Friday, July 2, 2010

The Waziya Cinema AKA The Excelsior - Yangon, Myanmar PART 2 of 2

Night view

By most accounts, the Waziya Cinema dates to the late 1920's. It began its life as a live theater, but was transformed into a cinema hall as the film medium grew in popularity. Myanmar, then the British colony of Burma, had one of the most prolific and well developed movie industries in Southeast Asia during the first half of the 20th century. Led by production companies like A1, New Burma and British Burma, the domestic filmfare rivaled British and American imports in popularity for years. The result of this cinephilic culture was dozens of highly crafted movie theaters throughout the country.

Entrance to stall (lower level) seating

Looking down over the lobby

Lobby cards

Until 1962, when all the country's cinema halls were nationalized under the auspices of the still-reigning military government, the Waziya went under the name of the Excelsior Cinema. Such name changing was common practice following the ascent of the military, with many entities formerly containing names of English origin going native. The aim was to foster a stronger national identity after a century of British rule.

On a side note, the government of Myanmar is now in the process of selling off its movie theater holdings to private investors. Any takers?

Stairs to balcony seating

The mirrored landing
Ticket girl for lodge (balcony) seating. The arched widows along the corridor are open air.

Upper front corridor, with arched doorways leading to a patio.

Spiral staircase leading to the projection room
Many older movie theaters in Burma have this feature: a patio on top of the portico. It makes for a good place to catch a smoke or spit some betel juice before or during a film.

The patio

Ionic capital on the second level exterior

Striking, isn't it? The Waziya is the only movie theater I've come across in Southeast Asia done in the Beaux arts style (if my architectural knowledge isn't off). And as an added bonus, both the interior and exterior retain the majority of its original character - fixtures and all. Even the auditorium was noteworthy, looking as if it hasn't changed much in the 80-plus years of the building's existence. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to shoot it, but I can tell you this: it's pretty old school. The screen is set back behind a stage, betraying the building's former use as a live performance hall. The roof is supported by tall pillars rising up from the balcony sides. What a sight! It's easy to imagine silent films playing there in its early years.

So if you're in Yangon, check out the Waziya/Excelsior Cinema. Support a well run business and classic old building. It's at the corner of Bogyoke Aung San Road and 33rd Street. If you go during any day time show, you can buy your ticket from the lady below. She's friendly and will help you select the best seat in the house. Tickets, by the way, range from 40 to 70 cents a pop.


  1. Looks great! I gotta get over there at some point.

  2. What a find! I am so glad that they finally allowed you to take pictures. It is still very elegant and impressive. How much do they want for it?

  3. Not sure if the Waziya is one of those up for sale. If it is, it's probably be one of the more expensive ones. It has lots of retails space along the ground level perimeter and it's pretty centrally located.

  4. Thanks for another great post. Love the photos and descriptions

  5. Where are the good necking seats?

  6. Back row of the balcony. They've got partitions between every two seats so couples can get their smooch and grope on in relative privacy.

  7. You have the most arcane and fascinating blog subjects. Rob/ Ubon Tales

  8. Like those charming theatres
    Good job

  9. We just celebrated a traditional American Jewish family Christmas here in south eastern Pennsylvania. We went to see the new Speilberg film "War Horse" at the old Bala Theatre. This is a 1920's era classic movie palace that has been broken up into 3 viewing rooms. The Clearview company that now owns the property did manage to leave intact all of the old ornate plaster ceiling medalions. There is a bit of a tarnished patina here on a block that looks back to the 1960's here in the good old USA. After the film we gorged out on take-out Chinese food.
    Great film too!!!
    Thinking about all the film goers worldwide...Have fun

  10. Sounds like wholesome family fun. Wish I could have been there.