Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Myoma and Shwe Gon cinemas - Yangon, Myanmar

We've reached the end of the line here, ladies and gentlemen. Cinema Row pulls into its digitized terminus with a dirty double feature of the Myoma and Shwe Gon cinemas. As far as the naked eye can tell, these two are at the nexus of Cinema Row and skid row. Past follies into such nefarious worlds have left a permanent imprint. When in doubt, keep out! Doubt prevailed.

Right to left, Myoma and Shwe Gon - the dingiest two along Cinema Row.

Regrettably, outside of their drab appearances, much about the Myoma and Shwe Gon cinemas remains undisclosed. The same can be said for most of Cinema Row, for that matter. In hindsight, hiring a guide would have been a wise move, but I stubbornly went about my data collection without one. I figured I'd eventually be able to piece together enough info in my usual solo manner. Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. What I got was bits of hearsay and very little raw data.

I did hear one claim, however, that the Myoma and Shwe Gon - twins apparently - were built sometime in the late 1940's or early 50's. The post World War II period was a watershed for cinema construction in Myanmar (then known as Burma). More broadly it was a time of growing nationalism and political restructuring in the wake of war. With the promise of change all around, the wide communications platform available via cinema halls would have been viewed as critical to the new leadership, intent, as they were, on engineering a new kind of society. The result was a countrywide explosion of cinema building starting at the end of the war and lasting into the early 60's, when the military seized power and nationalized all cinema halls.

The Myoma's ticket window and front entrance, prior to opening.

Underneath the Myoma's portico: "Om - The Ultimate Power," dating to 2003, was playing there at the time. Experience has taught me to be mindful of theaters screening out of date stuff.

Half in, half out of the Shwe Gon Cinema

Passers by and the Shwe Gon

Three frilly-dressed women standing in front of the Shwe Gon Cinema. The welcoming committee or what?

Shwe Gon ticket window

Having done most of my movie theater research in Thailand, where the high-standard movie theater era didn't really come to fruition until the mid-1960's, it's easy to make historical comparisons with the movie theater geography in neighboring Myanmar. Many of the theaters I encountered in the latter were built in the 1920's, late 1940's and throughout the 1950's. The Great Depression hit in the 1930's, accounting for that theater building lull. Then Burma was embroiled in World War II, so not much happened movie theater-wise in the early 40's, either. In the post-war years, however, the economy rebounded and theaters began popping up again. Prospects were golden until 1962 when the military took the helm of government, causing what would be a long halt on theater building, as economic nationalization stunted private investment and economic aid efforts from superpower America were completely stymied.

Across the eastern border, on the other hand, Thailand began its first 5 year economic development plan in 1961, in conjunction with billions of dollars worth of economic and military assistance from the US to combat regional communism. The flow of dollars triggered a movie theater building frenzy which peaked in the late 1960's and 70's. So just as things died down in Burma (1962), movie theaters started sprouting up like wild flowers in Thailand (1961).

For your devoted Projectionist, this is my own little way of conceptualizing Burmese vs. Thai development history through the lovely, lovely framework of movie theaters.

1 comment:

  1. Its 3 1/2 years later and apparently all these cinema halls have been demolished except the Waziya. So sad.