Monday, July 25, 2011

'Cinemacide' in Udon Thani

After more than a decade of abandonment, one of Udon Thani's last remaining stand-alone movie palaces, the Amporn, has been demolished.

My lone visit to the Amporn back in early 2009 is memorable for being the first instance of awe I experienced at the sight of a Thai movie theater. Despite its already deleterious condition, my jaw dropped at the sight of it, and I recall with crystal clarity wondering if somebody would actually have the thoughtless audacity to knock it down. Surely not, I convinced myself, because movie theater or otherwise, the building itself is too prized to let nonexistence repossess it. A repurposed future is in store!, I cheered inwardly. Wishful thinking, that was. The lesson reiterated: when a bottom line itches, all else is lost in the process of scratching it.

The Amporn Theater was erected in the 1960's, when Udon Thani's Royal Thai Air Force Base was a front-line facility for the US Air Force in its sustained bombing of Laos and Vietnam. Udon Thani, awash in Yankee green, went from a sleepy provincial capital-cum-market town to a regional hub with a pulsing war economy in a few short years. In the interim, six or seven massive movie palaces were built across town, the Amporn among them.

(For musical accompaniment cicra 1960's Udon Thani, click the above link. The song, sung in Thai and broken English by Mani Moneewan, is entitled "Love Letter from a Rented Wife")

If my sources are correct, the Amporn was built by a local developer named Dr. Sukhum. Endowed with the rare status of celebrity businessman, and riding on the coat tails of the American military machine, Dr. Sukhum's palatial movie theaters helped usher Udon Thanians into an era of high modernity. His architectural legacy - including the said series of elegant, modernist cinemas, which brought a much-needed touch of monumentalism to the city's soot-coated streets - is now in the process of being dismantled.

News of the Amporn's demolition reached my desk via

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