25 September 2019

Thailand’s Movie Theatres

Thailand's Movie Theatres
Thailand’s Movie Theatres: Relics, Ruins and the Romance of Escape features photographs of more than fifty vintage Thai cinemas. The book, by Philip Jablon, also includes a brief history of film exhibition in Thailand. (A Century of Thai Cinema, by Dome Sukwong, also covers Thai film exhibition, though Jablon goes into a bit more detail.)

As the book’s subtitle suggests, many of these stand-alone cinemas have been abandoned; in his preface, Kong Rithdee laments this “glorious dereliction”. Notoriously, Siam Theatre was destroyed by arsonists in 2010, a great cultural loss (as it was the first venue to draw crowds to Siam Square in downtown Bangkok), and—to add insult to injury—its demolition gave developers an ideal opportunity to build yet another shopping mall (Siam Square One). Fortunately, the Scala cinema, which Jablon calls “Bangkok’s last movie palace”, is still open for business. Others have been repurposed, such as the Prince Theatre, which was converted into an impressive movie-themed hotel.

Thailand’s Movie Theatres also examines the social history of film exhibition, profiling poster artists such as Somboonsuk Niyomsiri (Piak Poster) and voice dubbers like Sirichai Duangphatra. It includes a fascinating account of Sirichai’s dubbing of a Hollywood thriller in 1973: “He had a penchant, moreover, for using his role as dubber to address the day’s top political scandals, both at the national and local level. And corrupt politicians were his number one target. With Serpico, making political satire for Sirichai was like shooting fish in a barrel; it turned out to be his voice-over magnum opus.”

Sonthaya Subyen and Morimart Raden-Ahmad’s Once Upon a Celluloid Planet (สวรรค์ 35 มม.: เสน่ห์วิกหนังเมืองสยาม) is another tribute to Thailand’s stand-alone cinemas, with multiple interior photographs of each venue. Once Upon a Celluloid Planet was published five years before Thailand’s Movie Theatres, though the two projects were developed in parallel.