Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Pliw Rama - Pliw, Lam Sing District, Chanthaburi Province, Thailand

Some locals in Chanthaburi City, all of them over the half century mark in age, made mention that in adjacent Lam Sing District an old wood framed movie theater could be found along the main street in the tiny suburb of Pliw. Following their leads, I hired a driver and took off in that direction. 

Unlike movie theaters in more dynamic settings, the Pliw Rama was not designed to dazzle. In tiny Pliw, there was no need to do so. The town's relatively remote rural setting didn't warrant a building that set the streetscape ablaze in architectural splendor. Especially not when endowed with the historic status as "first theater in town," as the Pliw Rama was. In its heyday, hand painted movie hoardings strapped to the front of the theater would have satisfied the aesthetic requirement, while also attracting inquisitive onlookers eager to learn of the latest celluloid treat. 

The Pliw Rama's lack of ornamentation from its beginnings was ever more compounded in its post-cinematic present. Minus its original sign and marquee, and long devoid of its hand-painted advertisements, the Pliw Rama in its current condition does almost nothing to spark the imagination. But this anecdote is a mark of historical import in its own right. 

Movie theaters like the Pliw Rama, although soundly constructed, are testament to the ad hoc nature of the movie theater business in small town Thailand years ago. Its corrugated tin and gypsum walls, neither of which are particularly attractive building materials in and of themselves, tell a story of a quick and cheap build to supply an in-demand service. While Thailand's post-World War Two agricultural economy was indeed expanding at the time, in rural areas like Pliw the wealth and technical know-how to build luxury cinema halls was still not yet there. The Pliw Rama was the physical outcome of that state of affairs. 

When first built in 1956, the Pliw Rama's portico extended across the entire facade of the building, giving it a complete symmetry that has since been undone to make way for a small retail store on the front left of the theater. Ironically, the store houses a DVD rental shop.

Auditorium shots. Wooden trusses supported the gently pitched roof.

View through projection window.

Even the interior architecture was strictly functional. At the rear of the auditorium, a steep wooden staircase cuts a diagonal stripe across the room. Its destination: a wooden tinder box of a room cantilevered out from the wall, home to all the theater's projection and sound equipment. 

The founder and owner of the Pliw Rama, Mr. Wisit Wongsuwan

As is often the case with the old style of family operated cinema halls, the owner of the Pliw Rama lived just next door. That's where I found Mr. Wisit Wongsuwan, the 80-plus year old founder of the Pliw Rama. After a bit of pleading for access, the spry octogenarian finally conceded, granting access not just to the building, but to that ephemeral record of a time and place passed hidden away in the gauntlet of his memories. From it, Wisit revisited a time when the Pliw Rama was the first place around for villagers to view a motion picture. "I had the first movie theater in the entire district," he boasted. "Because I was so successful, other people in the district began to build their own theaters. By the end there was six of them in total."

Facade at an angle. The exterior wall is all corrugated tin.

While saying our goodbyes, Wisit nonchalantly mentioned a grim bit of news."It's a good thing you came when you did," he said. "We're going to tear [the theater] down in the very near future. It serves no purpose anymore."