Tuesday, March 19, 2013

For the sake of efficiency

The built environment of any city is always a tenuous subject. What was once in vogue becomes obsolete or even hideous as time goes by and paradigms change. In terms of modernization, by its very definition the more modern a city becomes the more efficiently it is regulated.

In looking over these images of the last days of Washington Square, where the Washington Theater was once an anchor institution, I can't help but place it in the context of a slum clearance. Not the typical squatter settlement slum, comprised of resident-built shacks made from scrap material, and found throughout peri-urban Southeast Asia, but of formal housing which - over time - lost its value and took on slum characteristics.

Washington Square, a mid-century concrete cul de sac featuring 3-story shop houses surrounding a stand-alone movie theater, was once a state-of-the-art development. Its design and function was emblematic of the 1960's modern Bangkok that covered over vast tracts of swamp and paddy land. Today, the remaining Washington Squares of Bangkok have degenerated into working slums, filled with low rent shops and housing that planners and developers think nothing of demolishing.

But if there is anything to be learned by examining the life cycles of cities, it's that architectures which fall out of fashion can regain popularity. The shopping mall which will be built in its place will never be able to replicate Washington Square's human scale intimacy - to say nothing of its unique social history.

Film crew exploring the ruins of Washington Square

These photos were passed along by Bangkok film maker Wattanaphum Laisuwanchai, who explored the remains of Washington Square for a movie he is making about vanishing Bangkok. That's a film I don't want to miss.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

As viewed in Vientiane

Below are a few shots from the SEA Movie Theater Project photo expo at the I:cat Gallery in Vientiane. The set was hung as part of the 3rd annual Vientianale International Film Festival, which ran from February 26th to March 2nd in the Laotian capital.

The Vientianale exhibition marks this project's second time being exhibited in Laos, it's sixth exhibition in conjunction with a film festival and it's eighth exhibition overall. With any luck there will be many more exhibitions to come. And if the gods of the cinema smile down upon me with enough zeal, maybe - just maybe - I will one day take to the road again. Boy, do I miss it. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Scala upgrades to digital projection

By Kong Ritdee
Bangkok Post, March 7, 2013
For 42 years Scala cinema has projected films as film was supposed to be projected: with 35mm print, rolled into a plate as light beams through the strips and atomises the moving pictures that hit the screen. Now the theatre has evolved, along with the whole world.

As the last functional stand-alone cinema in Bangkok, Scala, Siam Square's icon, is also among the last movie houses in town to have upgraded its projection system to digital.
Professional estimates have it that by the end of 2015, the global transformation to digital projection will be complete. More than 80% of cinema screens in Europe are now digitally equipped, for instance, and there are more than 12,000 digital screens in China as of last year. About half of the movies we see in Bangkok today are being shown digitally _ through Digital Cinema Package, a sort of hard drive that plays high-definition video images.
Scala, one of the two cinemas of Apex Group in Siam Square, showed its first digitally projected film last Thursday, the thriller Stoker starring Nicole Kidman. At the nearby Lido, also an Apex outfit, two of the three screens have already been upgraded to digital; the first film to be shown in the new format is Jack The Giant Slayer.
The upgrade to digital of Scala and Lido means more than just technical advancement. Last year, news about the imminent demolition of Lido, and possibly Scala, prompted a quick and passionate outcry of people who regarded the two cinemas as historical landmarks and even as the last stronghold against the fervid urban expansion. Even though Chulalongkorn University, which owns the space, alleviated fears by assuring that there was no immediate plan to demolish the two cinemas, the situation seems to be hanging in uncertainty.
By investing in the expensive digital projectors, however, Apex seems to be indirectly giving hope to its fans. If Scala and Lido were about to be demolished, as the rumour mill keeps stating, the operator wouldn't have spent money upgrading the system. Or at least that's the reading from observers. An executive of Apex doesn't confirm this though. In a phone conversation, he only said that the cinemas need to adapt to the changing times, since digital is becoming the norm. He didn't elaborate on the future of Scala and Lido.
Most cineplexes charge higher prices for digital screenings, but Scala and Lido are charging the same 100 baht _ still the cheapest. This is why people love them, analogue or digital.