25 January 2011

Cinematic Memories

Cinemas. Almost everyone enjoys watching movies in movie halls, from the silver screens of the past to 3-D movies of today and from the small movie boxes on bicycles to halls. Did you know 3D (3-Dimensional) movies are not recent inventions? They have been around since the 1950s, having a resurgence in the 80's as well as in the 90's.

When I was a little kid (70s baby), my father brought me to many places - like fishing, football games he was playing in, exploring popular places (amusement parks) and shopping areas which i now either couldn't remember or recognize (the irony!). And my dad bringing me to the movies was definitely one of the biggest highlights in those days.

Part of the Cathay cinema building

I recall watching a 3D movie, putting on those cardboard red and blue 3D in the 80's but I couldn't recall which movie was it. I could only remember A&W was still around then. Then there were the "drive-in and park" movie screenings, i couldn't recall any of those movies I watched either. Hahaha.

Drive-in movies [Credit: Adeline Tan, Cathay Organization and LKK]

The most memorable movie i watched then was Tron (when i was 4? 5? 6?), i was fascinated with all those laser-like visual effects and a make-believe world. I was crazy into all things sci-fi, stuff like "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" kind of adventure and Star Wars. Other favourite genres were the black and white movies about ghosts and hauntings, very real for a kid like me back then. These were probably shot in one of our local studios, Malaysia or Indonesia.

Capitol Theatre (Capitol Building) many years ago
[Credit: National Archives of Singapore, PICAS]

The Capitol Theatre a few years back

As early as i can recall during my time, the movie ticket prices were around $4.50 (??). Cinemas were springing up all over the neighbourhoods. I wasn't old enough to watch a movie on my own or with my primary school classmates. So it was either watch a movie with my dad at the cinemas, or a family dinner at the hawker centre, afterwhich we would embark on a leisurely stroll to an open area in front of a HDB block where many other families gathered as well..

So what are the families gathering for? Perhaps for those who stayed near Clementi central would surely know. (I used to stay in Clementi as well) I remember the area in front of Blk 327 lay an open court where people used to play gasing (spinning top game). And in the same area on certain evenings, someone would set up a film reel projector to show popular mandarin movies, sometimes English ones as well. And families would sit on newspapers or straw mats to watch the show which is projected onto the wall at the center of the block from 7pm to about 10pm. Kids who were bored would run around making new friends, playing games. It was really a nice, natural, warm kampong scene (something we no longer see today).

Directions, Ang Mo Kio Hub

Back to the topic of cinemas, yes, sprung up in many neighbourhood areas in the "golden era" (many would call it, the heydays of Singapore's progress). In my neighbourhood alone, there were two cinemas in close proximity as well! These were the Eng Wah's Empress Cinema and Overseas Organization's Clementi & Commonwealth cinema.



The Kacang Puteh Man
[Credit: National Archives of Singapore, PICAS]

These were the days of hand scribbled seat numbers, kacang puteh man selling cones of nuts, wooden creaky seats, funky smelling floors and sinister looking toilets with patrons standing outside watching the movie while waiting their turns. There are many, many cinemas which would strike a chord with old timers - Jubilee, Princess, Rex, Odeon, Broadway, Capitol, Cathay, Changi, Dalit, Eastshore, Silver City, Canton, Queenstown, Kampong Tengah, Hoover, Orchard, Imperial, Majestic, Regal, Roxy, Savoy, Woodlands, Zenith, to name a few (you can view a list here).

Woodlands Cinema

Front facade

Poster spaces

Empty spaces

A blue sofa

A second hall

Another look at the facade

Comparing to today's newer cinema halls and multiplexes, most of these older halls have since ceased operations or were even demolished or refurbished to make way for newer developments. There are some which were even converted for other uses like gaming centres (Eg. Raiders) or Churches (Eg. Touch Youth Services)

Cinemas with multiple halls (or multiplexes) were quite a recent thing, with Yishun 10 being one of the first in 1992, and many other operators following suit. Today we have cushy (sometimes funky smelling) seats, retractable arm rests for the lovebirds and many different types of "sound systems". With the invention of VCDs and DVDs, this is perhaps another reason why cinemas are slowly declining over the years, apart from the increased cost of the ticket (but still, nothing beats watching a great movie in a movie hall rather than watching one on a console at home).

"Meleke 7" - An undisclosed cinema's basement

Light from within

Illuminated darkness

Empty spaces

Forgotten rooms

Storage room

Eaten by rust

Missing relic

Thick drain cover

Tricky lights

Bearing witness

Perhaps in the near future, my kids would look back at today's cinemas and reminisce as well. Just as i would feel the nostalgia remembering the whirling fans in the ceilings of Capitol Theatre, the urban legends of the ghostly hairy hand in Cathay (and a few other cinemas! haha) that would steal your KFC chicken if you brought that into the hall, the seats lacking leg room, the huge hand painted billboard posters and much, much more than i can think of now.

[Image via Singapore National Museum and LKK]

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Article & Photos copyright of Andrew Him
© One° North Explorers

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  1. I remember those it was awesome, I remember my era as being one of the last with this old cinemas being around. I use to go to the one in clementi way back in 2000 as my grandma lives there but she pass on around that year also. Anyway I remember the theaters nostalgic feel, the seats were hard but the feeling of watching the movies there was diff, back in those days we even brought in our own lunch boxes, I love how I sneak out of ITE to watch a movie with friends. The other one remembered going often was princess theater it was one of the last to close and the bathroom is hunted the 2ad floor one but it was and still is one of the places fondly remembered by me, now the places converted into a KTV a maze like KTV.

  2. I used to stay in Clementi, visited the Clementi Commonwealth cinema pretty often before it was closed and converted to the lan gaming centre and now City Vibes.

    And yup those wooden seats, creaky at times too. Where as kids, you would try to sit still and not move around too much as the seats will make a lot of noise when you shift around. Haha

    They weren't as stringent in the past bout food being brought in, even boxes of KFC fried chicken would be snuck in, and the smell would be waft fast in the hall.

    There were many, many rumours of hauntings in almost every cinema. Perhaps these were spread by the staff of the cinema or kacang puteh man. Maybe the cinema owners didnt want too many people wandering around the building, instead buy ticket, watch and go. And not loiter around. Hahaha