Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Yuzana Cinema - Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay Division, Myanmar

For the first half of the 20th century, Pyin Oo Lwin was know by its colonial moniker of Maymyo. "Myo" in Burmese translates to "town" and May was the surname of a British colonel who was stationed at this former hill-top military outpost in the 1880's. Assimilating Colonel May's name into the title of a British-colonial town was a sign of things to come. By the early 20th century, as wars of imperial pacification were relegated to the past, Maymyo's function had changed from military outpost to leisurely hill station, where British officials serving in the colony could go on seasonal retreats, escaping the nagging heat and humidity of the lowlands.

In the wake of decolonization, Maymyo, renamed Pyin Oo Lwin under the Japanese occupation of World War II, continued to draw tourists from the ranks of Burma's own military and officialdom. Besides cooler temperatures, a botanical garden and an 18 hole golf course have long served respite seekers as leisure attractions.

By the late 1950's, there were three movie theaters in the mix, providing further entertainment for vacationers and locals alike. Of the three, only one remains in operation. Although epitomizing Myanmar's Art Deco cinema architecture of the times, the Yuzana Cinema, unfortunately, is not the one. But do feast your eyes all the same.

The Yuzana Cinema stands in the background of the Purcell Tower, a legacy of colonial-era cosmopolitan symbolism.

Purcell Tower with Yuzana Cinema on the back right.

Staggered and echoing, two prominent patterns in Art Deco design.

Dormancy has beset the Yuzana for the past few years now. In its absence, a little bit of the town has died, too. A facade that would catch eyes in almost any setting is the lone effect remaining of this Art Deco former-picture box. With its cinematic function having reached an end, the only hope is that local decision makers realize the building's architectural value and press for its preservation until it can be properly restored or repurposed. But as economic capital from China barrels down from the north, such aspirations will be put to the test. Can the long term socio-cultural imperatives of preservation withstand immediate economic gains? Ultimately that will come down to local leadership and their particular outlook.

The Yuzana Cinema under some ominous clouds. In the background the minaret of Pyin Oo Lwin's central mosque can be seen.

The Yuzana Cinema was built in 1956, or '57 - one of numerous movie theaters to go up during the democratic interlude. It's been closed since the turn of the 21st century.

Happy new year to one and all!

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