fragments of obsolete cinema

Loiter and learn

Here are some snapshots of cinemagoing in Siam/Thailand roughly between the 1920s and 1950s.

Prisoner of Zenda

I found this uncredited photo in a stall round the corner from Jatujak Market in Bangkok, during an ephemera hunting trip with cinema history researcher extraodinaire Chanchana Homsap. MGM released The Prisoner of Zenda in 1952 and so I would guess this photo is from the early 1950s. I can’t work out where in Siam this cinema is though. One clue for digging around would be the names of Udom and Lamom at the bottom of the poster next to the film title. They were “versionists” or voice performers who started out narrating films in Bangkok during the Second World War and who also toured the southern circuit. This husband and wife team first met working for the same radio troupe founded by Phen Panyaphon, which shot to fame in the early days of radio performing the Khru mee dontri ek skits.


W.A.R Wood’s memoir An English Consul in Siam, 1896-32 

“A curious thing about the Chiangmai cinema was, and still is, that a number of young fellows derive great satisfaction from standing night after night outside a cinema hall. Many of them never go in to see the show at all, and as far as I can make out they are not usually in search of amorous adventures – I mean to say, not more than everybody always is. They themselves seem hardly able to explain why they go there, beyond saying that it is muan (jolly).”


Sitt Sitthi-amorn’s (Francis Wu, b. 1917) Nostalgic Memoirs of Siam and Life’s Varying Fortunes

On his father’s cinema business: “.. I still remember [this] well, because of the number of free tickets for the early Chinese and Western films we used to go for our Saturday and Sunday relaxation and entertainment. Free passes notwithstanding, Father seldom permitted his children to go anywhere unescorted for fear of accidental fires, it being taken into consideration the flimsiness of the movie building itself, which was nothing more than just a rickety wooden shanty of the most rudimentary kind.”

Bangkok’s Chinatown: “Children played and ran about in the streets mimicking the characters in the Chinese movies of an earlier kung-fu (martial art) era.”

And going to the movies with his mother: “Mother insisted that I accompany her to the cinema where Western movies were shown and act my part as interpreter just to satisfy her longstanding need to have someone in the family able to speak the language of the ‘red haired devils’.”


Kumut Chandruang’s My Boyhood in Siam (the author was a university student in the US during the 1930s)

“When Mickey Mouse and the other American movie stars invaded our capital, the Siamese were brought into closer contact with American culture. The first Tarzan picture turned the capital into a riot. Many young men ran about the city blocks, beating their chests with indignation and suffocation. Miss Garbo, Miss Hepburn, Carole Lombard became the fashionable patterns for our girls to follow. Lawrence Tibbett and Bing Crosby gave problems to our housewives, because they influenced a great many bathtub singers. Then Douglas Fairbanks and Will Rogers came to visit our country, and their receptions were as pompous as those of a duke and duchess from Europe.”

May Adadol Ingawanij


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