Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Bang Pa-In Rama - Bang Pa-In, Ayuthaya Province, Thailand

To most of the world, if not most of Thailand itself, Ayuthaya is synonymous with the stony ruins of an erstwhile capital city. For decades the town has been one of the country's top tourist destinations, playing a key role in the tangible side of Thailand's national narrative. 

Beyond the smartly curated monuments of Ayuthaya Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, wider Ayuthaya Province is the main node of an industrial belt occupying large swaths of Thailand's vast central plains. Between the eponymous provincial capital and Bangkok - the center of industry and the center of finance - are a number of districts which have more or less been subsumed into the Bangkok megacity and its industrialized outskirts. Among them is the town of Bang Pa-In, at Ayuthaya's southern tip.

Like almost all of Thailand's 3rd tier cities, Bang Pa-In was once home to a locally owned stand-alone movie theater. As universal as these structures once were, they are today universally blighted, if standing at all. Those that still stand are silent bonds between a recent past and the present.

The Bang Pa-In Rama came into existence under historically telling circumstances. A journey back in time can place it, with near lapidary accuracy, in a moment when Ayuthaya's industrial economy was growing by leaps and bounds. 

By the early 1980's, Thailand's industrialization project had revved up to new highs. Foreign investment in the manufacturing sector, led by Japan, resulted in many of Bangkok's satellite cities transforming from minor market towns catering to agriculture and whatever cottage industry might therein lie, to centers of highly capitalized manufacturing. Outlying land, once the reserve of paddy rice and jungle, was claimed for the construction of industrial parks and housing estates for workers.

As for  Bang Pa-In, seat of the southern most district in the province, it was transformed from a sleepy market town, best known for having a summer palace of Thailand's royal family, into a feeder town for both Ayuthaya and Bangkok. The need to transport labor from Bang Pa-In and its environs to factories to the north and south necessitated a wider transit network. And so, at the highway junction towards the southern end of town arose the Bang Pa-In Commerce Center, anchored by two important institutions - a bus depot and the Bang Pa-In Rama. The year was 1983.

Late stage International Style architecture characterizes the Bang Pa-In Rama.

 Signage on the facade in 80's digital font. 

The growth of cinema halls around transit hubs was once fairly common. In fact, it might be said to be one of the more typical couplings of the 20th century when it comes to modern infrastructure. Usually it was train stations that movie theaters sprang up around, but bus depots have been known to have theaters in close proximity, as well. The reason for it simple: Passengers arriving from far and wide at a given transit station often have time to kill. Movies are one of the great pass-times.  

Faded posters on the staircase landing

The upper lobby is now occupied by a billiards hall.

Switchback staircase leads from the bi-level lobby below to foyer and auditorium

Ribbon windows and dilapidated benches highlight the foyer.

One of the former projectionists at the Bang Pa-In Rama, now working as a motorcycle taxi driver.

Faded poster in the projection booth.


Stadium seating in the auditorium


The Bang Pa-In Rama and the commercial/transit center that it stands in has remained in the hands of the family that built it back in 1983, though it has since been passed down to the second generation. The theater itself closed up in 1994, but  part of it is rented out to a billiards halls.

Minivan services to and from Ayuthaya, Bangkok and points between continue to operate out of the center. That aside, a smattering of shops and low-rent eateries catering to transit passengers round out the commercial tenants

"My father was never really passionate about the theater," explained the current owner, who requested anonymity. "He was told it would be a good business to go with a bus depot - and it was for a while - but the business went bad pretty quickly. I don't really think about it much these days. It generates a bit of income from the billiards hall, and motorcycle taxi drivers hang out in the lobby. Otherwise it's just there. It's structurally sound so there's no good reason to knock it down."

Thai PBS followed me to the Bang Pa-In Rama to film a short entertainment news feature about The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project. This aired on January 15th, 2016.

Just a reminder, there are now only 3 out of a limited run of 35 copies remaining of The Movie Theaters of Thailand photo portfolio. Once these are gone they will never be printed again. The entire box set is on sale here and here exclusively for $300 dollars, including shipping. By making this purchase, you will become the owner of unique work of photography, printed on handmade mulberry paper from Chiang Mai, Thailand. You will also be supporting the continuation of this project, as all proceeds go directly towards future movie theater surveys in Southeast Asia.

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