Monday, December 14, 2015

The Aurora Theater - Betong District, Yala, Thailand

The story is well told by now. Hackneyed even. On the verge of becoming a bore.

Its backdrop varies in just about every case, but the actors and circumstances remain the same. If you've read these scripts enough you can predict the plot: The movie theater is built; it serves an important social purpose for its time. It's charming and much beloved. Over the course of time things start to change. Technology changes, society changes. The theater loses its relevance, just like any earthly thing that cannot adapt to change. Then, after a gradual decline or a rapid development in technology, the theater goes out of business and is soon forgotten. The end result is either a vacant mess with a colorful past, or a repurposed curiosity. Otherwise it's torn down. End of story.

The differences are in the details, of course. The Aurora, for instance - which, for the record, falls into the "repurposed" category - seems to be of a similar age and style of a few other theaters that were encountered in Thailand's deep south. One of them, the Luna Theater in Yala City, has a similar cubist facade with grid-like windows ventilating what would have been an upper lobby and office areas. Textbook mid-century International Style, tropical iteration.

Locals in Yala pegged the Luna's development to a Singaporean builder/owner. In the case of the Aurora, with its consonant look and English moniker consistent with celestial bodies (Luna, Aurora), it could very well have been the same owner - a Straights Settlement entrepreneur easing in on the Thai movie market. Without having done any deep research, my guess is that it was part of a Singapore-based chain with its own distribution arm looking to expand its reach. But speculation is just that. Hopefully somebody will tie it all together someday, confirm conjecture or dispel myths.

The very International Style Aurora Theater - Betong, Yala

Original tile work in the lobby, which has been turned into a cheap department story.

Stairs once leading to balcony seating.

The story of stand-alone movie theaters in Thailand never lends itself to the Hollywood ending. Save for one pending case, the protagonist never finds redemption, salvation or revenge at the story's end. 

The Aurora Theater is no exception. Like hundreds of other Thai movie halls, the Aurora is now just another anonymous building with a slightly grander gauge, occupying a prime plot of the town's geography. More specifically, the building's lower level been changed into a cheap department store called Betong Plaza, while the upper level is now a go-go bar. So while the Hollywood ending is predictably absent for the erstwhile theater, a "happy ending," so to speak, does indeed figure in. 

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