Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bangkok retrospective

With my foray into Bangkok's movie theater history coming to a close, I find myself with a few hours to reflect before returning to my Chiang Mai routine. Here's what I think:

First of all, to my pleasant surprise I found more theaters that were still operating in one form or another than I expected to. Some, like the theaters that Apex runs in Siam Square, are functioning, world-class movie theaters, with one bona fide "palace" among them. Others were lesser known second-run theaters scattered throughout the neighborhoods. Others yet have turned into dens for the subaltern. I'm glad I visited all each of them.

Most of these past two weeks in Bangkok have been spent exploring sections of this sweltering city that I've never seen before. It was an enormously different kind of experience than anywhere else in Thailand or Laos I've explored; most certainly more physically taxing compared to the sleepy provincial towns which I've grown accustomed to. In more cases than not the hunt for Bangkok's antiquated movie theaters brought me into some of the city's most marginal neighborhoods. A few times I was warned to be careful walking around these areas flashing expensive camera gear and the like, but I had no problems. To tell you the truth, I had more friendly social interactions with the people I encountered on this trip than during all my other expeditions combined, I would say. I think that that will show in the coming posts.

Ultimately it was those interactions I had along the way which made the biggest impression. An old friend fore warned me to brace myself for hostility, coldness or indifference from the people of Bangkok, especially compared to the warm receptiveness of the small town folk. To the contrary, I found most people in Bangkok happy to talk, at the very least in a humoring way. It was pretty edifying, even when in some bizarre places, to chat with the locals about old cinemas. I really got a sense of how central they were to social life in the Bangkok of past generations.

Well, right now I'm feeling pretty wiped out from all the pavement pounding; ready to get back to the comforts of home and nestle in for a bit. The truth is though, I only found a fraction of the old theaters in Bangkok, which means I'm going to have to come back some day soon to shoot the rest before they're destroyed.

Stay tuned!

(Many thanks to Wicky, Lim and the Wise Kwai for their Bangkok hospitality and fun times. Also many thanks to Puangthong for all her insights into Bangkok movie theater history )

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