Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Phaholyothin Rama Theater - Bangkok, Thailand

The sign in the middle of the above photo advertises the Phahol Theater. Take note of the skyscrapers that flank both sides of Phaholyothin Road in the background of this photo. Sooner or later the northward spread of redevelopment will lead to the demolition of most structures in the aging Saphan Kwai neighborhood pictured in the foreground. The Phahol Theater will likely be included.

Interesting to note, the sign in the top two photos says Phahol Theater, while the sign in the bottom two says Phaholyothin Ram. There must have been a name change at some point.

The Phaholtothin Theater is in a commercial plaza just off of Phaholyothin Road. Two streetside signs standing above the two alley ways leading to it (above 4 photos) serve as gateways to an antique cinema wonderland.

With its architectural details barely altered since its completion in the early 1950's, the Phaholyothin Rama Theater is a true Bangkok classic. It once competed with its erstwhile cross-street rival the Mongkol Rama Theater for the area's movie-goers. The Phaholyothin Rama specialized in films from the Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers studio.

Lobby circa the 1950's.

Old clock behind the ticket booth.

Ornate poster cases

My girlfriend and I visited the Phaholyothin Rama Theater on a crystal clear Saturday afternoon. I dropped 100 baht on two tickets from a snickering ticket lady and walked towards the front entrance. As we approached, two middle aged women stopped us in our tracks.

"You guys might want to go across the street to the Mongkol Rama," suggested one of them. "The tickets are the same price as here. We'll give you a full refund if you do."

My girlfriend, ever sweet and inquisitive, raised her eyebrows and asked "what's wrong with watching a movie here?" Pornography, I figured. After all, the were no movies advertised, only a sign reading 4 shows daily.

"Well," said the woman, "I don't think a girl like you is going to enjoy it in here too much." She smiled and nodded towards me. "Your boyfriend might like it, though. But please, don't take my advice! Do as you like!"

With this hint of things to come in mind we moved towards the entrance, the ticket taker solemnly avoiding eye contact as he did his job. Whatever was going on inside was worth checking out, we decided, if only for a few minutes.

The smoke-filled foyer had a dozen people loafing around, eying us as we passed. My girlfriend whispered, "how come there's only men in here?" We cautiously walked down a narrow, darkened corridor which opened into the auditorium - pitch black except for the film on the screen. It wasn't porn, that was for sure. It wasn't really much of anything. A weird 1980's made-for-video British film, dubbed in Thai, and judging from the shoddy picture, coming from an LCD projector. The scene showing featured a crippled boy having lunch with an older man in a suit. No, not porn. Just a source of lighting. We blindly found two empty seats in the lower level and gently sunk down.

The all male audience crept between the aisles, scanning the crowd as they went, a slow moving stream of human shapes. Others stood along the side walls, pairing up after brief exchanges with passers by. Those who were seated did so in pairs, never staying put for more than a few moments before shuffling off towards auditorium's rear. Two dimly lit bathrooms in the upper level of the stadium seating were the prime destinations,.

"How come nobody is watching the movie?" my girlfriend asked.

"Lets go and I'll tell you outside."

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of a movie threatre being a gay "stream bath".