Originally, I had wanted to review this disc along with Annea Lockwood’s “A Sound Map of the Danube,” as a study in how two projects so dissimilar in outcome could start out so much the same. Upon greater reflection, I think it would have been a bit unfair to both. Like Lockwood, New Juche’s Joe Rotheray is interested in a subject, and gathers together material about it. That Rotheray’s subject in “Bangkok Fanny-Rat” is the sex trade in South-east Asia should immediately be of no difference than Lockwood’s fascination with inland bodies of water– at heart, both projects are documentarian in nature.
But the word “documentary” conjures more of an ideal than a reality in most cases. From Disney’s infamous tampering with lemming movements, to Michael Moore hamming it up, to whatever the heck Ben Stein is pushing; there is often a feeling among those involved that the material has to be sensationalized or pushed for consumers to be satisfied. The documentary-maker becomes less of an impartial observer, and more of a pimp. For someone whose subjects are those already literally being pimped out, it does leave a bit of a bad taste.
Unfortunately, the premise of “Bangkok Fanny-Rat,” that someone interviews those involved on both sides of the cash flow; is far more interesting than the results. Rotheray asks little of his subjects but the most obvious trivialities: “Do you suck cock? Do you want an operation to make pussy?” and reveals no more than the participants might reveal to any john. Whether this is due to language barriers, Rotheray’s skill level as an interviewer, or the hopelessness of his subjects, it is difficult to ascertain.
At one point in time, Rotheray throws out the question, “What do you do for fun?” and receives the answer “I don’t have fun, I don’t have fun.” It’s a nibble, and a good interviewer might set the hook here. Instead, Rotheray asks if they have any children. So another interview passes, something like a darker version of a MySpace survey.
Frankly, the included music isn’t a lot better. It is unimpressive, repetitive, and doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything that is going on. Unlike Lockwood’s disc where the interview subjects and the natural recordings are allowed to mix, “Bangkok Fanny-Rat” treats them as bookends, isolating one pointless track from the next. Personally, I would have been more interested in hearing sounds and music taken on location.
It is doubtless that Rotheray took upon both a fascinating and difficult topic, so some understanding and sympathy should be extended his way. Prostitutes make their living (and most likely, protect themselves) by putting serious psychological distance between themselves and their customers. An Englishman with a microphone probably was going to get only so far. At present, New Juche has another bull by the horns– interviewing Cambodians on both sides of Pol Pot’s former regime. It’s a daunting project, to say the least, and should be interesting to hear the results. With any luck, Rotheray will have improved his techniques, and may have better results next time around.