Friday, June 29, 2012

Only a week left to photograph Cambodia's movie theaters...

Change is tearing through Southeast Asia faster than ever. Old ways of doing things are being transformed by new technologies, growing economies and and ever evolving social mores. Even relatively recent comers to everyday life, like movie theaters, are starting to be replaced by their newer, more advanced versions. 

Nakon Phanom is one of the few places left in Thailand where one can still screen a movie in an old-fashioned, stand-alone movie theater. Located in the heart of the city, on a pedestrian friendly commercial street stands the last operating stand-alone theater in the entire province. This past November I revisited the Sri Thep Cinema in Nakon Phanom to get a few more shots of it.

Most of the Sri Thep's original late-1960's early-1970's Thai decor remains intact... 


The free-standing letters once perched on the roof are missing...

...but from its streamlined wooden poster-cases resting upon a glazed brick wall... the unusual drop ceiling in front of the auditorium entrance...

...and the stylish wooden poster cases in the stairwell, almost all its original detail still remains.

Theaters like this are few and far between. Most of those standing today will not be in existence 5 or 10 years from now, marking the end of a distinct era in Southeast Asia's leisure culture. Ask any Thai, Burmese or Laotian who's old enough to have visited these old movie theaters in their prime and you'll be in for an ear full. In many cases, movie theaters were the most important social space in the towns and cities they stood in. 

With a little help from you, we can ensure that no matter what their fate, these old movie theaters will not be forgotten. Below is a Kickstarter campaign I've started to help raise funds for me to record and document all the remaining stand-alone movie theaters of Cambodia. Please take a moment to watch my video. If you feel moved, please share it on your own social media sites. The more people who see it, the more likely that somebody will take an interest in the work I've been dedicated to for the past 4 years and contribute to the cause. 

Just click the play symbol on the picture below, sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rare wooden movie theater demolished in southern Laos.

If it's any indication that Laos' overall economy is growing, another of the country's historic cinemas has been knocked down to make way for a new structure. This marks the 4th Lao theater to fall since the SEA Movie Theater Project got underway in 2008.

The Ta Luang Cinema stood in the heart of a residential neighborhood in central Pakse, the 2nd largest city in southern Laos. Probably the most notable aspect of the Ta Luang (Royal Port) Cinema was that it was built almost entirely from wood.

In the early days of cinema in Southeast Asia, wooden theaters were the norm, as were most buildings built before World War II. Concrete became the standard building material after the war, leading to a gradual replacement of most of the region's wooden theaters.

Burma still has many theaters that have wooden auditoriums, but their facades are made of concrete. As for theaters made completely of wood, facade and all, only three have ever encountered here; one in Bangkok, one in Chiang Kong and the Ta Luang, which exists no more.

Isn't it good, Laotian wood?

Save for the foundation, the Ta Luang was all wood.

A peak inside the Ta Luang Theater reveals a screen still. 

Pakse sits astride one of several Greater Mekong Sub-region transit corridors, designed to increase overland trade from Vietnam's coast to the ports of Burma. As a result, the city has seen a rapid rise in economic activity, from light industry to tourism.
Rumor has it that a guesthouse will replace the demolished Ta Laung Cinema

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Kick start the Cambodian phase

SEA Movie Theater Project readers! For the next month I'll be on in a bid to raise funds for a survey of Cambodia's movie theaters. Below is a promotional video for this phase of the project.

With any luck, the SEA Movie Theater Project will be Cambodia-bound in a few months to collect images and histories of this waning aspect of Khmer pop culture. Like all the country's of Southeast Asia, where progress runs roughshod over its recent cultural past, Cambodia's old cinemas are highly endangered artifacts. There's little time to waste in getting started documenting them.

And if you've ever wondered who this so-called "Projectionist" character really is, have a look at the video below, my identity is revealed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

When the Magnate was Young

In 1954, an ambitious young entrepreneur from the Thonburi section of Bangkok was invited to be a partner in a palatial, modern movie theater being constructed on a prominent corner of the Wong Wiang Yai roundabout. He was the last and least seasoned of five investors. The theater was named the Chalerm Kiad, roughly translated as "Great Prestige." 

Despite the theater's success, it turned out to be a short lived partnership for the novice theater man, who was cajoled by the senior partners into selling his portion to them at a loss. But the lessons learned were soon recycled. Within a year, the young upstart had financed his own movie theater at nearby Plu Market, the first of what would evolve into a family-operated empire of movie theaters throughout Bangkok and its suburbs. 

The young man's name was Charoen Poonworaluk, later known by the moniker Sia Charoen, or "millionaire Charoen." The theater chain he founded, which he put under the management of his three younger brothers, was called Co Brothers. 

Two of Sia Charoen's sons, along with two of his nephews went on to found the EGV and Major cineplex chains, respectively. Today, EGV and Major are merged into a single entity, the largest entertainment conglomerate in Thailand, with branches in every region of the country.

As of this 2009 photograph, the Chalerm Kiad Theater was a worn and weathered adult theater.

Signage and marquee

As of my prior visit in 2009, the Chalerm Kiad had been lingering on  as an X-rated flop house. While passing the theater this past February, I noticed that it was out of business, with the sidewalk around it cordoned off as if it was being demolished. 

Lest we forget, the Chalerm Kiad was where Sia Charoen cut his teeth in the movie exhibition business. Historically speaking, it was ground-zero of the Poonworaluk theater empire.