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Opening of The Picturehouse 16th Nov 1990

Opened on 16 November 1990, The Picturehouse by Cathay Organisation is the long-surviving cinema for art house films in Singapore.[1] Though it  is commonly believed to  be the  first movie cinema to screen non-mainstream films, Premier at Orchard Towers, which closed on  27 February 1983 after five years in operation, was an even earlier entrant.[2]

The Picturehouse occupied the S$6.4-million-extension that was built next to the historic Cathay Building at Handy Road.[3] The plush cinema had a seating capacity of 354[4] and was aimed at an upmarket audience.[5] To enhance the viewing experience, consumption of food and drinks was not allowed in the cinema hall.[6] The cinema opened with the film Come See the Paradise. Directed by Alan Parker, it starred Dennis Quaid and Tamlyn Tomita as an interracial couple in the United States and the trials they overcame during the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.[7] Over the years, The Picturehouse introduced Singaporean audiences to movies such as Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy, Lee Ang’s Wedding Banquet and Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern.[8]

In 1996, The Picturehouse underwent a S$200,000 refurbishment to increase the leg-room between seats by reducing the number of seats to 273. Other improvements included new carpets, better lighting, piped-in music, as well as upgraded services such as allowing viewers to select their seats at the box office. However, the no-food policy was still enforced.[9] By the end of 1996, The Picturehouse had begun to screen popular movies such as Army Daze, The Crow and Emma during the school holidays because Cathay Organisation found that it was not viable to only screen non-commercial releases.[10]

In July 2000, both Cathay Building and The Picturehouse closed their doors when Cathay Organisation decided to build an entertainment, retail and residential development on the site.[11]

After a five-year hiatus, The Picturehouse reopened on 24 March 2006 with a film festival that ran until 29 March.[12] With the objective to entertain, educate and engage,[13] The Picturehouse continues to offer alternative fare and bold programming such as Oscar-nominated Palestinian film Paradise Now, Terrence Malick’s The New World and Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Three Times.[14] The new 82-seater Picturehouse now occupies one of the eight cinema halls in The Cathay, which is a new 17-storey retail and residential development.[15] The smaller seating capacity allows the cinema to offer alternative programming without the demands of filling up a larger hall.

1. The Picturehouse opens. (1990, November 17). The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Foo, J. (1990, November 18). Too arty too soon. The Straits Times, p. 32; Premier opens. (1978, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 8; $3m luxury mini-cinema to screen quality films. (1978, June 27). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. The Straits Times, 17 Nov 1990, p. 31.
4. Kerk, C. (1996, June 22). New Picturehouse attractions. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Choo, M. (1993, August 27). ‘Picturehouse can justify $8 tickets’. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tan, J. (2005, July 15). A picture of potential. Today, p. 50. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Lee, S. C. (1990, November 10). Pain and prejudice. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. The Straits Times, 27 Aug 1993, Life!, p. 7.
9. The Business Times, 22 Jun 1996, p. 2; Tan, S. (1996, June 24). Picturehouse focuses on giving movie-goers more leg-room. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tan, S. (1996, December 14). Picturehouse cannot live on art films alone. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Ho, M. (2000, July 1). Last movie show at the old Cathay. The Straits Times, p. 3; Cheah U.-H. (2005, September 16). More edgy conservation. The Business Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Picturehouse is back. (2006, February 27). The Straits Times, Life!, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. The Picturehouse returns. (2006, March 10). The Business Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Coming attractions at the Cathay. (2006, March 15). The Straits Times, Life!, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Lin, J. (2005, September 14). It’s lucky No 8 for Picturehouse. Today, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Welcome to the arthouse. (2006, March 31). Today, Plus, p. 20. 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.

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