Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Myoma Cinema - Pyin U Lwin, Mandalay Division, Myanmar

Like many a British administrator of imperial past, when my work was finished in Mandalay I headed for the hills. Destination, Pyin U Lwin. Cooler climes, cleaner air, respite from the dust and bustle of big-city life has attracted vacationers to Pyin U Lwin since the 1890's, when the British designated it a hill station: vacation towns for colonial officials, situated in cooler upland areas. Pyin U Lwin is only 67 kilometers east of Mandalay, but a steep climb up the Shan Plateau's western edge to an altitude of over 1,000 meters makes a world of difference. Temperatures take a welcomed dive.

With its leisured history as a colonial-era getaway, finding some forgotten cinemas scattered around town seemed a plausibility. And so there were; three in all. The Myoma Cinema was the first I would encounter.

The elegant Myoma Cinema, no longer showing films, but for hire as a banquet hall.

From this initial survey of Myanmar's movie theaters, Art Deco tops the list as the architectural style of choice, followed closely by International Style, Beaux-Arts and what might loosely be interpreted as Burmese Socialist. The use of the former spans the years from the late 1940's to 1962, amid the country's brief flirtation with democracy. Modernization was one of the guiding principals of development in the post-WWII, post-colonial, but pre-dictatorship years. Art Deco architecture, with its roots in the modernist movements of Europe, was conceptually akin to such aspirations.

The style seems to have grown in popularity in the late 1950's, during which time the Myoma Cinema, dating to 1957, came into being.

Art Deco styling

An elderly local man of Anglo-Burmese descent told me the Myoma's life as a movie theater fizzled out about five years ago. "More and more people have TV's nowadays," the man mused. "The cinema just isn't as popular anymore."

Art Deco staggering in neoclassical symmetry.

The lower facade of the Myoma Cinema, including the portico, seems to have undergone a makeover sometime in the last few years. It's exterior is now a shell of tile similar to many of the newly constructed buildings in Mandalay. Perhaps an influence that has crept down from China.

Tiled pillars in front of filled-in, block glass windows.

As a cinema name, Myoma has to this point in my research presented itself three times in Myanmar. Once in Yangon, once in Mandalay and now again in Pyin U Lwin. The closest English translation of the name I can approximate is "Uptown," which was a relatively common moniker for American theaters of bygone eras.