from a ghost story, the film can also be seen as something of a love letter to the act of watching movies as was done in the the past, whether in the mobile, outdoor cinemas in the rural parts of Thailand, or in the large, now abandoned single screen palaces of Bangkok. At one point, the researcher stumbles upon an outdoor theater on a city street showing Wisit Sasanatieng's The Unseeable.

Songsak is not interested in a literal, straightforward narrative. What there is of a story might be perhaps too elliptical. Essentially the story is of a researcher in paranormal activity trying to duplicate the same situation as in 1987, where a group of ghosts might have shown up to watch a movie that otherwise had no living audience, save for the two guys operating the projector. Even before the researcher and his friends see the recovered movie in an old theater, ghosts seem to be drifting in and out of their lives. While watching the movie, the ghosts seem to be awakened, causing havoc well before the scheduled screening in contemporary Kamchonod, in the same location.

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One of the early scenes is of a woman observed at a commuter train station. Walking parallel to the tracks, the woman briefly disappears and reappears. The shot is done in such a way that the viewer isn't sure if the woman dematerialized, or simply was hidden in the shadow of the station. There are a couple of appearances by ghosts that are more in keeping with the more traditional Thai ghost movies, but those appearances are so brief, designed to make the viewer uncertain about what was seen and heard.

The ghostly aspects of the film are steeped in Thai culture. At one point, a Buddhist monk is visited as the incident of 1987 took place near a temple. The monk explains about ghosts not always crossing over to the "other side", reaffirming the belief of the researcher that the two worlds of the living and the dead overlap. The idea of the two separate worlds is nicely illustrated by by an overhead shot showing the division between the abandoned temple grounds, and the road where the researcher has parked his car. The temple grounds appear to be gray-brown, void of color, while the road appears normal in appearance. That the monk does not appear in the rear view mirror of the car suggests that he may also be a ghost.

Especially in the early part of the film, Songsak has several shots just of the legs of his characters walking, as well as many shots using shadows, sometimes in combination. The shadows are seen on walls or floors, as well as on the movie screen. One moment would have been more effective to have been seen in a theater that projects celluloid film, giving The Screen at Kamchanod an unplanned nostalgic twist as cinema is pushed into the digital age.

Also at several points, it appears as if ghosts are trying to push their way from behind the screen. It's moments like that which make me wish I had seen this film in a theater with a Thai audience, screaming followed by some quick laughter, and perhaps a quick glance to make sure that the person in the nearby seat is not a film loving ghost.

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Posted by peter at October 11, 2012 08:33 AM