Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Saengcharoen Theater (A.K.A. 4711 Theater) - Mahasarakham, Thailand

Sanctity, for some, is best found in the confines of the cinema. For movie-goers of piety: priests, monks and other holy mouthpieces speak hollow babble compared to the 35 millimeter gospel of the projector. Sermons are conducted regularly throughout the day, 7 days a week, in the temples of film - with mid-night specials for night owls at times, too. Naturally, then, for the more cinematically devout among us, losing a movie theater is like losing a house of worship. And losing a movie theater to a house of worship is no less blasphemous. On this particular occasion, though, gripes will be tame, because the Hope of Mahasarkham Church staff were very decent about letting me document their abode - the former Saengcharoen/4711 Theater.

The Saengcharoen/4711 Theater in downtown Mahasarakham, now a church.

Locals dated the Saengcharoen Theater to the late 1960's, though specifics beyond that were vague. Everybody in town likewise referred to it as the 4711 Theater, without explanation as to why that was. Possibly a lucky number of some kind? An auspicious digit chosen to help increase ticket sales? Nobody seemed to know, least of all the church staff, who referred to it only as the Saengcharoen.

Crucifix fixed to the roof

Symbols embedded in the floor

Sure enough, in the floor of the lower atrium, "4711" was embedded in the concrete, along with a strange design loosely resembling a face. My immediate thought upon seeing this insignia was that it had something to do with the occult. Maybe the builder, the now-deceased Mr. Saengcharoen, had dealings with some underground religious order, and movie revenue was its source of funding. In all likelihood the symbol and number have far less sinister origins, but it's fun to fantasize, either way.

จัตุรัสบันเทิง embedded in the concrete floor.

Also embedded in the floor throughout the theater were the words Jaturat Banterng (จัตุรัสบันเทิง), or Square Entertainment. Again, nobody on the premises could offer a solid answer as to its background, so I took it upon myself to concoct a story: Jaturat Banterng is the code name for a cult, don't you know? Right, and they would hypnotize movie-goers with subliminal messages inserted in the reels of film. When exiting the theater, those who had been entranced were snatched up and whisked away in a van, driven to a remote cave outside the city. There they'd be fed to an enormous lizard called Zcang, while the cultists engaged in orgies of blood. Since Mr. Saengcharoen died and the theater closed, the cult has lost it main source of sacrificials. But in the hills surrounding Mahasarakham, lizard-skinned men are said to hunt the inebriated by the light of the moon.

Cryptic numerology and symbols aside, the Saengcharoen/4711 was an architectural masterpiece of a theater. In the upper-level atrium, floor-to-ceiling windows allowed for natural illumination, as erstwhile theater patrons awaited the movie's start. With all its glowing whiteness, the Saengcharoen/4711 naturally lends itself to church use, though I wouldn't have wished it such a fate.

Naturally lit atrium

Built-in benches curve sleekly around the atrium balcony

From a movie-watching perspective, the theater must have been in an elite class. Acoustics inside the auditorium were the best I've ever heard in a movie theater. Sound was confined and smooth, without the slightest echo or reverberation. It was more akin to a music recording studio than a movie theater. Crisp and clear under pin-point engineering.

When will we learn?

Seating was arranged stadium style, descending from back to front, with perfect sight-lines throughout. The seats themselves were like butter: deep pocketed, with plenty of leg room and reclinability. Sitting perfection.

Church band drum kit, in front of the screen.

The Church of Hope is apparently the fastest growing religious order in Thailand, with their missions recruiting largely from the young and impressionable. Mahasarakham is a fairly large college town, so it makes sense that they would a open a church there. The Hope of Mahasarakham Church has been renting the Saengcharoen/4711 Theater for the past few years, but word has it that they're putting up ten-million baht for its purchase - testament to the profitability of the almighty.

If I had that kind of money to spare I'd buy the Saengcharoen/4711 Theater myself, set up a trust for it and have it screen movies til kingdom come.

1 comment:

  1. Wow that's really great and nice theater