Saturday, July 20, 2013

Movie Memory Trail: Make-Shift Cinema At The CC Part One

This story was featured on 7th December 2014 during Brian Richmond's 90.5fm radio show, Sundays With Brian during the Reminiscing with Andy segment. 

With so many blogs and websites on the internet, movie-going topics are commonly discussed as senior Singaporeans tell their tales about this particular social happening.  I am no different. From about the 50s when I first started going to the cinemas I would visit the Capitol, Odeon or Cathay in town. 

Sometimes it would be the Rex near Serangoon Road, the Pavilion at Orchard Road or the Alhambra at Beach Road.   (Except for the Capitol - or what's left of it - and Rex, the rest have disappeared under urban renewal projects.)

Open Air Cinema Somapah Road from
Open-Air and Drive-Ins:

If I had missed any of the screenings in town,  I would either go to the Queen's Cinema in Geylang or the Roxy in suburban Katong in the east to watch the shows. Otherwise, it's the Odeon Katong just a stone's throw away.  I had moved to Siglap in the 60s and the Katong area in Singapore included Mountbatten Road, East Coast Road and Siglap.


But I remember a movie experience I had that was different. I can never forget the film too.  It was called Jumping Jacks (1952) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, which I saw in an open field.  An old projector was whirring away in the night sky screening this hilarious comedy with about 30 people watching the film at a Community Centre (now called Community Club) along Sims Avenue.  This CC was situated near Lorong 27 in the Geylang area.

A Sophisticated Make-Shift Cinema.
No, it wasn't one of those open-air cinemas where we had to pay 20 cents for admission, nor was it like the Drive-In Theatre at old Jurong where we sat in our cars. This make-shift cinema was on a basketball court.

Flapping In The Wind
Flapping Screen and Natural Air Conditioning:

Whenever the wind blew the screen (a large white sheet of cloth between two basketball poles) Dino and Jerry blew along with it, contorting the black and white images on the sheet.  We didn't complain. The show was free.

The make-shift cinema was not as sophisticated as the one shown in the second image above, but it was fun and we really enjoyed the experience. Besides, it was natural air-conditioning as the breeze rustled the leaves around during the cool evening.  There were no chairs to sit on and no walls to surround the area. We stood for more than an hour. Don't forget there were reel changes which took a while.

Another movie I saw at the same venue was Jailhouse Rock (1957) famous for its iconic dance scene where Elvis Presley performed the rock song with prisoners dressed in Zebra-Ts. 

*Warden threw a party in the county jail
The prison band was there and they began to wail
The band was jumpin' and the joint began to swing
Iconic Jailhouse Scene.
You shoulda heard those knocked out jailbirds sing...

The viewers were singing, jumping, rollicking to the beat and enjoying the Elvis night.  Strange, it doesn't happen today does it, not at the movies.  Unless it's a live rock concert. I guess people were less inhibited then?  Or were we more simple-minded?

We all hoped for one thing, that it didn't pour. If it had we would all run for cover! No Fort Canning nor Marina Bay Sands venues but we had fun as friends and neighbours gathered around a community centre for rock n roll revelations.

*Jailhouse Rock was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Images: Google.

A Note From David Neo:

"This open air theatre belongs to my great grandfather... and I lived on the left side of the picture... as kids, we would stand on the stool - just to take peek at the movies... hahahha.. life was simpler then: David Neo, 3.7.2017."


Andy Lim* said...

Hi everyone,

My usual ramblings about old Singapore. Have you been to one of these cinemas in the past?

If you have memories to tell with a music connection do write in and I will publish them. All is lost when we pass on and nothing's left for the little ones...



Hi Andy, ur usual rambling keeps history alive. There are not too many guy like u around; let alone those with Passion to write and document stories for keep.

So my friend ramble on....rambling rose.

Sent from my HTC

Andy Lim* said...

Thanks Fred for your support. Would be great if you could contribute some stories too.

George Favacho said...

Greetings Andy & Larry,


Just received news of the passing of our dear friend ROLLY VILLAMIL in Perth.

e was a member of D'Starlights Band who made a big impression in Singapore in the early 60's.

Do pray for him!

Best Wishes,

Chun See Lam said...

We also had a make-shift 'cinema' at our kampong. I was too young to remember much except a B&W movie call Rocket Man and another of Journey to the West.

That 'cinema' btw, would be located squat on the CTE near the junction with Braddell Rd today.

Andy Lim* said...

Thank you George. Our condolences to the family. May Rolly rest in peace.

anon said...

There was an open-air cinema in Toa Payoh during the 60s and tickets cost 10cents each. We sit on the grass and if it was wet we would use a newspaper or mat to sit on. No one can watch the shows free because the cinema operator would put up large pieces of cloth as fences using upright wooden poles to prevent outsiders from viewing. Patrons come in through a narrow entrance between these cloth fences.

Andy Lim* said...

Thank you Chun See for your contribution. How do you ever manage to remember the exact location of the cinema today?

Barrymore69 said...

I`ve only been to Singapore briefly, for a couple of days either side of a far East Cruise to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in 2009, so I have no knowledge of the open air cinemas in Singapore! BUT, I served in Aden 64-65, up in the Radfan at Thumier Base (later called Habylan) we had an open air cinema in the camp which was a great way to relax but one night, while watching "From Here to Eternity" Audie Murphy I think (wasn`t he the most highly decorated U.S. serviceman?) we got attacked by local Yemini dissidents & several bullet holes could be seen in the cloth screen. I know this isn`t a Singapore story, but thought I`d share it with you.


Andy Lim* said...

Hi Barrymore69,

Thank you so much for your interesting but heart-thumping episode. I cannot imagine such an incident let alone experience it. Please feel free to write in anytime even if it's not a Singapore story.

Yes Audie Murphy did win the medal but I remember it was Frank Sinatra who acted in that film.

Hope you enjoyed your cruise to this part of the world and visit to Singapore.

Please keep in touch and appreciate you reading the blog.

Fabian Foo said...

Andy and Chun See,

Yes I do remember this open air kampong cinema. The location should now be the place just opposite the SPC petrol station in Bradell Road. If it rains , we stand on the 4 sides of the open theatre to take shelter but continue to watch the show. Brings back fond memories of my teen days.

Andy Lim* said...

Thanks so much Fabian for your contribution. I am learning much from you, Chun See and other readers regarding this topic. The only other open-air cinema I remember is in the heart of Geylang Serai.

FL said...

Hi, Andy, ss kids, my mum used to bring us to watch B&W movies at the open-air cinema during the late 1950s. The ticket was only 10 cents & it's free for young children accompanied by their parents. The said cinema was located at the vacant land at the end of Tanjong Pagar Rd area (former Singapore Harbour Board or SHB). I remember it looked like the one at Somapah Rd. There were 2 shows every night, i.e. 7 pm and 9 pm. I also remember watching movies at one open air cinema in Telok Blangah Rd area, but could not remember the exact location. Anyone care to name the location, thanks.

Andy Lim* said...

Hullo FL,

Thank you very much for the information you provided. I never realised there were so many open-air cinemas in Singapore 60s. I guess these business people needed to distribute the films around to make a profit. Just wondering if they came from only two sources, Shaw Brothers and Cathay Organisation, or were there others.

Anyone with some answers?


Hi Andy,

Another interesting site (Capitol Cinema story is within).

Very best regards,

Sent from my iPad.

Begin forwarded message:


Hi Andy,

Thought this might be interesting for snippets in the future.

Very best regards,

Sent from my iPad

Begin forwarded message:

If you have not seen this blog it will fill a few hours of spare time!

Andy Lim* said...

Thank you Barry for the connections. These sites reveal Singapore's past, both in pictures and text.

FL said...

Hi, Andy, to add on to my contribution, there used to be a movie (English) shown every Sunday's evening at the SHB Police quarters at former Low Hill Rd (near Keppel Rd)around 1960-63. The movie was meant to be for the enjoyment of families of the SHB Police Force,however, members of the public were also invited in free. The movie was shown with a giant white screen with poles as supports like an open air cinema. As a young teen, I never miss it every Sunday except on raining days !

Andy Lim* said...

Thanks FL for info that I'm not familiar with. Appreciate your regular visits to provide this blog with insights not many Singaporeans know about.

John Cher said...

Hi Andy
The lead actors for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY are Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift. Frank Sinatra was one of the leads but did not get top billing. The lead lady was Deborah Kerr, who went on to become the lead lady for Yul Brynner in The King and I.

Audie Murphy was the most decorate soldier of WW 2. The movie TO HELL AND BACK was based on his life story. Audie Murphy starred as himself in the movie.

I am sure our good friend Audie Ng of The Silver Strings must be a fan of Audie Murphy, who made dozens of Westerns. The Texican and Gunsmoke are two of my favourite A.M. westerns.

DAVID NEO said...

This open air theatre belongs to my great grandfather.. (pictured above) and I lived on the left side of this picture.. as kids, we would stand on the stool - just to take peek at the movies... hahahha.. life was simpler then.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you, David. I am glad I revived this posting. To have you providing information about the cinema being your great grand dad's is interesting.

Your reply is a fine example of 'history in action', a term I coined to explain this situation.



David Neo
Joe Peters
Cora Loh
Hor Mei Siew
Shearer Mohd Taib
LynnWynn Ng
Roslan Maulod
Norhana Yahaya
Tan Hor Kiong
Chow Weng Onn David
Desmond Chew
Shirley Lam
Cui Yin
Samten Lim
Vijayakumar Sivadasan
Ng Tiong Hin
Adeline Wee
Pauline Onn
DHaur Ph


Awesome post you have here! I will definitely check this out. I'm sure me and my friends are going to like it. You should also check out Greenbelt Cinema, I'm sure you'll like it! Anyway, thanks for sharing.