Tehran be­hind the screen

Con­fis­cated or tan­gled in le­gal dis­putes, the old cin­e­mas and the­atres of Iran’s cap­i­tal risk dis­ap­pear­ing or be­ing turned into mu­se­ums

Domus - - CONTENTS - Text by Ma­han Moalemi

Nasr Theatre, lo­cated in the rear gar­den of Grand Ho­tel Lale­hzar, was def­i­nitely the place to go for a hip night out in Tehran in the 1940s. By the end of that decade, it had al­ready changed name and ap­pear­ance to Tehran Theatre when, on 5 June 1950, its then man­ager and mem­ber of par­lia­ment Ah­mad De­hghan was as­sas­si­nated in the theatre’s of­fices. Has­san Ja­fari, an em­ployee of the An­gloPer­sian Oil Com­pany, was con­victed and sen­tenced to death dur­ing a con­tro­ver­sial trial, where the big ele­phant in the room, a plot­ted mur­der or an at­tempted coup, was de­lib­er­ately over­looked. This story serves as the main back­drop to the 1998 mem­oir An In­no­cent to the Gal­lows, a work of per­sonal in­ves­ti­ga­tion as well as an archaeology of le­gal re­ports by Abol­ghasem Tafa­zoli, the lawyer who de­fended Ja­fari’s case in court. But there are many more un­recorded sto­ries buried be­hind the sealed doors of old and of­ten di­lap­i­dated the­atres and cin­e­mas around Tehran. Such an ar­chi­tec­tural body, one must re­mem­ber, con­tains the dou­ble spirit of two lines of past events — those which hap­pen on as well as off the stage or screen. Metropole Cinema, for one, was in­au­gu­rated in 1946. One of those bet­ter-known cin­e­mas on Lale­hzar, it was re­named Roodaki af­ter the rev­o­lu­tion, and was fi­nally shut down in 2008. The de­sign of a mod­est but strictly mod­ern sym­met­ri­cal grid, with a tall, pro­ject­ing sign ex­tend­ing ver­ti­cally across the façade, is only a mi­nor legacy of Var­tan Ho­vanes­sian. The build­ing once again met with the cin­e­matic ap­pa­ra­tus dur­ing the film­ing of Ma­soud Kimiai’s 2013 thriller Metropole. The Metropole is cast as both the lo­ca­tion and a char­ac­ter, in­car­nated in the oth­ers whose sto­ries un­fold all over its ru­ins. An­other land­mark

of this sort would be Ra­dio City Cinema, which is lo­cated on Valiasr (Pahlavi) Street and was opened in 1958. De­signed by Hey­dar Ghiai, this Goo­gie ed­i­fice used to be em­bel­lished with pop­u­luxe neon works on the face of its gi­ant and gen­tle curve. It was fa­mous for its reg­u­lar screen­ings of fresh ar­rivals from Hol­ly­wood, and also for the red vel­vet cover of its cosy chairs. Al­most all of these build­ings are tech­ni­cally con­fis­cated prop­er­ties, oc­ca­sion­ally caught up in le­gal ar­gu­ments be­tween dif­fer­ent (para-) gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, on the one hand, and the Bu­reau of Beau­ti­fi­ca­tion within the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Tehran, the Cul­tural Her­itage Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Iran, or even some pri­vate art in­sti­tu­tions on the other. In 2017, a cam­paign was suc­cess­fully wielded by a large group of cul­turati for the preser­va­tion of Nasr Theatre. The pro­posal is to turn it into the Theatre Mu­seum, which will also in­clude with a cafe and all the fuss. How­ever, the spec­tral and the cor­po­real, as well as the dra­matic and the mun­dane, had, from the be­gin­ning, pop­u­lated these places to­gether. Now the only way out from de­struc­tion, or a rusty stor­age, is to ac­cept mu­se­u­mi­fi­ca­tion. But what would be left of a cinema if the spirit of drama is ex­or­cised? What would raise and ful­fil cu­rios­ity for a night at the mu­seum? It is the pull of imag­i­na­tion that seems to have van­ished, and no mu­seum can sim­ply bring it back.

Ma­han Moalemi is a writer and cu­ra­tor. He cur­rently lives in Tehran. Gio­vanna Silva (Mi­lan, 1980), pho­tog­ra­pher, founded the mag­a­zine San Rocco and the pub­lish­ing house Hum­boldt Books.

This spread: cin­e­mas that have now been closed along Lale­hzar, once a lux­ury shop­ping street mod­elled af­ter the Champ­sÉlysées in Paris with 16 cin­e­mas and 6 the­atres, com­mis­sioned in 1980 by Nasser al-Din Shah Qa­jar

Two views of Lale­hzar Street, for­merly Tehran’s road of cin­e­mas, with a de­tail of the façade of the Metropole cinema

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