Chula asks us Lido-lovers to feel the pain

Chula asks us Lido-lovers to feel the pain

Alarmed and despondent, readers have sent feedback to me regarding last week's column on the forthcoming demise of the Lido Theatre. For a second, I thought I had struck my Kony moment, though I'd promised I'd never end up the same way as that video-maker who was caught naked, drunk, and allegedly performing al fresco masturbation just days after his socially-conscious campaign had gone viral. Don't let the urge to save the world short-circuit your head, that's the lowdown.

And yet, the reaction of Lido lovers is passionate. So please allow me another take at the issue this week, for among those who wrote in, there were calls for protests, petitions, a siege, while many were simply outraged at what they see as the "wanton" destruction of an icon. Lecturers, students and media personalities share their anguish, and even war cries. Right now, there is at least one online petition urging Chulalongkorn Uni, which owns the area around Siam Square and has unveiled a plan for a major facelift that will affect the iconic cinemas, to reassess it."Spare a creative space: We want Lido and Scala," reads the title of the campaign. A Facebook page has been created to ruminate on the cultural loss if the theatres actually come down. On the popular Pantip website, fans have shared pictures of old and extinct movie houses that once graced Bangkok, not just the Lido or the Scala, but a fantastic array of modernist architecture of the Chalermthai, Odeon, Chalermburi, Empire, Paramount, Athens, all fossilised in sepia photographs and funereal melancholy. Many point out the fact that nearly all the functional stand-alone theatres in Bangkok - except the Scala - have metamorphosed into seedy venues of pornography, since to live underground has become the only way to live at all.

We'll weep later; let's take a deep breath first.

For a start, no one will touch the Lido until late 2013. And although the prediction that the Scala will become the next target isn't merely a hunch, the fate of that majestic dame hasn't been decided. Earlier this week, Assoc Prof Permyot Kosolbhand of Chulalongkorn's Property Management Office gave an interview to Matichon newspaper in a tone that was more compromising than when he first talked about the Siam Square overhaul and showed the sketch of the planned development - published in this newspaper - that seems to obliterate the Lido and the Scala.

"We will try to find a way to preserve the symbols of the area, but at this point we have no details," he said.

The academic cited safety reasons for the need to renovate the buildings in Siam Square, but he stressed that he would need to talk to the operator of the Lido and Scala - the Tansacha family - before deciding what to do with them. He didn't mention whether Bangkok really needs another mall.

When Sala Chalermthai Theatre was demolished in 1989 to make way for the re-aestheticisation of Ratchadamnoen Avenue, there was an outcry and protests. They didn't work, and how monumental, how historical that cinema was! Likewise, a number of grand old movie houses were felled and replaced by (hideous) buildings. This doesn't mean that we should just whine and wait for the first blow to strike the Lido and the Scala; the protest movement today, should we really come to that, would be more efficient. The voice of opposition has to be maintained, yes, but at the same time, I believe it's worth taking time to examine the complex relationship between the past and present, between the promise of change and the impermanence of today.

History has given us this lesson: 50 years ago when Chulalongkorn decided to develop the area that is now Siam Square, the neighbourhood was a tangle of slums. There was a fire - there's always a fire - and the inhabitants had to move out. It is recorded that at that time, Chula students formed a resistance and patrolled the area to prevent the slum-dwellers' return, so that the development plan could commence (Rangsan Torsuwan, a controversial architect and Chula graduate, said this in an interview years ago with Positioning magazine).

So the teeming youth hub of today, including the Lido and the Scala, came into existence at the expense of a group of people whom we have already forgotten. In the name of urban makeover, the slum residents had to sacrifice. Now Chula is asking us - Lido-lovers - to do the same. It must've hurt then as it does now. If not more.

Kong Rithdee writes about movies and popular culture for the Bangkok Post.

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post columnist

Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.

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