• print
  • email
  • twitter

Singapore’s earliest screening of public movies May 1897

As early as May 1897, the ripograph, which is a type of cinematograph screening the largest pictures in the world then, was brought from Paris to Singapore byArthur Sullivan at a cost over $10,000.[1] Over several days, the pictures which depicted scenes of everyday life were screened at the Adelphi Hall next to the Adelphi Hotel, including The Charge of Lancers, The Serpentine Dance and Li Hung-Chang in Paris.[2] Admission charges were 50 cents for back seats and $1 for front seats, with showings over three sessions at 6.15 pm, 8.15 pm and 9.15 pm.[3] This screening in Singapore came about only two years after the first public screening of a movie in 1895 by the Lumiere brothers in France.[4]

Cinematographs were often shown following theatre performances in Singapore. The humid climate, however, caused the film to stick together resulting in greater vibration and flicker to the images and reducing viewing enjoyment. On 15 February 1898, Singapore residents were introduced to a new technology in cinematography that reduced much of the noise and vibration.[5] The show was a patchwork of various scenes ranging from sea-scapes to the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London. Other entertaining scenes screened included a segment entitled The Haunted Castle, as well as snippets of a serpentine dancer and a magician manipulating an egg.[6] There was also a matinee for children before the early evening showing.[7] The cinematograph made its rounds from Burma through Singapore to Java before returning to Singapore in May 1898, receiving rave reviews for its realistic representation. The cinematograph titled The Whole of the Jubilee Procession and a Host of Humorous Pictures was screened at the Victoria Parsee Theatre along Queen Street.[8]

By 1901, technology had evolved and the biograph was introduced as being far superior to the cinematograph.[9] It was much larger at 68–70mm wide[10] and offered a “steady life-like” picture without the flickering inherent in the cinematograph.[11] One of the earliest screenings was held on 12 July 1901 at Beach Road, where the programme included clips of the Boer War, the funeral procession of the late Queen Victoria, the Turko-Grecian War and football finals between Sheffield United and Derby County.[12]

Basrai, a travelling Parsi showman, is often credited as having screened the first public cinema film in Singapore in April 1902.[13] He pitched a tent in an open space at the junction of Hill Street and River Valley Road, charging admission rates of between 10 and 50 cents for his films. Basrai owned the films that he had obtained from America and France.[14]  Some of the early films that were screened included Miroir de Cagliostro (Cagliostro’s Mirror) and Le reve d’un astronome (Astronomer’s Dream), both in French, as well as Photographing a Ghost in English.[15] The films were projected onto the screen using limelight as electricity was not yet available.[16] Basrai stayed for only a few months in Singapore screening these movies nightly to full houses.[17]

Primary records, however, indicate that it was the American Biograph Company that was screening movies at the foot of Fort Canning along Hill Street in April 1902.[18] Messrs Busrai Co., a company dealing with unique products such as the Perpetual Pencil and the Dragon Pen,[19] were owners of the Royal Bioscope which screened movies at a Beach Road tent at the end of 1902.[20] The performances moved to the Hill Street location in January 1903.[21]

References
1. Page 2 Advertisements Column 2 (Latest Advertisements). (1897, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. The Straits Times, 20 May 1897, p. 2.
3. The Straits Times, 20 May 1897, p. 2.
4. Uhde, J., & Uhde, Y. N. (2010). Latent images: Film in Singapore (p. 2). Singapore: Ridge Books. Call no.: RSING 384.8095957 UHD.
5. The cinematograph. (1898, February 16). The Straits Times, p. 2; The cinematograph. (1898, February 16). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 6 Feb 1898, p. 3.
7. The cinematograph. (1898, February 18). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Page 2 Advertisements Column 2 (Victoria Parsee Theatre). (1898, May 18).The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2; The cinematograph. (1898, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Page 2 Advertisements Column 4 (The New Biograph Company) . (1901, July 10). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. La Cineteca del Friuli. (n. d.). The wonders of the biograph. Retrieved August 14, 2014, from Archivio Cinema website: http://www.cinetecadelfriuli.org/gcm/ed_precedenti/edizione2000/biograph2000.html
11. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-–1942), 10 Jul 1901, p. 2.
12. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-–1942), 10 Jul 1901, p. 2.
13. Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema. (p. 16). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Call no.: RSING q791.43095957 MIL.
14. Thirty years of film entertainment. (1932, January 2). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Millet, 2006, p. 16.
16. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-–1942), 2 Jan 1932, p. 20; Millet, 2006, p. 16.
17. Cinema has colourful history in Singapore. (1938, July 27). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Page 2 Advertisements Column 3 (The American Biograph Company]. (1902, April 21) The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Untitled. (1902, July 23). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Page 5 Advertisements Column 3. (1902, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Untitled. (1903, January 10). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

 

The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Next Event Prev Event