สนับสนุนโดย สำนักงานศิลปวัฒนธรรมร่วมสมัย กระทรวงวัฒนธรรม Supported by Office of Contemporary Art And Culture ,Ministry Of Culture

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The Birth of Film Screening in Thailand
 

Anchalee Chaiworaporn traces the history of film-making from its birth in France while wondering just who the mystery man was that brought it here.

 
An Advertisement for the first show on the Bangkok Times.

Though Thai cinema has just been appeared all over the map of world film in the last few years, one might be surprised to find that the Thai film culture possessed such a long history since the very beginning of world's cinema culture. From the first cinema screening in France in 1895, when brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere first demonstrated the cinematograph, cheers have been echoing from Europe to America to China.

It took just a swift to be Thailand's turn, although not the first Thai film. Like most countries, the first-generation of films were from the Parisian Cinematograph, on a global tour from France that included Thailand.

The oldest historical records we could find were in the Bangkok Times of June 9, 1897, said Dome, archivist at the National Film Archives. There were advertisements in both Thai and English announcing that a play' entitled Parisian Cinematograph would be shown here.

Some question remains, however, over whether this was actually the first showing of a film in Thailand . The advertisement said that the performances, presented by an S G Machovsky, would be held for the last time and that they were being held at the public's request. This would seem to imply that there was a previous show.

Those phrases also forced me to go back, reading over every column and page in the Bangkok Times prior to that date, said Dome. As a matter of fact, I looked as far back as Lumiere's first showing in Paris.

Dome found nothing, which made him more comfortable with his initial assumption that the show on June 9, 1897, was the first paid screening in the country. The previous ones were likely only private demonstration screenings and needed no advertisement.

Bangkok Times was the most popular newspaper at that time, said Dome. If there had been a public screening before June 9, 1897, there would have been some advertising. Also, with any kind of performance at that time, there would normally be some private screenings.

Dome also discovered that the screening were not actually the last ones, as advertised. So the word last' might have been a commercial gimmick to prompt the public to rush to the show.

There were five more screenings after those advertised. On June 21, the Parisian Cinematograph was invited to the palace by Prince Damrong Rajah Nuphab. It was for a report, rather than entertainment, as Prince Damrong was the Royal librarian.

Three days later, yet another three-day performance was advertised in the Bangkok Times, from June 24 to 26.

On June 28, another show was held at Chakri Palace for Phranangchao Saowapa Phongsri, the proxy of King Rama V (who was visiting Europe at the time).

The report in the June 29 Bangkok Times said, Last night, foreign movies were shown at the Chakri Palace. The Queen and her relatives as well as some other court officials watched the show. The Queen also gave Bt150 to the exhibitor.

This had some significance for Dome. He cross-referenced it to another document that he had found proving that 1897 was the first year a film had been shown in Thailand.

In a diary that belonged to one of Prince Damrong's daughters, there was an entry telling of her seeing films that year. If we compare this with the arrival of Lumiere's Cinematograph in Asia after 1895, Dome's theory sounds plausible.

According to Emmanuelle Toulet, in her book Cinema Is 100 Years Old, Lumiere cameraman Gabriel Veyre travelled across Latin America and Japan before coming to film in China.

This same person was also mentioned in Chronicle of Cinema , edited by Robyn Karney, as making the first moving pictures of Cuba on Feb 7, 1897, after coming to Havana to demonstrate the Lumiere Cinematograph.

Thus, many of the Lumieres' agents were flocking around the world during 1896 to 1897. And 1897 is a likely possibility for the first film shown here - though it wouldn't have been Veyre who came to Thailand.

But the question arises as to the exact identity of S G Machovsky, as there is simply no information about this man at all. He appears to have come from nowhere.

Dome wrote a letter to France 's National Film Archives about this man. The French archivist couldn't find his name in the list of the Lumieres' agents or staff.

I think Machovsky might not have been a Lumiere employee, said the Thai film archivist. He might be an independent film operator who bought Lumiere's machine and films and travelled from place to place showing them. So how do we know if these films were genuine Lumiere productions?

Dome couldn't find a complete movie listing of Machovsky's show in Thailand, except for two films: Pradanam (Diving) and Sri Toi Muay (Boxing), which the Bangkok Times reported as the most popular ones on June 110, 1897.

Again, the film archivist checked them against the Lumieres' film listings and found two relate titles - Boxer and Scaphandrier (French for diver) in the 1896 to 1897 category Vues Diverse.

 The advertisement also mentioned Parisian Cinematograph show was rather expensive - from two saleungs to Bt10, about the same as a ticket for the Grand Cafe, which cost one franc.

But unlike the Grand Cafe's premiere, which had an audience of only 33, in Thailand the Bangkok Times reported about 600 people.

The cheapest seat was just a wooden bench, said Dome, but it was a full house with more Thais than foreigners.

After this show, there were more screenings in Thailand, but they were still vending movies, including a film entitled Vitascope from Edison Kinetograph.

But Machovsky remains the man from nowhere for Thai cinema, leaving us with only a dark room like at the end of his picture show.

As with so many other attempts to write history in this country, there is only darkness and more darkness. Maybe someone can investigate and identify this mysterious man and the birth of film screening in Thailand .

   
 

Related Story: Chronology of World and Thai Cinema

   
 

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