Friday, January 1, 2016

The Painters

One of the more lamentable casualties of Thailand's movie theater industry is the movie billboard painter. At one time indispensable to the marketing of films, over the years this craft has been whittled down to a skeleton crew of active artists. 

But in the good old days of grand movie palaces, before the rise of the antiseptic theater chains, some of the nation's most talented painters made a living by creating cinematic visions to entice the crowds. Theater facades, commercial streets and prominent intersections in any sizable town were once decked out in original works of king-sized art that rotated on weekly basis.  

Billboard painter works on an ad for the Terrence Hill-Bud Spencer spaghetti western "Even Angels Eat Beans" in Khorat c. 1973 (photo credit to Craig Campen) 

Ads for Thai romantic comedy starring Sombat Methani and "Even Angels Eat Beans" 

The Chalerm Sin Theater, Ubon Ratchathani, advertising some Terrence Hill-Bud Spencer spaghetti western c. 1971 (photo credit to Jim Faiano)  

The Chalerm Thai Theater, Khorat branch. The billboard and cutout is of an unknown film, while the marquee advertises 1969's "Sabata."

The Pattani Rama with hand painted ad for Congo. c. 1996 (photo credit Wantaofek Baka)

This trade flourished until the mid-1990's, when the introduction of large format printers to Thailand caused an unfortunate and quite sudden shift. Theaters owners, already feeling the squeeze of declining ticket sales, were no longer reliant on the painters to create advertisements for their film fair. One by one theaters made the switch, laying waste to an entire guild once held in high regard. A classic case of machine making obsolescence of man.  

Today in the larger Thai cities, LED screens have become the new norm for roadside movie ads, bar-none the most effective way of drawing the eye of the passerby. But as luck would have it, there is one theater chain in southern Thailand that eschews the blinding commercialism of LED in favor of the soft stroke of the billboard painter. Colosseum Cineplex keeps at least two studios in southern Thailand in business. One in Phuket and the another in Yala.

Another theater in Sisaket - MVP Cineplex - apparently also employs a painter to do its movie ads.

Hand painted ads for "Terminator Genesis" (left) and Jurassic World (right) cloak the front of an abandoned building in Yala. 

The video below is a quick glimpse into the working life of Yala's movie billboard painters. Enjoy.

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