ART, DESIGN & CULTURECULTUREThe Scala Cinema Paradiso

The Scala Cinema Paradiso

The Scala Cinema, which was once crowned “the finest movie theater left in Southeast Asia,” lowered the curtain for good with its last film, Cinema Paradiso, on July 5, 2020. Over a year later, the building was demolished, leaving behind only its legacy and bittersweet memory.

The Scala Cinema was named after the Teatro alla Scala, the famous opera house in Milan, Italy. It was a thousand-seat movie theatre, located in the heart of Bangkok’s popular shopping district, Siam Square. The Scala Cinema opened on Dec. 31, 1969 with a screening of an American Western film, The Undefeated, starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson. Scala’s final curtain dropped on July 5. 2020, showing as its last film the 62nd Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Cinema Paradiso, written and directed by the celebrated Italian director Guiseppe Tornatore. 

Scala’s lobby when it was fully operational, with all the movie posters displayed in front of the theatre entrance. Photo by Foto_Momo
Refresment Bar located in front of the entrance to the theatre. Photo by Foto_Momo

For the past decade, the Scala Cinema was the last stand-alone single-screen cinema in Bangkok, offering a retro film-going experience. It was one of the Apex group of cinemas located in the Siam Square area, which included Siam Cinema, Lido Cinema and Scala. During my college years at Chulalongkorn University, being a movie fanatic myself, the Art-Deco Scala was my sanctuary. If not for the films, I’d go for the beautiful architecture and interior. Scala had been my saviour when I was crunched for last-minute photography homework.   

The ticket counters in the splendid Art-Deco hall. Photo by Foto_Momo

Scala was designed by a prominent Thai architect of the post-World War II period, Colonel Chira Silpakanok (7 May 1928 – 25 January 2013). The building was in Late-Modernist architectural style with interior decorations in the Art Deco style. A grand staircase dominated the interior and was illuminated by a gigantic Italian chandelier. The Scala Cinema received the ASA Architectural Conservation Award in 2012. The award was given by the Association of Siamese Architects in recognition of architectural conservation efforts by both the public and private sectors in Thailand. 

The famous lobby on a quiet day shortly before closing. Photo by Natthawut Meesri
The Chandelier of Scala was imported from Italy. Photo by Natthawut Meesri

During its glorious existence, the Scala hosted several national and international film festivals. World-famous movie stars posed for the media on the grand staircase. Scala itself was featured in several films, both Thai and international, and was the subject of a documentary film screened at the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival in 2016.

The grand curve of the stairways where world-famous movie stars posed for media during the past half-century. Photo by Foto_Momo
“Rak Haeng Sayam” or “Love of Siam” – a Thai cult classic film had Scala’s iconic lobby in one of its memorable scenes.

On July 5, 2020, the President of Apex movie theatres, Ms. Nanta Tansatcha, welcomed moviegoers before the last screening. “It is heartbreaking. I love the Scala because it is like my home, my family. Everyone here, both the audience and employees, are our family. We selected movies to screen with regard to ethics, morality, and lessons the audience will learn from,” stated Ms. Nantha, whose family also runs Nong Nooch Tropical Garden. Therefore, after the building was demolished on Nov. 1, 2021, parts and memorabilia from the Scala will be exhibited at Nong Nooch Tropical Garden in Chon Buri.

The entrance to the theatre on the last day of screening. Photo by Natthawut Meesri
Inside the theatre before the last screening on 5 July 2020. Shown here was the photographer’s regular and favorite seat. Photo by Natthawut Meesri
Stars on the ceiling and the details of bas-relief. Some parts and memorabilia from the Scala will be exhibited at Nong Nooch Tropical Garden in Chon Buri. Photo by Natthawut Meesri

Four movies were shown in the last screening of Scala Cinema, curated by the Thai Film Archive: Blowup, a cult classic Italian mystery thriller directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and produced by Carlo Ponti; followed by a double-bill of Thai documentaries The Scala and Phantom of Illumination, which pays homage to standalone movie theatres; and Guiseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, the Italian film about beloved cinema, as Scala’s last film. And then the curtain closed.

The display showed details and the posters of the last films shown at Scala.
Photo by Natthawut Meesri

PHOTO CREDIT:

Cover photo: The Scala Cinema glowing at night for the last time. Photo by Natthawut Meesri

PHOTOGRAPHERS:

  • Natthawut Meesri is a freelance English tutor and an amateur Photographer who specialises in street and architectural photography. Check out his Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/beeutcc/

•Curator at Bangkok 101 •Founder of RAW & REAL Rungsima is a curator of art and design and a project director with a diverse creative background. Her awareness of natural wellbeing started at a very young age. She was brought up in a family where environmental concern, sustainable living, natural wellbeing, and holistic health care were simply the way of life. Having been on this path her entire life, she is today a practitioner in natural wellbeing, a student in Indian Ayurveda practice, and a mindful eating & conscious living promoter. In 2015, she founded RAW & REAL – Natural & Organic Products and Sustainable Living. FB/IG: RAW & REAL

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