Thais bid addio to theater where they fell in love with film

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A crowd gathers to take photos of the cinema marquee of the Scala theater during its final movie screening Sunday, July 5, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Scala theater has shut its doors after 51 years as a shrine for Thai movie-goers. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)

BANGKOK – If Hollywood is where dreams are made, Bangkok’s Scala theater for the past 51 years was where Thais immersed themselves in the old-fashioned blockbusters of war, the heart-felt romances and quirky comedies.

Now only the memories will remain. The picture palace in the center of Thailand’s capital, the city’s last standalone big-screen cinema, on Sunday screened its final offering.

It was a piquant choice, 1988′s “Cinema Paradiso,” a nostalgic Oscar-winning Italian film about a bygone movie house in a Sicilian village. The Scala’s marquee on opening day in 1969 boasted John Wayne in “The Undefeated.”

Scala owner Nanta Tansacha wistfully recalled being enthralled even when the venue was still just a set of blueprints her father showed her.

“I do think it’s a beautiful place, the most beautiful one I ever think that we can ever build. And I think no one will build cinemas like this in the future,” she told The Associated Press in an interview.

Two other theaters once stood nearby, but one burned down during political turmoil in 2010, and the other shut its doors two years ago after being remodeled as a multiplex in its sunset years.

Nanta said the coronavirus was the tipping point for the Scala, whose lease was up at the end of the year anyway. More than two months of a government-ordered shutdown of entertainment places choked off its already modest cash flow.

The economics of the 900-seat, single-screen cinema limited to five or six showings a day were virtually unsustainable when malls just across the road had smaller theaters, multiple screens and dozens of showings daily.