Thursday, October 15, 2015

Culture reclaims the stand-alones

In the very near future, two very bold events will be taking place in two of Bangkok's forlorn stand-alone movie theaters. Both events are one-and-done affairs, but their very existence should serve as a cultural petri dish for what could be the next step in Thailand's - or at least Bangkok's - urban evolution.

Tomorrow, October 16th, one of Thailand's rising-star film makers will be holding the Thai premiere of his latest film at the Laem Thong Theater in the Klong Toey area of town. "Vanishing Point" marks the feature film debut for director Jakrawal Nilthamrong. Prior to tomorrow's Thai unveiling, the film had been making the rounds at the international film festival circuit where it has received a broad array of accolades and picked up some impressive trophies along the way. 


The Laem Thong Theater has been a cruising theater for years, but it will soon play host to a movie premiere

On October 22nd and November 5th, respectively, Vanishing Point will be getting theatrical release within the posh and polished halls of SF World Cinema in Bangkok and SF Maya in Chiang Mai.  

Stay tuned for photos and text on Vanishing Point's Laem Thong Theater premiere.

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The other event to take place in one of Bangkok's off-the-radar porn theaters will be happening at The Chinatown Rama Theater on Yaowarat Road on October 22nd.


"Big Beats in Little China: 4 musical tales inside an old cinema house" promises audio-visual tantalization through a mixture of musical styles and accompanying projection. In a recent press release, show organizer EX NIHILO describes the hybrid event as 

"a unique experience bringing a lost era back to life through digital-analogue-dialogue in one of Chinatown's oldest movie theaters; an audio-visual spectacle using new and old techniques, a mix of instruments, performers and genres. A backdrop of moving images playing with different theatrical styles and fronted on stage with the most diverse mashup of BIG BEATZ to stimulate all your senses"


Situated in the lower level of a massive 1930's art deco office building, the theater defies almost all conventions of Thai movie theater typology. For that reason, along with its high profile location in the heart of Yaowarat, The Chinatown Rama has been the subject of fantasy of many a passerby; a veritable holy grail of cultural spaces for those with an eye for the exotic.

At long last, its dank confines will be seeing some action that won't result in a social disease.


The Chinatown Rama on Yaowarat Rd. The theater was also once known as the Sri Meuang and The New Laem Thong

What's so interesting about these two events? Well, lets look at it like this: 

Both the Chinatown Rama and The Laem Thong Theater are purpose built entertainment venues that were conceived to accommodate mainstream, commercial audiences. Over the years, mainstream movie-going has retreated from Thailand's stand-alone movie theaters, as the trend in the trade has switched to national chain multiplex theaters that are wedded in consumer matrimony to space-eating, car-centric shopping malls. This physical, as well as cultural shift in movie-going has laid waste to an entire geography of entertainment that was once very much a community affair. Hundreds upon hundreds of such theaters have been reduced to rubble across the country. Others, in their fall from grace, have been reoccupied by the most subaltern segments of society: public sex fiends. All the power to the fiends for their choice of release, but there's better uses for these spaces.

For two under-the-radar porn theaters to be hosting independently organized arts-related events is an absolute sea chance in how these old spaces are perceived. Instead of being considered outmoded anomalies, they are on the verge of revival. Therein lies a huge opportunity for Thailand. Artists and film makers are improving old purpose-built entertainment spaces, reactivating and reclaiming them from what would otherwise be an all but guaranteed demise. By further promoting this kind of cultural reclamation, particularly with regard the country's robust but dwindling inventory of disused stand-alone movie theaters, Thailand's reputation as a Southeast Asian arts and culture hub will rise.

Cultural capital, we shouldn't forget, is a much needed asset in this ever globalizing world.



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