Monday, March 1, 2010

Prolific Peep donates more - The Thewes Theater - Bangkok, Thailand

A year long effort at documenting old movie theaters is proving to be a tough hobby to give up. Just when I think I'm ready to move on, withdrawal symptoms start to take hold; cold sweats and hallucinations where talking cinemas urge me photograph them before they're smashed to bits. 'I must get back in the field again,' I tell myself, pacing my apartment floor with camera in hand. Fortunately, there are a handful of generous readers-of-this-blog who've helped ease the transition from addict to rehabilitee with doses of photo-cultural methadone. Praise be to them!

The following is yet another photo submission from Mr. Peep, his third and most curios contribution of the past month. The showcased theater is one which I've never even heard referenced before; a forgotten movie house in one of my favorite Bangkok neighborhoods. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Thewes Theater, courtesy of Mr. Peep.

The eerie remains of the Thewes Theater can be found on Sam Sen Road in the Bangkhunprom section of Bangkok. A rusting sign mutely announces the Thewes, hidden from view down an urban fox-hole; a trok - a narrow lane.

Bangkok's river districts, particularly in the central area of town, do wonders for the imagination. These are the city's older neighborhoods, built from a combination of regal audacity and commercial necessity. Rows of shop-houses face onto roads designed with rickshaws, ox-carts and the occasional princely sedan in mind. Between these shop-houses run small lanes, leading to hidden villages, temples and mosques. A cemetery here, a meat market there; mazes of history dense with the past, narrow in width. Here the remnants of age old enclaves lie meticulously stuffed within the metropolis, as if they were its vital organs. Slave settlements and merchant settlements and warrior settlements of Mons and Khmers and Viets and Malays who've all shed their ethnicity over the generations in exchange for being Thai. All shielded from sight by a barrier of buildings, roads and time.

Looking down the tiny lane towards a ticket window and flight of stairs leading to the auditorium. It's an undeniably chilling sight.

Follow the arrows.

An open door beckons.

Thanks to the research of Mr. Peep, a modicum of Thewes Theater background information is ours for the reading. For want of an opening date, it's reasonable to say that the Thewes is a bit on the elderly side. Designs of this style, squeezed precariously inside trok communities in central Bangkok, were not built much after the 1950's. Glancing quickly at a Bangkok map reveals a market and temple in the area also named Thewes. The theater's origins are otherwise a mystery. From the beginning, however, it was a second-run theater, screening films which had already passed through the more glamorous first-run theaters in town. Theaters like the Thewes were the mid-twentieth century equivalent to private living rooms, rarities under such cramped conditions. They were relief from heat and providers of entertainment all in one; a home away from home within the neighborhood.

Inside the gutted auditorium.

Before it shut its doors for good, the Thewes had become a purveyor of pornography. Such viewing fare was common among Bangkok theaters between their economic cooling periods and their eventual closure. Now there's only a handful left in operation.

As a student of the Thai movie theater industry, however, I'm interested in finding out if the contemporary Bangkok economy/social climate is ripe enough to support a restored stand-alone theater before they're all destroyed - a question I hope to see put to the test in the coming years. Unfortunately, I don't think the Thewes would be suitable for that trial, but it is an interesting and lesser known piece of Bangkok history in its own.

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