Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Paris Theater - Bangkok, Thailand

When the Paris Theater opened in the early 1970's it was considered one of the most luxurious movie palaces in all of Thailand. Its builder-operator, Mr. Kittiparaporn, who also owned the Paramount and Coliseum theaters (since demolished), and later went on to open Bangkok's most famous amusement park, Dream World, had a in mind a theater of world class standards. For a time, he succeeded wildly.

The Paris Theater was built as the anchor of a circular shaped business complex on Lan Luang Road, in the Saphan Kao area of Bangkok. Directly across the street stood the Krung Kasem Theater*, which has since been completely remodeled into a shopping center. They shared a nearly identical design. The two theaters, along with a third circular structure a few hundred yards to the west, must have been designed to capture the modernist urban planning trends that had swept through many of the world's bigger cities in the late 1960's and early 70's. To give some perspective, these structures stand just outside the older, central area of Bangkok - Rattanakosin - with its narrow lanes and centuries old neighborhoods.





View from the interior of the court, with the Paris' auditorium walls on the left. The buildings in the background form a circle around the theater.

Following the Pyramid Company (now Apex), which owned the majority of first-run theaters in Bangkok (including the sill-operating Scala, Lido and Siam theaters), the Kittiparaporn's had the second largest empire of first-run theaters in the city.

Upon entering the lower lobby, this is the view one is greeted with. The staircase led to the upper lobby and the entrance to the theater. Since it closed down in the last year or so, the auditorium of the Paris Theater has become home to dozens of migrant workers.

Ceiling of the lobby

A resident of the Paris Theater. This staircase was one of two which led to the auditorium.

Produce baskets stacked in the lobby of the Paris. Since the theater closed in 2008 the lobby has become a storage space for the many market vendors living in and around the theater.

Looking towards the rear of the lower lobby. Adorning the far wall is a bronze sculpture depicting creation myths from around the world.


The two gentlemen pictured above are the security guards at the Paris, hired to deter vandals and the pilfering of the theater's ornate fixtures and art works. They very kindly allowed me to take photos in the lobby. While doing so, a number of the residents now living in the auditorium came over to be photographed.

This guy has come all the way from Vientiane, Laos to enter the Bangkok labor pool. He makes his home in the Paris.

Residents

It genuinely amazes me how the Paris Theater and the entire Saphan Kao section of town, once envisioned as a grand gateway between the Bangkok of old and the Bangkok of high modernity, has become a migrant slum. This is the realization of modernity gone awry, the type that Stanley Kubrick created a perfect rendition of in A Clockwork Orange. Flat open spaces, planned for leisure and the unobstructed gaze. Stark, imposing functionality in gleaming white. And for those of you who've never watched that classic Kubrick film, there's a pretty memorable scene set in an abandoned theater.
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*Correction: The Ambassador Theater across the street from the Paris, not the Krung Kasem as noted in the post.



2 comments:

  1. Here are two pretty recent photos of the old Paris theater:

    One from 2004, when it still had it's "Paris" sign stuck on the side
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/41894180030@N01/388857494/

    And one from 2006, with the Paris sign now gone
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/41894180030@N01/388857495/in/set-72157600036339573/

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  2. Hey Jack,
    Thanks for those pictures. As a matter of fact, I saw your movie theater photo collection on Flickr months ago, when I first started this project. You've been at it far longer than me. I hope you keep at it. My time, I think, is winding down.

    By the way, did you ever watch a movie at the Paris?

    ---------------------------------------------
    On a completely separate issue, I have to correct one of my claims in this post:

    the Kittparaporn family was not the number two movie theater operator in Bangkok of the 60's and 70's. That position was held by the Poonworaluk family and their Co Brothers Theaters. In fact, I'm not one hundred percent clear who was the top theater operator in Bangkok, Co Brothers or Apex. I've heard accounts of both being number one.

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