A tribute to the Alhambra Theatre Singapore

Films have always been a source of inspiration for me. A good film director can bring together many different aspects of storytelling on the silver screen; a good script, powerful visuals and music that can convey a message that could evoke an emotional response from an audience. Because of this, some films that we watch tend to stay in our minds forever.

When I was creating Satay Club game, there were several films that I turned to for historical references as well as to draw inspiration from; in terms of artistic style of visual directions and music. I will discuss some of that here.

Incidentally the first Satay Club was situated next to a cinema called the Alhambra Theatre. You can find out quite a lot about that cinema if you look it up online.

What I would like to discuss here is how nostalgia plays a part in the theme of my game and how the loss/demolition of the Alhambra Theatre might mean to some people in Singapore who belong to the pioneer generation.

On the topic of nostalgia, I would like to reference several films that come to mind when I was developing Stay Club game. One of them was a 1988 film called Cinema Paradiso directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. I watched this as a teenager in the 90s.

One of the poignant scene in that film was when the protagonist Salvatore was told by his mentor/father figure Alfredo not to give in to nostalgia; to leave his town and make something of himself.

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When he came back to his home town for his mentor's funeral 30 years later, he found that he really could never let go of nostalgia. It was such a moving film that I cried when I watched it. I somehow understood and connected with the protagonist. From then on I knew nostalgia will always be something I just can't let go of no matter how hard I try.

There is a scene where the once popular cinema called Cinema Paradiso was about to be demolished to make way for a parking lot. The people who used to frequent the place watched and remembered the good times they had there.

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I'm sure some of the older generation of Singaporeans must have had the same feeling when they see the Alhambra Theatre being torn down as shown in these photographs. (photographs shown here are from the National Archives of Singapore)

But more importantly I remember the film because it had a scene where it showed a great deal of the interior of 1950s cinema hall; how cinema goers behaved and everything else that goes on in that hall. There is a scene where you can hear boys whistling excitedly. This behavior is funnily enough, the same in Singapore back then in the 40s and 50s.

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Back then long films took up space of 2 reels and when the first reel has been played, the film projectionist needed some time to replace that reel and put on the second reel onto the projector. The film audience at the Alhambra Theatre will have to wait for quite a while and during this time there will be piano music being played to entertain them. This was also depicted in that film. I knew about this when I read the transcript of Mrs Goh Heng Chong's oral interview done in 23rd December 1992.

This little trivia from Mrs Goh was why I added piano music with the sound of people chattering in the background  in the "select game levels" scene in my game to simulate the atmosphere in the cinema hall back in the 40s and 50s.

I had a hard time finding any visual reference for the interior of the Alhambra Theatre so I based it on the interior of Cinema Paradiso in that film of the same name.

Who goes to the Alhambra Theatre? All kinds of people! But what I found interesting was that the people from the European community would dress up when they go watch a film on Saturday night at the Alhambra. Ladies would wear hats and men would be wearing tuxedos! There was no air-conditioning in the cinema halls at the time so they would be perspiring in their glad rags. But it was alright to them because they'll just drop off their sweaty clothes at the dry cleaners the following day. I knew about this from listening to the oral interview of Mrs Myra Isabelle Cresson on 20 Aug 1985.

Also, they were addressed as Tuan and Ma'am by the Asian locals who are of a lower social status.

Since tuxedo is mentioned in this discussion, I am going to segue to another film that had strongly influenced the music as well as the look and feel of Satay club game; a film directed by Baz Luhrmann called The Great Gatsby.

(to be continued in the next post...)


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