Friday, August 18, 2006

Malaysia' oldest cinema gets reprieve

If I ever hear that Bangkok's Scala, Siam or Lido cinemas are to be closed or worse, torn down and turned into a luxury fashion mall, I'd feel like my heart was being ripped out.

So I was glad to hear earlier this week that Malaysia's oldest cinema, the Coliseum Cinema in Kuala Lumpur, was spared after a public outcry over the government's plan to close the 84-year-old theater.

The building was set to be acquired by the government and turned into a heritage center.

Hey, with columns right in the middle of the auditorium, who could blame them?

However, the government backed down - something very rare there - when the plan was opposed by historians and the public.

Under a new plan, the Coliseum will continue to screen movies and work with the government to spruce up the building and turn an adjacent space into an arts and culture center.

The 888-seat cinema was built in 1921 by Chua Cheng Bok and is also well known for its Coliseum Cafe which is featured prominently in tourist guides for its vintage feel.

"The place is 84 years old, and so is the staff (seriously, some have worked here their whole lives)," says the Frommer's Guide. "The place is legendary, and someday it will be gone and there will never be anything else like it."

The Coliseum began screening Western movies in 1946 and has operated continuously ever since except for a break during the Japanese occupation in the Second World War.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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