Bangkok's most unique cinema, the historic Scala Theater, hosted what was likely the most unique event in its history this past week.
Held from Thursday to Saturday, Live at the Scala was a "micro-festival" put on by the British Council and curated by the UK's Forest Fringe, which brought in a half dozen or so acts. The event featured performance art, installations and video. The performances aimed to make use of all of the Scala's space, chiefly the spacious lobby, with its art-deco frieze, sweeping stairway and chandelier.
A "bar" serving inexpensive beer was set up with a smattering of squat tables and stools for the audience to gather around.
Starting at around 7pm (the Scala is a working cinema showing first-run movies and had a matinee screening of Mama earlier in the day), the Live at the Scala proceedings kicked off with Action Hero, a work by James Stenhouse and Gemma Paintin in which they act out a movie western, with members of the audience standing in for various villains, such as opposing gunslingers or card cheats. A pointed finger is a gun and when you shoot it, you make a "phiew" sound. The duo, playing the hero and the whore, are dressed in white, and before it's all over, they are covered in "blood" – ketchup, actually.
Movies were the interlinking theme of the performances and art.
Throughout the whole show, another performer, Brian Lobel, set up a bedroom at the base of the Scala's stairs with television sets and a collection of dance-movie videos (actual VHS tapes) and invited the audience come dance with him. They would put on headphones and hoof along, trying to match the steps from such movies as Sister Act, Newsies and The Breakfast Club.
All around the lobby there were posters for movies by a fictional actress Natalie Gorgeous. The posters were just the black text on white backgrounds for such movies as Gorgeous in the Rain (Fox), Gorgeous with a Gun (Warner Bros) and Fists of Gorgeous (Golden Harvest). Even the side of the Scala marquee had a Gorgeous movie, Brave New Gorgeous. An accompanying booklet for Tim Etchell's Gorgeous at 25 Frames per Second explained everything.
Did you know the Scala has dressing rooms? Well, it does, and after Action Hero, the audience was invited to move around and check out the other stuff going on. One of the dressing rooms was made into a black box hosting the video installation, Cinema and Space, Extracting the Unrecognized, curated by Messy Project Space and Mary Pansanga. Projectors screened videos on opposite walls. On one side was Kornkrit Jianpinidnan's The Vehicle is Onward ..., capturing various scenes of Bangkok at night, mainly along the Skytrain line. Recognizable places that seem ok on first glance look pretty trashy on closer inspection. On the opposite wall Bjorn Kammerer's Gyre played. This is a loop of a rotating cabin (a cabin in the woods, perhaps?) and it provided a flickering counterpoint to the urban scenes of the Thai director's short film.
In the main auditorium, they actually showed a movie – a short film detailing the efforts of the Gob Squad, a group of UK and German artists who recreated death scenes from such famous movies as Midnight Cowboy and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan Using split screens, the short film Live Long and Prosper showed the Gob Squad scene alongside the original. They are all done in public places, such as train stations, shopping malls, a laundramat or public transport. So instead of the engine room of the Enterprise, the Gob Squad's Kirk and Spock say their farewells through the front window of a department store, while stand-ins for Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight re-enact Rizzo's passing on a canal boat instead of a Florida-bound bus.
Queer performance artist Dickie Beau performed the finale. With clown white pantomime face make-up, tight black outfit and long hair pulled back by a hair band, Dickie lip-synched a telephone conversation by a horny housewife to her husband. It was likely the most explicit language uttered in the auditorium of the Scala.
Then there was a special treat, an encore by filmmaker Richard DeDomenici, who set up a production office in one of the dressing rooms and in just three days managed to make a shot-for-shot remake of six minutes of GTH's 2009 hit romantic comedy Bangkok Traffic Love Story (รถไฟฟ้า มาหานะเธ), with the director himself taking the role of the winsome leading lady Cris Horwang. It was projected in a split screen, with original above DeDomenici's version, and the attention to detail was amazing, with the bearded filmmaker coming as close as he could to replicate Cris' wardrobe. Exact locations were used, as Cris' character tracks her crush-object along the Skytrain route. Only one scene from the sequence was missing, when Cris was moping over bubble tea in some tea shop. They couldn't find the tea shop or maybe it's no longer there, and rather than use another tea shop, they just left that scene blank while the real scene played in the frame above.
I'd imagine studio GTH would take a dim view of the project, fair use or not, but probably Cris and other participants in Bangkok Traffic Love Story would be amused by the heartfelt tribute paid to them by the "world's most unconvincing ladyboy."