Cinema grande dame fades but will Scala go on?

Cinema grande dame fades but will Scala go on?

This Sunday, the Scala cinema -- the grande dame of Thailand's movie theatres -- will close for good after 50 years.

For those new to Bangkok, or those watching movie on video, CDs, bit-torrent stream and Netflix, the name Scala, the last remaining stand-alone movie theatre in Thailand, may not ring a bell. But for many, it is more than just an old cinema.

Opened in 1969, the Scala theatre has been part of Thailand's modernisation into Western entertainment culture. It was a swanky place for Thai urbanites to get a taste of foreign films, mostly from Hollywood; a cinema built to impress and indulge movie lovers.

Investor and movie lover Pisit Tansatcha had hired Jira Silpakanok, an up-and-coming architect, to design a theatre which would be like stepping into a grandiose palace.

Visiting the cinema is an experience in itself. A curvy grand staircase takes patrons up to the concourse where the wall depicts Asian cultures in stucco relief. From the ceiling hangs a a modern-style chandelier.

With such adornments, the Scala theatre became a de facto Cinema Paradiso for film lovers in Thailand. That may explain why people are so unhappy that their Cinema Paradiso is coming to an end.

Ticket collectors welcome movie goers in their signature yellow tuxedos. I wonder if any other cinema owners will run their businesses with such a passion.

In the 1970s, Scala together with its sister theatres Siam and Lido -- both now gone -- were key engines turning Siam Square into prime commercial and social space.

This weekend, we will witness an emotional farewell arranged by the Thai Film Archive. Tickets for screenings were fully booked in just a few hours as people formed long queues to take part in the event.

Tomorrow all lights in the theatre and the magnificent chandelier will be turned on so people can take pictures one last time.

The last film to be screened on Sunday is Guiseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso. For me, this is a perfect choice for the occasion. It will make us think about the future of the Scala theatre, if there is a future.

The movie depicts the bond between a small movie theatre, named "Cinema Paradiso" in a humble town in Sicily, and how it touched the lives of simple peasants.

In short, it is a movie that pays tribute to the love of movies and movie theatres (I have watched this film several times and every time I cried even when watching on video or digital streaming format!)

Like many cinemas around the world, "Cinema Paradiso" in the movie was lined up for the wrecking ball as the landlord wanted to convert the space into a car park.

So, what will happen with Bangkok's Cinema Paradiso? What will the landlord, Chulalongkorn University, transform this architectural gem into?

Questions about the future of the movie theatre have been raised with Property Management of Chulalongkorn University (PMCU), the property development arm of the university. Few details are known.

That makes people worried that this architectural gem will fall victim to the wrecking ball like other pieces of architectural heritage in Thailand.

In recent years, society has witnessed massive land use transformation in Siam Square and the Samyan area.

Old shop houses have been cleared for commercial high rises and complexes. In Siam Square, commercial complexes are built while old structures are torn down.

To be fair, the university and PMCU have done good work transforming Chulalongkorn into a campus of the future.

The campus infrastructure and landscape have been well developed and public landscape and space such as Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park and Samyan Market have been well received.

For society and the media, the PMCU is not just another commercial developer, but it must oversee and manage land bestowed to the university by King Rama VI.

The university is not just another landlord; recently it proclaimed its aim of being a "Pillar of the Country."

So, society keeps watching with fingers crossed, to see if the pillar and the foundation stay strong. What will the university turn the Scala cinema into -- a Cultural Paradiso or just another Commercial Paradiso?

This is a major challenge facing the country's oldest university, once the lights at the Scala are forever dimmed.

Anchalee Kongrut

Editorial pages editor

Anchalee Kongrut is Bangkok Post's editorial pages editor.

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