It was on the gallows. The iconic Scala was ready to be razed. In 2012, the board of directors at Chulalongkorn University, which owns the land where the theatre sits, nearly won a case that would have enabled them to demolish not only the cinema, but also the entire Siam Square area, to make way for more profit-making malls and offices. It was a heart-breaking possibility.
Thankfully, Scala Film Theatre was spared the axe then, as it has been on countless occasions in its history. Today, it’s one of few remaining from the dozens of palatial cinemas that Bangkok once boasted. Built in1969 by Thai architect Jira Silpakanok, the venue recalls a time when going to the theatre was a glamorous event, not merely an air-conditioned reprieve. It represents an era when Bangkok’s passion for the movies was immense, a time when artists would paint massive frescoes of the latest Thai or US blockbuster on the bill, when Thai actors truly looked Thai and were heroes of daily life.
Those days have regrettably passed. Teenagers now rush to the newest anonymous Cineplex to shiver in front of chart-topping US adventure flicks or Thai romantic comedies. Of the three cinemas that once energised Siam Square, only Scala has survived with its architectural integrity intact — the Siam Theatre burned in the Ratchaprasong demonstrations in 2010 while Lido has been altered to the point that none of its fading, old world charm has been preserved.
Scala is certainly not the most up-to-date cinema. It doesn’t offer the 4-D experiences or VIP couches of contemporary luxury theatres. However, it exudes the charm of days gone by, an impression that no Major or SFX can provide. It is indeed the last unique screen theatre surviving in Thailand today. As such, it acts like a trip down memory lane.
It starts with the majestic double stairs that lead into the atmospheric second floor. Hanging over the staircase is a giant all-white chandelier reminiscent of a stalactite. Within its soft golden glow, at least for a few seconds, anyone can feel like a movie star. The hall where the cashiers and concession stalls set up is an equally impressive structure. It’s supported by elegant columns that merge into a vaulted ceiling. Each pit is decorated with a golden light shaped like a lotus flower. The wooden cashier stands are crowned by baroque-style, dark wood panels. Here, moviegoers line up to claim seats off a paper chart, the tickets never costing more than B120apiece. A sculpted wooden bas relief, showing traditional Thai imagery, hangs over the entrance to the 900-seat, operatic screening room.
When films are due to start, ushers decked out in yellow jackets and bow ties appear as if out of thin air. The room turns dark, the sound system rumbles. The film plays for an hour-and-a-half, two hours at most, but the glamour of the experience endures.
Scala Theatre is located at Siam Square Soi 1, Rama 1 Rd. It’s open every day.