Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Sins against city's cinemas"

The Bangkok Post
Monday, March 19th, 2012

By Usnisa Sukhsvasti

"There is hardly a person in Bangkok whose life is not linked in some way to Siam Square. It has been the hangout for people of every age group and gender. It does not discriminate against social standing and pay cheque. You can go there whether you travel by chauffeur-driven limousine, BTS or public bus.

In 2010, Siam Square went through a crisis when the Siam Theatre was burned down during the red shirt riots. People actually saw their lives flashing past in their mind's eye. By "people", I mean me.

Siam Theatre was the cinema where I passed many a delightful hour in front of the huge screen on modern reclining seats. Previously there was Chalerm Thai on Ratchadamnoen, Chalerm Krung near Pahurat, King and Queen in Wang Burapa, Hollywood at Ratchathewi, Paramount and Metro on Phetchaburi Road.

Actually, if you want to go way back, the first film I remember watching was a horror movie which starred a jelly-like monster that could slide under doors in liquid form and build itself up into some weird menace that seemed to have a preference for beautiful blondes talking on the phone. This was shown at a wooden cinema somewhere near Asok Market, and probably created a deep-rooted trauma for a three-year-old child. I've never got over my dread of horror movies.

I watched a lot of movies as I grew up. As the youngest child in the family, I was the only one available to accompany my mother who was the ultimate film buff. We used to do two movies in a row, and the traffic being light as it was in those days, it wasn't impossible.

Her taste ranged from Indian movies (Angulimala, who went around chopping off his victims' fingers to hang round his neck), Chinese (The Goddess Guan Yin), and endless Hollywood films. I must have watched all the early James Bond movies with her.

What I also remember is the film G.I. Blues starring Elvis Presley. I must have watched it at least five times when I was four, much to my mother's chagrin.

And that's why the Siam Square cinemas meant so much to me. My student days at Chulalongkorn University revolved around Siam Square, watching movies for 15 baht per ticket.

First it was the Siam that bit the dust. Now it's the Lido whose days are numbered. I watched MacKenna's Gold three times at the Lido! My former in-laws owned one of the first bakeries in Siam Square on the Lido block. I was there when Prince Charles married Diana Spencer.

Next year, the Lido is going to make way for a "high-rise walking street", which I assume is a newly coined term for "shopping centre", of which we only have a few hundred in Bangkok.

The Lido, on the other hand, provided film buffs with an alternative venue where they could watch some of the more artistic but less commercial productions, at only 100 baht a ticket. Now we have no choice but to watch 4D flicks at astronomical prices, or stay at home. I know what I'm going to choose.

We need another shopping centre like we need a hole in the head. The social networks are abuzz with comments against this new project, and against the people at Chula who must have holes in their heads to come up with this idea in the first place. There's even a "Save the Lido" campaign brewing.

I can only assume that in time, the Scala, the Grande Dame of old-style cinemas, will face a similar fate.

One comment from a youngster on went: "It seems strange that the younger generation are the ones calling for conservation, while the older (and supposedly more intellectual _ my own insert) generation are destroying old traditions and promoting materialism."

I couldn't have put it better, my dear!"

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