Thursday, July 10, 2008


Many cultural observers have said more than once that Malay movies of the 50s and 60s were so popular not because they were excellent cinema (some were) but because there was little competition - no other form of entertainment came close to matching the popular local cinema.
Television has not yet made an impact, and even when it did, its content and accessibility to the public will take a few more years to become popular.
Radio was great - it also had its heyday with families sitting down around the radio listening to variety shows, comedy, live music, drama and news, but listening to the radio isn't half as fun as watching the three stooges hammer each other on the big screen or watching Johnny Weismuller swing from one vine to the other and yelling his famous Tarzan yell.
So, when cinemas were packed, Malay movies too were consistently popular. The competition the Malay movies had were actually movies from other countries - mainly Hongkong, Indonesia and the US.
So to say the Malay movies were popular and lived the Golden Age because they had no competition was wrong. They were popular because they were unique and they were Malay movies - plain and simple.
For those who enjoyed costume epics, they were offered movies like Si Tanggang, Lancang Kuning, Semerah Padi, Megat Terawis, Laksamana Bentan and Raja Bersiong.
If they wanted to laugh, movies like P Ramlee's Bujang Lapok, Madu Tiga, Labu dan Labi plus the slapstick comedies of Mat Sentul's Mat Bond and Mat Gelap, kept one in stitches - eventhough some were rubbish.
Horror? They could either laugh and be scared to death watching Pontianak, Hantu Jembalang, Harimau Jadian, Si Tora, Orang Minyak and many other titles.
Drama? Phew, there are just too many to list.
So, the Malay movies (its hits and misses) were always there for the masses (well, mostly Malay masses).
Furthermore, the era had a great publicity engine - regular roadshows and appearances by the then top stars, great movie magazines with great photos and quaint but effective advertising and publicity gimmicks.
But unlike today, the movies of yesteryear and of the so-called Golden Age, were mostly produced by two studios - Malay Film Productions (MFP), which was owned by Shaw Brothers and Cathay Keris studios - a subsidiary of movie house chain Cathay Organisation owned by Ho Ah Loke and later Loke Wan Tho.
They produced it and they screened it - it was a kind of monopoly. No independent studios could compete with them (they tried but died trying).
Talent and casting also differed in those days. Most of the top stars are studio 'owned' and under contract. This is also true with the top directors of the day like P. Ramlee, Sudarmaji, Jamil Sulong and S. Kadarisman. The word freelance hasn't been heard of yet.
Most directors began as assistant directors or script assistants to Indian directors and later earned their directorial stripes by the end of the 50s.
The best part was that the Malays supported the industry - they came in droves to watch the movies (blissfully unaware that non-Malays are minting millions).
Today, the Malays do not really support Malaysian movies in Bahasa Malaysia language. Yes, that's what I call them now. They are not Malay movies. They are pseudo-Malaysian movies trying to outdo Thai, Hongkong, Japanese, Indian movies. They do not have a Malay soul like the old movies had.
Maybe that what's wrong with today's movies. There aren't any true Malay movies.
(To be continued)

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