Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New things to come for the SEA Movie Theater Project

After 18 months of hiatus, the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project is once again active. During this upcoming phase of the project, we promise to go a little further, to dig a little deeper in order to exhume more of the faded glory that is the stand-alone movie theater; its architecture and its culture in Southeast Asia.

Continuations in Burma and Thailand are on top of the "to do" list. As the economies of both countries are growing fast, a "down-with-the-old, up-with-the-new" attitude will find economy with each country's movers and shakers. Through the work done here, hopefully we can tweak that attitude just enough to salvage a bit of cultural history, movie theater style.

In the meantime, a few past steps have been retraced in Bangkok, making visits to theaters that have already been covered on this site. Here's the findings:

  • Back in 2009 we ran some shots of the Ratchathewi Rama, off of Petchburi Road Soi 12/8. 

"Closed for renovations"

Once part of the Co Brothers theater empire, headed by "Sia" Charoen Poolworaluk, by the time we got around to it four years ago it had recently closed and was undergoing a transformation into a parking garage. Here's the result:

Parking garage in full effect

Still, a few bits of movie theater ephemera remain.

"Coming soon" at the Ratchathewi Rama

  • Over on the west-bank Thonburi side of Bangkok, we found that the once-grand Hawaii Theater - originally documented in its later and less than salubrious guise of sex cinema back in 2009 - has closed up shop altogether. Given its proximity to the Wong Wian Yai BTS station, it is a likely candidate for demolition to make room for a condo tower. Transit oriented development (TOD), or the placing of dense housing developments close to public transportation facilities, is usually a good thing, but it will be a shame to lose this old movie theater.

The Hawaii Theater, shuttered.

  • But most importantly, after 44 years of serving the public's entertainment needs the Scala Theater at Siam Square is still Southeast Asia's premiere movie palace and looks great. Upgrading to digital projection late last year has improved the viewing experience at the Scala, adding one more reason to attend this one-of-a-kind movie venue.

The Scala Theater, Thailand's last movie palace.

A top priority of the SEAMTP over the coming months and years is to build up a Scala support network dedicated to advocating for this cultural icon to ensure that it is not demolished. When the theater's lease expires in 2017, Chulalongkorn University, the landlord of all of Siam Square, has plans to raze the Scala to clear ground for a new shopping mall. Such action would result in a severe loss to Thailand's cultural capital.


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