To enter Bangkok's new members-only club, which has no signage, there's a doorbell to the left of the entrance. Now three months old, the Friese-Greene Club on Sukhumvit Soi 22 is tucked clandestinely behind the Imperial Queen's Park Hotel down a dimly lit street.
FRIESE FRAME: The interior of the Friese- Greene club. Left, the upstairs screening room seats nine.
Inside, the atmosphere of the club is relaxed _ a welcome escape from the city's raucous pub culture. Bookshelves stacked against deep maroon walls lend to its sombre aesthetic and keep the mood intimate. This is a bar for friends; this is a new watering hole for comrades.
But people aren't coming to the Friese-Greene Club for the drinks _ rather unusually, they're united by a love for the movie and film industry.
With more than 600 productions coming from overseas to shoot in the country, coupled with about 60 domestic films made every year _ not to mention corporate films, marketing films, television and commercials _ the film industry community has an indisputable presence. For those seeking a film society, the confounding legal framework behind copyright law and movie licensing have long held them back.
But for the film club cum beer and wine bar, legal red tape has been the venue's boon _ lending to an establishment wrapped up in an aura of a long-forgotten movie era.
The club shows classic and cult films from Tuesday to Sunday nights at 8pm in its nine-seat upstairs screening room.
''The films are older than 15 years old,'' says Paul Spurrier, the British child star who runs the members-only club with his Isan girlfriend and her mother-in-law. ''The movies are free and they always will be.
''The advice we've had is to show films that are old, and we're not charging any money and it's only for private members. It's also there for sort of education and research purposes. So certainly we wouldn't have a charge. And that's not really the point of it, we're not a cinema, we're a club.''
A signed radio contract from Orson Welles and out-takes from King Kong dating back to the 1930s hang on the wall. Two old cameras sit atop bookshelves by the entrance, and behind the bar are autographs from Richard Burton and Richard Harris _ Spurrier long ago co-starred with them on The Wild Geese.
On Soi 22, in a section dominated by rowdy Western bars, Spurrier set out to create an ''oasis'' with his aesthetic.
''We wanted to create a space that felt like it's not even from this area, like it could be a different country in a different time,'' he says.
And while the Friese-Greene Club is still in its infancy, Spurrier hopes that the oasis serves anyone in Thailand involved with films or the industry _ critics, screenwriters, actors and of course, movie buffs.
''I suppose that idea comes from me not only just being someone who worked in films but just loves films. And there are two things that I rather felt were missing in Bangkok that I missed. One was a chance to see old, classic, cult films as part of a group of people who enjoy them. The other thing was to create something where people with similar interests and professions could just get together,'' Spurrier says.
By 7.30pm on a Tuesday night, the first-floor bar had three patrons. Along with a couple of regulars was one new member, who engaged in relaxed conversation with Spurrier and Malcolm Young, a producer and cinematographer.
''I've met several journalists; the other night, she comes fairly regularly, a harpist was here but she's a film buff, and the other night a lady came in who was an interpreter. So you meet a lot of people,'' Young says, adding that all the patrons he's met have shared a love for the film industry.
''A lot of people have heard about the club. It's quite unique.''
Spurrier, who moved to Thailand nine years ago to work in the domestic film industry, explains his vision for the Friese-Greene Club hinged on an open and casual space.
''I've always hated the concept of when you have networking events and business matching _ it always sounds sort of pretentions and like hard work. To be honest one of the best ways to meet people and get along and make contacts is to sit and have a beer,'' Spurrier says.
''The movies tend to focus the evening generally; people come around 7.30pm and can take their drinks upstairs while they watch the film. They tend to stay afterwards and nearly always talk about the film they've seen and then it moves on from that.''
As the club grows, Spurrier envisages a space where people in the industry can collaborate, share equipment, and maybe even _ to Young's urging _ become a venue for small masterclasses. He allows the space to be used for auditions and photo shoots _ ''As long as it's part of the whole industry type thing,'' he says. Already, the location manager for Argo has given a talk at the club about how the production crew scouted locations in Thailand. The night was a crowded hit, Young says.
Although Spurrier would like to add to his repertoire of films, it remains too difficult a legal hurdle for now.
''We would love to be able to license films to show here. There are so many great films that show in festivals that never reach Thailand. And that would be wonderful. Unfortunately when I approach distributors about licensing films to show to a nine-seat private club, they sort of laugh. It's not worth their while,'' he says.
Spurrier also encourages more Thais to visit the Friese-Greene Club.
''I think this area is predominantly sort of Western. So as a result I suppose about 70% of the people who come are Western _ not that I want to turn them away _ but we make a particular effort to try and welcome Thai guests, and particularly Thai students. I think that students can benefit most from being around people with experience and watching films,'' he says.
Regarding exclusivity, Spurrier admits the club isn't exactly a secret _ and he's certainly not stringent when it comes to the membership process. But he thinks it's just enough to keep the film buffs' oasis safe from encroaching crowds of Westerners just looking for a drink.
''How do we keep it so that the people who come here are the sort of people who would like to be here _ I know that sounds elitist and I don't want it to be, but we really want to keep the focus on people who love films and keep that energy. We didn't want to make it too exclusive in terms of not letting people in who wanted to be here,'' Spurrier says.
''And funny enough, it seems to have worked by itself. The people who've bothered to walk down this long dark soi, who find out, who do the research to come, who dare to ring on the doorbell and not think it's some sort of speakeasy _ they're all interesting people.''
SHOWING HE'S THE REEL DEAL
Paul Spurrier began acting at the age of seven. He was in a number of BBC classic dramas as well as a few feature films. He appeared in two episodes of the series Tales of the Unexpected, which featured cameos from the likes of Jose Ferrer, Janet Leigh, Derek Jacobi and Julie Harris. He also had a leading role in the 1985 TV movie Max Headroom.
Growing up and making the switch to behind the camera, Spurrier says he prefers working in Thailand's movie industry to that of the UK. He enjoys the fun and enthusiasm shared by Thai production teams. The film industry in the West, he says, now curries a ''blame culture''.
Today, Spurrier produces Thai dramas and feature films. That soap opera your Thai girlfriend has on for the greater part of the day may have been done by Spurrier. He speaks Thai fluently.
As for his new club, Spurrier says: ''Back in England, or in America, we'd call this a film society _ but there isn't much of that in Thailand.''
And who is the club named for?
The Bristol-born William Friese-Greene is known as the father of the colour film, after discovering how to create the illusion of true colour by exposing alternate black and white film stock through two different colour filters. He called the process ''biocolour''.
His death in 1921 _ whether an urban legend or not _ shows the heroism of an industry martyr. While at an industry meeting in London, held to discuss ways to improve the state of film, he became disturbed. Getting up to his feet, he supposedly muttered:
''This great industry ... a British industry ... a matter of honour ... our responsibility ... the future ... the universal language ... you must hear me ... I have given my life ...''
He then died in his seat.