I was taken to dinner a couple of nights ago by four young Thai film lovers who humored me by speaking English the whole evening as we ate ramen noodles and Japanese curry and drank copious amounts of iced tea.
We talked about movies of course, and at one point the conversation turned to their memories of the first movies they saw in the cinema, revealing a bit of Bangkok's not-too-distant past just before my arrival here.
For example, I never knew the Lido cinemas in Siam Square were a single-screen theater. It was gutted by fire and remodeled into its present form as a three-screen multiplex and shopping plaza. (Lido 3 was where I saw my first movie in Bangkok, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.) Also, the computer-geeks' mall Pantip Plaza used to have a theater, and there were many other cinemas, long since closed and torn down to make way for hi-rise condos or fancy shopping malls.
The era of the single-screen cinema has faded away, with the Scala and the Siam, neighboring the Lido in Siam Square, as the sole survivors. With the economic gloom, some multiplexes may even start closing. (Or maybe not.)
Coincidentally, there's a new blog, The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project, which chronicles the end of this era. So far, the cinemas covered are in northern Thailand, such as the Mae Sot Rama Theater pictured above. There's plenty of photos and text, such as this excerpt:
"Small town Thai economies have suffered for the past 10 years" and ... operating the family gem was too costly. "We'd like to find a tenant," she added, "but the place is in crap condition and it would cost too much to fix. Tearing it down would also have a high price tag at 100,000 baht."
Hopefully the blogger, whose handle is The Projectionist, will make his way to other parts of Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia and capture these cinemas before the wrecking claws and bulldozers find them.
(Thanks Phil, and thanks to Boat, Te, Don and Jit for showing me a great place to eat.)