Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: Lido, Scala cinemas targeted for redevelopment

The Lido cinemas in 2007. Photo by Wise Kwai via Wikimedia Commons.

Sad news today for fans of independent and "foreign" films in Bangkok – Apex Siam Square's Lido cinemas and the Scala theater are slated for redevelopment by landlord Chulalongkorn University to make way for new shopping malls.

The Lido will be the first to close. The last flickers will be sometime next year and it'll be razed in order to build a new mall that's set to open in 2014.

Lovers of the Scala theater get a bit more time to enjoy the 1,000-seat art-deco edifice – it's slated for redevelopment in 2016.

The awful news broke in today's Bangkok Post, which teases a little about the plans to build a mall on the Lido site.

More details are in a Thai report on the MThai website, which describes a three-phase project by leaseholder Chulalongkorn University, which is seeking to remake Siam Square into more of a high-end shopping destination to compete with the luxury malls opposite the square, like Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon.

Phase 1 is already under way – the building of the Siam Square One mall on the site of the former Siam Theatre, which burned down in the arson attacks in the aftermath of the red-shirt political protests of 2010. Phase 2 will be the redevelopment of the Lido site, and Phase 3 will see the likely demolishment of the historic Scala.

The Apex chain's Siam, Lido and Scala all date back to the 1960s boom in cinemas in Thailand, and were once state-of-the-art theaters, holding many premieres.

After a fire at the Lido complex sometime in 1990s, the former single-screener was divided into a three-screen multiplex and shopping plaza.

And, with the Siam burning down in 2010, the Scala stands as Bangkok's sole-remaining single-screen standalone movie house.

Their chairs have become squeaky and have popped springs. The curtains are dusty and the carpets are worn. The masses have abandoned them for the 3D digital screens in the fancy malls across the road. But the Lido and Scala still have their charm, and they remain as sought-out destinations for discerning movie-goers.

The Scala's main attraction is its beautiful art-deco interior, huge screen and selection of first-run Hollywood and world-cinema hits, all for the bargain price of 100 baht – about one-third cheaper than the cookie-cutter cineplexes that offer less than half the movie-going experience.

The Lido caters to more of an arthouse crowd, with an eclectic selection of indie features as well as Japanese and Korean films.

Sad as I am to see the Lido and Scala go, I am not surprised. Though the theaters do good business on weekends, try seeing a movie in Siam Square at midday on a weekday and you're likely to be turned away because there aren't enough people to make an audience.

And while the Lido has an attractive selection of movies that often aren't showing anywhere else, the small auditoriums – wider than they are deep – are a drawback. You have to sit all the way in the back to see the whole screen.

It's the Scala I really want to see saved, though as a farang of modest means I have little say in the matter. It would take a group of wealthy and influential Thai architectural preservationists who are more powerful than the bosses at Chula to see that the Scala is left standing.

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