In 1904, French entrepreneur Paul Picard, with funding from jeweller Messrs Levy Hermanos, opened Singapore’s first enclosed cinema – the Paris Cinematograph – in the Malay Theatre located at 320 Victoria Street. The cinema was installed with electric fans. Before this, early cinema screenings were held in tents in open spaces along VictoriaStreet or at the foot of Fort Canning Hill.
The earliest advertisement publicising Paris Cinematograph appeared in The Straits Times newspaper on 26 November 1904. The cinema initially screened one-hour-long films on Saturdays, with showings at 6.30 pm and 11.30 pm. The shows continued into January the following year and by then, screenings were held nightly, including Sundays, with two different programmes screened at four timeslots.
The short films, which were different every week, included scenes of the recent Russo-Japanese War, as well as sports and comedy. Seats were priced at 10 cents for third class and 50 cents for reserved seats, while boxed seats were as much as a dollar. There were even separate seats for ladies. The tickets were marketed and managed by Picard, who also played the music to accompany the silent films.
The cinematograph technology was imported by Messrs Levy Hermanos, which had been importing foreign films since 1904 from companies such as Charles Urban Trading Co. – which procured British films – as well as Gaumont and Pathe Frères. Pathe Frères was especially famous for their cinematographic equipment.
Headquartered in Paris, France, Levy Hermanos specialised in jewellery and had gained a distinguished clientele that included the Malay royalty, as well as highly regarded European residents in Malaya and those travelling through the region. The company established a presence in Asia with branches in the Philippines, China and India, as well as by venturing into the sale of expensive watches from brands such as Patek Philippe and Omega.
Paris Cinematograph subsequently passed into the hands of Mohamed Kassim of Wayang Kassim in late 1904 or early 1905. Kassim made changes to the programme and overall improvements to the cinema.
1. Pilon, M., & Weiler, D. (2011). The French in Singapore and illustrated story (1819–today) (p. 100). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Call no.: RSING 305.84105957 PIL.
2. Golf. (1899, November 13). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 13 Nov 1899, p. 2.
4. Page 2 Advertisements Column 3 (The American Biograph). (1902, April 24). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Page 3 Advertisements Column 1 (The Paris Cinematograph). (1904, November 26). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. [The earliest advertisements were published on November 26 but had submission dates of 23 November].
6. Page 7 Advertisements Column 2 (The Paris Cinematograph). (1905, January 16). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. The Straits Times, 26 Nov 1904, p. 3.
8. The Straits Times, 26 Nov 1904, p. 3.
9. Pilon & Weiler, 2011, p. 100.
10. Thirty years of film entertainment. (1932, January 2). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Pilon & Weiler, 2011, p. 100; Millet, R. (2006). Singapore cinema (p. 17). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Call no.: RSING q791.43095957.
11. Arnold, W., & Cartwright, H. A. (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources (p. 702). London: Lloyd's Greater Britain Pub. Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE.
12. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 2 Jan 1932, p. 20; Millet, 2006, p. 17.
13. The Paris Cinematograph. (1905, January 27). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from Newspaper SG.
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.