for Alexis Tioseco (1981-2009)
One of the most beautiful memories I have of Alexis was the time we were talking about movie magazines in Southeast Asia. At that time, I was a twenty-something writer who worked at Bioscope, an influential Thai movie magazine. Though I loved my job deeply, I hadn’t realized how essential my job was. I had believed that it was just another profession found in every country. Surely, every country would have its own movie magazines. Alexis corrected me: only some countries had their own film magazines in their own languages. He hinted that I should be proud of my profession.
Years later, I am now studying in London. By a rare chance, I came across Pappayon Siam (Siam Movie Magazine), one of the earliest Thai movie magazines. The more I read it, the more I wished I could have shared it with Alexis. We would have had such a good laugh and been amazed at what we had found.
The tenth issue of Pappayon Siam was published on 15 September 1933 (78 years ago now!) and was sold for just ten baht. It had both a Thai and English title. The cover picture was hand-illustrated. The issue featured three Hollywood films. All were given Thai titles and stamped in red: Richard Wallace’s Thunder Below (Wan-Thong-Song-Jai, 1932), John G. Blystone’s Too Busy To Work (Jom-Kee-Kiaj, 1932) and a film called Barud, about which I still have no information. It was worthy to note that Thailand was undergoing crucial socio-political change in the 1930s. In particular, the Siamese Coup d’État in 1932 resulted in a change of government from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. With the beginning of a new era, cinema played a major role in Thailand’s hunger for modernity.
This aspiration for modernity oozes from every page of Pappayon Siam. There are three main sections: 1) advertisements, 2) film scoops, and 3) short columns. All three are interesting in their own ways. For example, the film scoops section contains long synopses in colourful Thai. During the 30s, Hollywood films were neither subtitled or dubbed in Thailand. Therefore, the synopses in the magazine helped the audience understand the movies. On the other hand, the short columns offer insights to the cinema-going culture of that time. I would like to highlight two of my favourite columns:
“Pappayon Rumluk” (Cinematic Remembrance) was a one-page column by Pim Panee, a female pseudonym who could have well been a man in real life. Pim expresses her post-screening experience of movies in poetry rather than prose. In this issue, she reminds female readers to behave themselves when they are in love. The writer refers to a movie by stating that, “If you believe his sweet words easily / Like Madame Butterfly, you will end up hurt.”
“Loke Pissawongse” (Mysterious World) sounds like a column about ghost stories (which was popular with Thais then). In actual fact, it is a column where letters from readers could be answered. Every published letter is about Western culture. Questions from readers are published and other readers are invited to send in the answers which would be published in the next issue.
There are many entertaining letters. One reader, for example, chose some English words and taught other readers what they meant and how to pronounce them. These words are: Abraham Lincoln, Los Angeles, Southey, Stephen, Europe, Architect, Twilight, Pyramis (sic), Penis (!) and Vagina (!!). Another reader begged someone to explain whether or not the “midnight sun” was real. Another reader explained the phenomena scientifically and geographically. He even offered the name of an American company that could take the reader to see the midnight sun, the Vikings in Iceland, and travel around the world “from New York to New York at the cost of only 1,325 dollars.” There is also what I thought is the most difficult question of all: “Who was the lucky girl who danced with Douglas Fairbanks in the scene where he travelled to Thailand in Around the World in 80 Minutes? Was she a Cantonese woman from a Chinatown?” There was no such title on IMDb (Internet Movie Database). I guess someone had renamed the movie to market it in Thailand.
Hey, Alexis, would you know the real title of that film?