No More Scala? Historic Bangkok cinema’s 51-year run said to end

The sneak preview of ‘10 Years Thailand’ on Dec. 11, 2018, at Scala cinema.
The sneak preview of ‘10 Years Thailand’ on Dec. 11, 2018, at Scala cinema.

When movie theaters were permitted to reopen this week, the curtains did not rise at Bangkok’s most celebrated movie house.

In what would be a stinging loss many years in the making, business insiders said yesterday that Scala theater, which had been living on borrowed time for much of the past decade, is ceasing operations due to financial losses during the pandemic.

Its closure was reported yesterday by the likes of well-known cinephile Nirodha Ruencharoen, production house Sahamongkol Film and the Bangkok Critics Association. 

No announcement has been made by the theater or its owners. Calls to both went unanswered Thursday.

The closure of the last cinema owned by one-time chain Apex would mark the end of 51 years of standalone cinema history. Scala’s space is leased from landowner Chulalongkorn University, which had buckled under public pressure in past years to renew it. Apex’s current lease expires at the end of 2020. 

Scala was ordered closed March 31 along with all other theaters to stem the spread of COVID-19. 

The historic cinema first opened Dec. 31, 1969, with American civil war movie The Undefeated showing. The architecturally significant cinema’s Art Deco stylings and interiors were designed by architect Chira Silpkanok. It was named after the Teatro alla Scala, an opera house in Italy’s Milan. 

A file photo of Scala cinema when it first opened in 1969. Its first screening was American civil war movie ‘The Undefeated.”
A file photo of Scala cinema when it first opened in 1969. Its first screening was American civil war movie ‘The Undefeated.”

Theater historian Philip Jablon described Scala as the best of its type remaining in Southeast Asia.

“Should the rumors circulating around social media turn out to be real, the closure of the Scala will mark the end of a family-run movie theater empire that once dominated the movie exhibition market in Thailand,” Jablon said Thursday. “The grand old theater is the country’s last operating movie palace and arguably the finest movie theater left in Southeast Asia. It’s truly the end of an era.”

He added that he hopes it would not stay closed but “find a new, more vibrant life – while continuing to be a movie theater – in the near future.”

There is precedent for the theater to have a second act. Last year, Lido, another vintage Apex theater in Siam Square that had closed, reopened as performing arts venue Lido Connect.

Since word of the closure spread last night, movie fans have been saying goodbye on social media via #FarewellScala. Indie filmmaker Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit posted a collage of three Scala marquees promoting his films: Freelance, BNK48: Girls Don’t Cry and How to Ting (Happy Old Year).

“Thank you, Scala. The big experience for a small filmmaker,” he wrote.

“I was already sad when Lido was closed. This time it’s Scala,” tweeted @IngBaka. “Scala is like my comfort zone. When I feel lonely, I would go there to see a movie. I feel almost like home there.”

“Who would think seeing ‘The Shining’ at Scala that day would be the last movie I got to see at this place … It’s such a shame. I don’t want Scala to close at all. I love the vibes there so much,” wrote Twitter user @IAmNantawat.

 A file photo of a special 2018 screening of ‘Taxi Driver.’
A file photo of a special 2018 screening of ‘Taxi Driver.’

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