Friday, November 29, 2013

Nakorn Non Rama no more. Double-feature theaters part of Thailand's past.

In 1971, director Peter Bodganovich made the film "The Last Picture Show" - a coming of age story in which the closing of a small town movie theater is used to represent broader social changes to come. The allusion in the film is that insular, small towns, where everybody knows everybody else, would soon become divorced from their simplistic ways. Outside pressures in the form of war, deindustrialization, and other uprooting forces would relegate old communitarian bonds to history. The death of the movie theater was embodiment of that theme.

Today in Thailand, something very similar has happened: The last double-feature there closed its doors for good.

Until today, the Nakorn Non Rama was the lone holdout of a business model and structural type once nationwide in scope. The two-for-one ticket price and stay-all-day policy of double-feature theaters drew steady crowds for years on end. For the change in your pocket you could duck the rigors of life with consecutive movies on the silver screen. And if the movie didn't hold your attention then an air-conditioned nap - once a luxury for Bangkok's working poor - was the next best thing.

The Nakorn Non Rama was the last operating theater owned by Mr. Surachat Pisitwuthinan - better known by the nickname "Sia Hui." Through his movie distribution company, Nakorn Luang Productions, Sia Hui once operated a chain of double-feature theaters throughout Bangkok and its suburbs. Ones already documented by the SEAMTP include the Ngamwongwan Theater and the Sri Siam Theater, though Sia Hui allegedly owned up to 10 theaters in total.

In recent years, sluggish attendance combined with rising land values has led to a string of double-feature theater closures. Now, with the Nakorn Non Rama out of the picture, this facet of Thai cultural life is officially a thing of the past.  

But lets not allow this to be a complete loss. It may very well be that the memory of the past will lead to interesting developments in the future. Perhaps some visionary will lead the way in salvaging one of the few remaining stand-alone cinemas in Bangkok, renovate it, apply a new business model to it, and create a new era for movie-going in Thailand. In this weird world we live in, stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on what the world is losing with the demise of the Nakorn Non Rama.

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