akumassa Ad hoc Project Darivisual Province: DKI Jakarta Regency/City: Central Jakarta Subdistrict: Senen

Grand Theatre Senen

Written by Andrie Sasono
Grand Theater Senen is a remainder from the golden age of Indonesian cinema. At that time, the movie theater overflowed by audience because people came flocking to watch Indonesian movies. The people were thirsty of Indonesian cinema; movies made by and about Indonesian people themselves.

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But along with the lessening of Indonesian cinema, Grand Theater Senen also sustained the audience deterioration. As a result of it, the building now is poorly maintained, it looks fragile and obsolete. There are only two studios that still operate. The first one, upstairs, usually plays new movies even though their showing time actually are already over. While the second one, downstairs, always plays semi erotic movies. The movies usually are replaced with other movies after one week or two weeks of playing. Limited fund makes the owner has a difficulty to keep on renewing the movies that will be played so they only can provide the expired movies because they are cheaper.

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At Grand Theater Senen, everything looks the same. Since the audience has been starting to leave the place the building has been dirty. Up until now, it looks like nobody has ever been cleaning it. Grand Theater has been trapped in its gloomy age up until now, even it can be said that they are entering the phase of “kiss of death”. Their golden era has passed and now it’s only a memory. What we see now is a building deterioration. They were slumped when Indonesian cinema started to be slumped too. But until now Grand Theater Senen is still slumped, whereas Indonesian cinema had been in a so-called Indonesian movie awakening era, but apparently it had not survived long and has been becoming stagnant. Condition of Grand Theater now could be a representation of the real Indonesian cinema, which is stagnate in deterioration.

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Now Grand Theater is very deserted. When I often went there to research, I always found quite the same faces. I noticed that even their clothes were always the same. They also came in approximately same time of the day. The theater started its show at 3 PM, in front of the lobby men already gathered. They gathered in small circles of three persons each. Sometimes they only stood, but some of them sometimes squatted. They smoked and chatted while waiting for the movie to start. They had never bought the ticket when they had arrived. When the door to studio opened, that was when they started to queue in front of ticket box.

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Grand Theater did not only be dominated by men. Women were there too. Their gestures were not quite different. They gathered, squatted and smoked, even though they sometimes chose to stand leaning against the wall to watch people passing by. The women were all older, but they still wore too much makeup, because of their job demand to seduce a man then “accompanied” them to watch the movie in the theater. When I first entered Grand Theater one of those women called me. She wore pink dress and red lipstick, her hands held the trellis then she leaned forward toward me who stood outside.

Aa, come on Aa, let me accompany you to watch…!”

The trellis and gesture of that older woman gave the impression that this place was trapped by time but did not lose its sensuality.

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Up until now, Grand Theater Senen still has been playing the movie using celluloid. Celluloid is the mother of cinema and at this time inside that old theater, celluloid films are still running and projecting every frame to a screen. Celluloid is an old thing. It could be disappear from circulation someday, like Grand Theater Senen, which is waiting the time to be buried, leaving people who can only remember its charm.

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Celluloid film has its own charm and texture which make it very typical. Until now, if some people want to make a movie they always want their work can be a “Film Look”. Since the presence of digital camera, people do not use celluloid anymore because it is considered too expensive. And so with the theaters nowadays which choose to play DCP (Digital Cinema Package). All films were inserted into hard disk to be distributed to every theater in their network. Now, every theater offers movies in HD (High Definition) quality, even the latest edition television can already air the show in HD quality which is now trending. In HD quality all things on the screen become sharper and look more alive. Today cinema (especially Hollywood) which is played in the theater emphasizes more in “make believe” concept so that they try to spoil audience’s eyes as maximal as possible.

Along with time development, there has been a change of pattern, especially in mainstream cinema. In Indonesia, almost every theater is inside a mall. From the beginning, the placement of a theater in a mall has been indicating a shift of movie position in public’s eyes. Notice that the position of theater is always on the top floor of a mall! When we look further, we can also see that for public, nowadays, movie is nothing more than another entertainment needs. Watching movie becomes a one stop shopping. It is not much different from a row of branded clothing shops in a mall. At this point, movie culture and the theater have already changed too.

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When I entered the Grand Theater, I notice the worn building construction. That building looked like as though it was exhausted after being attacked by digital era.  Grand Theater had very strong sensual nuance. Because its loyal audience had left it, the remainders were people who came to ask for “companion”. By companion, it meant the men and women who were rented their service inside the theater.  This sensuality would be felt until inside the studio, because the main show of the “accompany” process happened inside the studio while the movie was played.

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At that time, I entered the downstairs studio, which was for watching the semi-erotic movies. The movie played was ignored, although I noticed that some people still watched it. But, in the studio, everybody moved actively, moving from one chair to another chair, or going to the bathroom. It felt free to smoke so billow of smoke was everywhere. For me, it was all looked very cinematic, even more cinematic than the movie played. These ‘busy’ movements created a circulation which was formed because of erotic desire which was collected from all people who entered the studio. Inside the dark room they felt free to move. All people there were used to all activities, so for them all the things that happened around them were natural things.

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However, it became interesting when a stranger like me entered the place. The visual experience that I saw and felt gave a special impression which was a cinematic experience for me. And the most important thing was that Grand Theater reminded me that a theater was a part of cinema itself. The theater wasn’t just a place for movies to be played, it was the body of the cinema and the movie was the heart.

Sensual feelings that were felt because of the people who were there also strengthened that cinematic feeling. In cinema tradition, it is compulsory to watch the movie in the dark and in the theater which is indeed prepared for many people. Like it or not, it forces us to sit side by side by a stranger in quite a long time. These all convince us that, basically, to enjoy the show in the theater we cannot be separated from intimacy. We were forced to sit near other people. Sometimes we can hear the conversation from the people beside us and even though only a little, physical contact may happens. In a theater, those intimacies are still in early stage. But in Grand Theater, these intimacies happen to the most vulgar point. This vulgarity what makes Grand Theater is very interesting and it becomes important element which supports the cinematic treat that is presented by Grand Theater.

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When a person watches movie, he or she looks for a visual experience which is expected to leave an imprint and give us inspiration to explore more to delve its meaning. Regardless of its condition now, Grand Theater has reminded me again why I want to go to the theater. I want to get more than just buying a ticket, watching the movie and then going home. If only just that then watching movie is an experience happened casually. What I want is to have many new experiences which will leave an imprint inside my head and will affect my life from now on.

This article has been published in the Art on Senen Border journal (Forum Lenteng, 2013). The journal is one of the results of collaborative work of the authors of some of the communities who were involved in the Project of Akumassa Ad Hoc initiated by the Forum Lenteng AKUMASSA Program, in order to participate in the Jakarta Biennale 2013 – SIASAT (Tactic).

About the author


Andrie Sasono

Andrie Sasono is a student at the Jakarta Arts Institute, Scenario Writing Study Program, Film and Television Faculty. He was active at Forum Lenteng as one of the authors and reviewers of the film industry. He was also involved in the Forum Lenteng's AKUMASSA Program, one of which was in the Akumassa Ad Hoc project, from October to November 2013.

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