Showing posts with label Myanmar - Bago Division. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Myanmar - Bago Division. Show all posts

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Tun Thiri Cinema - Pyay, Bago Division, Myanmar

Being pushed from Magwe's towns and cities, one after another, was reason enough to depart the dust choked division, with its xenophobes and zealous police force. We caught a bus south to the biggest city of western Bago Division - a bustling town hugging the banks of the Irrawaddy called Pyay.

There couldn't have been a better town to conclude January's Myanmar movie theater search than Pyay. Its collection of ornate buildings from the colonial days onward, crowning a city plan of gridded streets, offered visual intrigues at ever turn. The townsfolk, moreover, were nothing but welcoming, in stark contrast to the inhospitality we'd just departed in Magwe.

But the cherry on top of all Pyay's goodness is its lone cinema hall. The last of a purported four that once enriched the city's cultural life, the Tun Thiri Cinema is a surviving gem from an era when movie theaters were built with pride and high craftsmanship. Locals dated it to about 1960.

Typical of Myanmar movie theaters built during the independence era, Art Deco was employed in the Tun Thiri's design.

Through the trees.

Facade angles

Out-door ticket windows.

The ticket booth in the lobby. Each opening and its corresponding ticket seller represents a different price ticket. 500 Kyats, 800 Kyats and 300 Kyats.

Though clearly showing its years, the Tun Thiri Cinema has an elegance to it that is fairly common among Myanmar movie houses, of which the stand-alone variety reigns supreme. Their prevalence, however, is likely to decline as regional and global economic integration sends ripples of change through the country. In Myanmar, the age of the shopping mall is closing in, with multiplex monotony right on its heels. In the below passage, the Myanmar Times has detailed the openings of two new multiplex mini-theaters in Yangon, an event which could have grave implications for the country's stand-alones:

"WHEN Junction Maw Tin Shopping Centre opened last year in Yangon, on the corner Anawrahta and Lan Thit streets in Lanmadaw township, the facilities included Junction Cineplex, consisting of two small cinemas.

Taw Win Centre, which opened on Pyay Road in February, followed suit with three small cinemas of its own. Two are already showing Myanmar movies on DVD, with plans to open the third, equipped to show 3D movies, in October.

Thus has the modern mini-theatre, capable of holding no more than 200 audience members, been introduced to Yangon." FULL ARTICLE

Proscenium gold

Audience abstractions

View from the balcony during showtime.


Manager and ticket booth


The Tun Thiri's trusted "theatersmith," a staple of the business for many years.


The Tun Thiri Cinema closes out the catalog from my most recent trip to Myanmar - a theater which was indeed a grand finale to a great expedition. All said, there are still many towns and cities in Myanmar which I have yet to explore, a task I relish to undertake in the months ahead. But I have a sneaking suspicion that those theaters yet unseen will remain so into the foreseeable future. Hopefully they will be alive and well when the chance to document them comes again.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Win Cinema - Toungoo, Bago Division, Myanmar

If, as it states in the Bauhaus school of architecture's manifesto, "the ultimate aim of all creative activity is the building," then it is only natural that the movie theater represents the height of creative function. What else can be expected when combining the "ultimate aim [in] creative activity" with the most dynamic of all the visual arts, film? By this definition the movie theater ought to be the most interesting building in town.

The Win Cinema, one of many elegant art deco cinemas in Myanmar.

I regret not putting the above theory to the test in Toungoo, where aside from a pilgrimage to the town's lone remaining movie theater, I did little exploring. One thing I did pick up on, however, was that the ethnic diversity; the melting-pot qualities typical of cities in lower Myanmar were absent up here. I was closing in on the central dry zone, cultural breadbasket of the Bamar (Burmese), where I found immediate solace in the Win Cinema.

Cut-out lettering on the pitch of the facade.

Show times beside the entrance

The ticket stand, concessions and entrance to the auditorium are accessed down a narrow corridor along the far left hand side of the Win. Movie posters are tacked to the wall and bicycles belonging to Win patrons and employees line the perimeter. Prior to show time, this is where everybody had congregated to chat and examine the posters on the wall.

Bikes and posters

Man buys ticket

Lining up

Tickets and their sellers

Concessions were sold by this woman and her husband. The couple arrived about 20 minutes before showtime, set up their products, sold a few things, and then packed up and left once the show started.

Usher sits next to auditorium entrance.

Wooden benches make up seating options on the first level.

Looking towards rear of balcony

Projectionist in his room, along with two old school, limelight powered projectors still in operation. The Win was the first theater outside of Yangon I found not using LCD projectors.

Looking out from auditorium into the corridor, after the lights had dimmed.

Looking towards the street from the corridor.

This passing novice found it hysterical that anybody would want to shoot a movie theater.

The Win Cinema is a nice one, indeed. Seeing it made my brief sojourn in Toungoo a worthwhile one. Its streamlined, art deco facade makes it stand out crisp among the surrounding architectural mundanity. While doing my thing at the Win, verbal exchanges between theater staff and myself were minimal on account of language barriers, but they were able to communicate that the Win was built in 1961 and that it contains a grand total of 783 seats. These days, however, business has cooled off significantly, with memories of packed houses growing more distant by the day. At its cinematic peak Toungoo had three functioning theaters, but the other two have since ceased to be. The Win hangs on, though. Yes, it hangs on..

(Whitford, Frank. Bauhaus. Thames & Hudson, 1984, p. 11)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Nyunt Cinema - Bago City, Bago Division, Myanmar

My adulation for the city of Bago reached new heights after finding the Nyunt Cinema in its midst. This 1950's-stock movie hall, with its pastel coloring and mosaic on the facade, is yet another piece of note-worthy architecture in a town with a sizable inventory of it.

Length-wise views of the Nyunt Cinema

The Nyunt ranks first in size out of Bago's trio of picture palaces and number two in age behind the venerable Shwe Hintha, over on yonder side of the river. An elderly man I met in a nearby tea shop, speaking with a distinguished English Burmese accent, dated the Nyunt to 1954 - about mid-way through the second nationwide movie theater construction boom. I tried picking the old Anglophone's brain, hoping to glean a little more Nyunt Cinema history, but he was stumped beyond its inaugural year. "What about the name?" I asked. "What does it mean in English?" He paused a moment.

"When children are young we call the tops of their heads 'Nyunt,'" he explained, searching his dormant English vocabulary for the best definition. "It can mean 'the highest,' or 'the top,' or...uhh...what's another word?...not 'the best''Apex!' Yes, it means Apex."

The apex of Bagoan cinemas halls, the Nyunt.

Ode to architectural cubism

Tile mosaic above the entrance and classic vertical sign.

Ticket booth and lobby posters.

Waiting in the lobby for the show to start.

Looking down from stairs leading to balcony.

The manager/projectionist at the Nyunt Cinema, perched on a stool in the lobby. If you look closely you can see that his foot is a prosthetic. Both of them are, actually. Our linguistic differences created an unfortunate communications impasse, as it was clear that he would have gladly shared his deep knowledge of the old theater had I known a bit more Burmese. Nonetheless, the man was kind enough to lead me up to the projection booth to take a look at the old projectors.

Old projector using a carbon rod as a light source.

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

One of my best memories from doing this project in Myanmar took place right there at the Nyunt Cinema. It was just a few minutes before show time and I was up in my balcony seat taking in the sights and sounds of this grand old movie hall while the crowd filtered in. Burmese pop music blared from the sound system at blood curdling decibels. Hordes of young teens filled the balcony seats, row after row, hooting and hollering and lighting up cigarettes in anticipation of the coming dimmed lights and auditory mischief to be made. The zoo was out, apparently. Two teenage boys wearing skin tight shirts and ripped jeans came down from the rear rows and sat one on either side of me. The boy to my left offered me a cigarette, which I declined, hoping to set a good example. The boy to my right zeroed in on a conversation, asking the usual series of questions asked by locals of tourists, in the most basic English imaginable. Behind us, all their little bros shouted down to them, egging them on to gab with the guest, while clouds of tobacco smoke filled the air. Our exchange went on for few minutes before they bounded back to their seats, met with raucous screams and laughter from their friends.

Just before the start of the movie, most theaters in Myanmar, not all, project an image of the national flag onto the screen while playing the national anthem over the sound system. Ostensibly, the audience is supposed to stand in honor of the nation, an act which I expected would be vehemently adhered to in Myanmar given the stiff penalties for sedition and the general culture of paranoia so frequently talked about in the foreign media. But I was consistently surprised to see high numbers of people, in theater after theater, not bothering to stand up at all.

In Thailand, on the other hand, not standing at the movies during the playing of the King's anthem can get you slapped with lese majeste charges, or at least some heavy duty ridicule from any zealots that may be in the crowd.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Yadagon Cinema - Bago, Myanmar

As a rule of thumb, my objects of affection - movie theaters - receive nothing less than eulogy on the SEA Movie Theater Project. Heaping praise on them is what the site is all about. On occasion, however, a mitigating circumstances will arise warranting exception to the rule. This is one such case. Behold what appears to be the most cryptic, down-right haunted looking (active) theater I've ever laid eyes upon. Ladies and gentleman, Bago's third-string cinema hall, the Yadagon.

The Yadagon Cinema: den of the sinister or just a bit shabby?

The least inviting looking theater ever!

Ticket window

The macabre aesthetic gave me the chills as I moved in for a closer inspection. Old Yadagon Cinema looks like it could use an exorcism, I thought, scanning the place with suspicion. But I soon learned that censure of the theater need not transcend its sinister looks. The on-hand staff was nothing but gracious, permitting me entrance while they prepared for the days' activities. Further diluting my expectant horror was a group of ragamuffin children scampering around the theater grounds; the kids of various vendors and employees of the cinema, growing up in its long shadow.

Cinema kids posing for the camera under the Yadagon's vestibule.

Yadagon employee and recently hung posters


Looking back towards the rear of the auditorium. In the last row, wooden partitions separate every two seats so that couples can have their privacy.

Local Bagoans dated the Yadagon to the early 1960's, perhaps one of the last pre-junta theaters built in the country. Something tells me, however, that this one was late 1960's and State-built. The assumption stems from its location in the town; down a long, straight boulevard dead-ending at one of Bago's famed gilded pagodas. It might have been an attempt to capitalize on proximity to a national historic landmark. I can only guess.

I don't know what kind of crowd it attracts nor whether or not the equipment therein allows for quality entertainment. It was well before show time when I visited. Presumably though, this is Bago's main flophouse cinema. Incidentally, it was also the first of several theaters I found in Myanmar that had bats swooping across the auditorium. A bizarre infestation, but one which I found comforting in a very primitive kind of way.