“Scala” – 2022 World Film Festival of Bangkok Review

A sign on the Scala in advance of its closing on July 5, 2020. (photo by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine)
A sign on the Scala in advance of its closing on July 5, 2020. (photo by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine)

Philip Jablon’s excellent book Thailand’s Movie Theatres: Relics, Ruins and the Romance of Escape documents an endangered species in words and photos. The construction and subsequent attendance of standalone film theatres across Thailand reached their peak between 1961-1981, and a trio of these (the Lido, the Siam and the Scala) stood proudly in Bangkok’s Siam Square for many years. At the time of the book’s publication in 2019, only the Scala was left.

Sadly, as of 2020, the Scala was also no more. In addition, the worst fears of Scala fans came true when its owner, Chulalongkorn University, decided that the land was too valuable to keep the structure as is, and will instead build a shopping mall in its place. Director Ananta “Gap” Thitanat, who literally grew up on the grounds of the theatre, decided to visually preserve the dismantling of a historical structure through her documentary simply named “Scala,” which made its world premiere in Berlin earlier this year.

Thitanat, the lone cinematographer and occasional narrator, opted not to place subjects intimately familiar with the Scala’s history directly in front of the cameras to reminisce about their memories. Instead, she weaves in and out of her own personal history, while primarily eavesdropping on the conversations between the construction workers who turn out to be Scala staff members. These organic musings end up driving the narrative, the recollections piling up as much as the debris from the dismantling of an architectural marvel constructed in 1969. It’s an effective approach that isn’t forced.

Although it is possible to watch “Scala” without any knowledge of the surrounding area and recent history of Thailand, these provide a much richer context to what would otherwise largely be perceived as a magnificent building becoming a hollowed out shell of itself. It also serves as yet another reminder that, as economic trends and societal tastes continue to change, sometimes all that is left are faded memories.

“Scala” screens at the World Film Festival of Bangkok on Dec. 11 at 5:30 p.m. For more information, go to https://www.worldfilmbangkok.com/en/full-program-and-booking-tickets/.

Video: “Scala” Q&A session – World Film Festival of Bangkok, Dec. 5, 2022

Photos: The Scala Cinema
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine