Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Nyunt Cinema - Bago City, Bago Division, Myanmar

My adulation for the city of Bago reached new heights after finding the Nyunt Cinema in its midst. This 1950's-stock movie hall, with its pastel coloring and mosaic on the facade, is yet another piece of note-worthy architecture in a town with a sizable inventory of it.

Length-wise views of the Nyunt Cinema

The Nyunt ranks first in size out of Bago's trio of picture palaces and number two in age behind the venerable Shwe Hintha, over on yonder side of the river. An elderly man I met in a nearby tea shop, speaking with a distinguished English Burmese accent, dated the Nyunt to 1954 - about mid-way through the second nationwide movie theater construction boom. I tried picking the old Anglophone's brain, hoping to glean a little more Nyunt Cinema history, but he was stumped beyond its inaugural year. "What about the name?" I asked. "What does it mean in English?" He paused a moment.

"When children are young we call the tops of their heads 'Nyunt,'" he explained, searching his dormant English vocabulary for the best definition. "It can mean 'the highest,' or 'the top,' or...uhh...what's another word?...not 'the best''Apex!' Yes, it means Apex."

The apex of Bagoan cinemas halls, the Nyunt.

Ode to architectural cubism

Tile mosaic above the entrance and classic vertical sign.

Ticket booth and lobby posters.

Waiting in the lobby for the show to start.

Looking down from stairs leading to balcony.

The manager/projectionist at the Nyunt Cinema, perched on a stool in the lobby. If you look closely you can see that his foot is a prosthetic. Both of them are, actually. Our linguistic differences created an unfortunate communications impasse, as it was clear that he would have gladly shared his deep knowledge of the old theater had I known a bit more Burmese. Nonetheless, the man was kind enough to lead me up to the projection booth to take a look at the old projectors.

Old projector using a carbon rod as a light source.

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

One of my best memories from doing this project in Myanmar took place right there at the Nyunt Cinema. It was just a few minutes before show time and I was up in my balcony seat taking in the sights and sounds of this grand old movie hall while the crowd filtered in. Burmese pop music blared from the sound system at blood curdling decibels. Hordes of young teens filled the balcony seats, row after row, hooting and hollering and lighting up cigarettes in anticipation of the coming dimmed lights and auditory mischief to be made. The zoo was out, apparently. Two teenage boys wearing skin tight shirts and ripped jeans came down from the rear rows and sat one on either side of me. The boy to my left offered me a cigarette, which I declined, hoping to set a good example. The boy to my right zeroed in on a conversation, asking the usual series of questions asked by locals of tourists, in the most basic English imaginable. Behind us, all their little bros shouted down to them, egging them on to gab with the guest, while clouds of tobacco smoke filled the air. Our exchange went on for few minutes before they bounded back to their seats, met with raucous screams and laughter from their friends.

Just before the start of the movie, most theaters in Myanmar, not all, project an image of the national flag onto the screen while playing the national anthem over the sound system. Ostensibly, the audience is supposed to stand in honor of the nation, an act which I expected would be vehemently adhered to in Myanmar given the stiff penalties for sedition and the general culture of paranoia so frequently talked about in the foreign media. But I was consistently surprised to see high numbers of people, in theater after theater, not bothering to stand up at all.

In Thailand, on the other hand, not standing at the movies during the playing of the King's anthem can get you slapped with lese majeste charges, or at least some heavy duty ridicule from any zealots that may be in the crowd.

1 comment:

  1. All in all, time well spended here.