Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Oscar Theater - Bangkok, Thailand

To the undiscerning eye, the complex of claustrophobic alleys at Petchburi Road Soi 39 are nothing more than optimal spaces for anonymous dealings. Turkish baths, karaoke halls, massage parlors, an empire of flesh carved from the soot stained streets of slum Bangkok.

But take a moment to peer beyond those red light specials. Obscured in this maze of copulation stands one of Bangkok's most resplendent erstwhile entertainment venues - the Oscar Theater.

"No Bra"

The only theater ever in the Makkasan neighborhood of town, when the Oscar opened in 1976 it was intended to be a first-class alternative to the movie palaces of Pathumwan and other well-established sections of Bangkok. Owned independently of the three big theater chains competing for Bangkok's movie-goers in the 1970's and 80's (Apex, Hollywood and Co Bros.), the Oscar was a cinematic institution until it closed in the early 2000's.

The Oscar Theater's facade is set back from the building-line along Petchburi Road. In its heyday, a sign and marquee would have announced the Oscar's presence from the concrete I-beams suspended in front.

The terrace in front of the theater is used by food vendors. Pass through the tunnel into a cinematic ruin.

Walking through the Oscar's cavernous lobby is like entering a Pharaoh's tomb. The photos on display here do it little justice. With its centrally located escalator once whisking patrons to the second level, the Oscar must have been on par with any of the city's premiere theaters contracted during the golden age of theater building. Even in decay its decadence is obvious.

Prostitutes, employed at one of the fish-bowl massage parlors renting out space in the complex, break for lunch in the Oscar's vast lobby.

Currently the Oscar Theater itself is vacant, save for the unused chairs and screen in the auditorium. Retail space along the perimeter, however, is occupied by massage parlors, night clubs and Turkish baths, whose neon hues bring a cheap pomp to this cinema necropolis.

And before sex moved in, God held the lease. For five holy years after its closure, the Church of Hope of Bangkok held sermons in this once mighty temple.

The grand entrance to the Oscar's auditorium.

Working girls lunch in the Oscar's lobby, shielded from public view by a few black dividers.

Of all the conversions to have befallen yesteryear's movie palaces, this one is bound for infamy. The once the beloved Oscar Theater, now part of Bangkok's effusive sex industry.


  1. another great post. thanks! great photos and copy.

  2. Fascinating story; well researched and written. Is it possible to access the main auditorium?

  3. The owner of the Oscar has been payed 30K baht per day by one of the major Thai TV stations to shoot there. She thus feels justified in charging large sums to everybody, even pecuniary theater photographers like me. I was denied free entrance to the auditorium.

    1. I managed to find a way in .. but its almost pitch black inside. The working girls were nowhere to be seen....

    2. Tripod, remote trigger and an hour-long exposure should do it.