Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dust to dust on Thanksgiving

From the city of Philadelphia, USA, on this Thanksgiving Day, I give thanks that I had the chance to watch a movie at the Thai Rama Theater in Uthumpon Phisai, Sisaket Province in Thailand's great Northeast. My visit to the theater four years ago was inspirational on a number of levels, but most notably because of the unbridled community spirit with which the theater operated. The ticket price of 20 baht, the lowest in the country at the time, was testament of the owner's devotion to the residents of her native town.

The Thai Rama piqued my affection so much that I pitched an article about it to The Nation which was subsequently published on January 15th, 2012

Sadly, the dismal economics of the business got the better of it. Earlier this year it closed down and was soon after demolished. As of right now there are exactly 4 operating stand-alone movie theaters in Thailand outside of Bangkok.

Images the Thai Rama's condition after the fact were kindly sent by a follower of this blog who resides near the theater.

In life



Nearly identical shots from the Thai Rama's projection room, before and after dismantling

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Siam Theater - Yala, Thailand

Geographically speaking, the Siam Theater feels like the center of Yala. Not just the center of the old commercial section of town - which it is the center of - but the entire province. It's almost as if the old Mandala system of Buddhist monarchical rule, in Yala, fanned outwards from its cosmological core at the Siam Theater. If only in name, that's not such a stretch, as the theater's original moniker was The King's Theater. 

With its terminated vista setting anchoring the middle of old downtown, the Siam is a spectacle even in post-life. One can only image its affect on the town's image when festooned with colorful movie billboards and twinkling lights.  

The Siam Theater at the terminus of a cozy urban vista 

Dating to the early 1960's, the Siam was once the premiere movie theater of Yala. International Style architecture, then the vanguard of modern building design, was deftly employed to help the Siam achieve its top tier status. 

Hand painted signage in Thai and Chinese

Sadly, in conjunction with the usual socio-technological factors that cause stand-alone movie theaters to fail, Yala and the rest of the deep south have had an on-going insurgency to further dampen the movie going spirit. That constant fear of violence has kept locals indoors for all but the most necessary activities. Leisurely pursuits like movie going lost their appeal, leading to theater closure after theater closure. Today, a mall-based Coliseum Cineplex is the only option in Yala for watching a movie on the silver screen.

As for the Siam, for the past 5 years it's been a swiftlet nesting house.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

"The Westerner with the Thai Heart: Another breath for the stand-alone movie theater"

Below is the link to an hour long special on stand-alone movie theaters in Thailand. The program aired on the show "LINE Kanok," hosted by Kanok Ratwongsakul on The Nation TV, Sunday, November 1st at 7PM.

Most of the show is dedicated to the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project and its mission of preserving select theaters in the region.

The title of the show translates to "The Westerner with the Thai Heart: Another breath for the stand-alone movie theater."

Please pardon my second rate Thai