Flyers from the Golden Age of Cinema

By Paul Augustin

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Sesudah Suboh is a Malay film produced by Merdeka Film Productions and screened in cinemas on 20 September 1967. The front of the poster is written in Jawi; on the flip side, the poster is translated into English.

THE GOLDEN AGE of Malaysian Cinema, spanning the 1950s to the 1970s, saw moviegoers lining up to catch the latest releases. For more popular shows, scalpers would purchase them when the box office opened in the morning to sell them at a higher price before the show starts.

Besides billboards and posters plastered around the walls in the vicinity, cinema flyers (sometimes referred to as leaflets or handbills) were one of the methods used in the early years to promote upcoming films. In a budget-conscious approach, the flyers were distributed at prime locales, sometimes utilising vans or trucks with billboards and loudspeakers to get attention. The flyers would contain information on upcoming movies (often with the heading “Next Change”) with the relevant screening dates and times.

A common practice by cinemas’ promotions departments of that era included creative promotion “bursts” on the flyers, describing a movie with its title and synopsis in at least two, or sometimes three, languages.

An interesting fact to note is that due to Malaysia’s multicultural and multi-ethnic nature, films of various dialects and genres were often shown with subtitles in several languages. An English movie would have Malay and Chinese subtitles, and a Chinese film would have English and Malay subtitles.

Here are some of the posters found in Penang House of Music’s archives.

In 1968, Merdeka Film Productions released Gerimis. Differing from Sesudah Suboh, the Jawi type is only used for the title of the film, and Romanised Malay text is used for the rest of the poster. On the reverse side, similar information is translated into English.
Flight of the Fury, a Chinese film, was released in Rex Theatre Penang on 20 December 1964. On this flyer strip, next to the original designed poster, is an elaboration of what the movie is about in Malay. Behind it is its translation into Chinese and English.
This Taiwanese martial arts show titled Flying Swallow debuted on 24 November 1978 at Cathay Cinema Muar. While the Chinese text highlights the stars of the show with catchy blurbs to inform readers of what to expect, the Malay words tell of the show’s title, and show times are stamped in English.
Movie flyers of this time period often include a brief synopsis in English and Chinese printed behind.
Pre-independence, the movie flyers were in the English language. This is a flyer by Rex Theatre KL from 1956 that highlights English-language pictures in English and Chinese-language ones in Chinese.
This flyer from Odean Cinemas announces upcoming shows that will be premiering. Chinese films are elaborated in Chinese. 3 Coins in the Fountain was also part of the line up. It was one of the most anticipated films at the time, particularly for its colour, its CinemaScope widescreen cinematography and the film title song sung by Frank Sinatra.
This flyer shows a list of upcoming shows that were released at Carlton, a cinema in Taiping, Perak. It features Mandarin, Hokkien, Hindustani, Cantonese and English shows, a testament that this small town, in pre-Merdeka 1957, had audiences that speak and understand different languages.
This is a general poster of a comedy show entitled Hú Tú Sān Xiá Kè (糊塗三侠客). The titles were also translated in English and Malay, though viewers who have watched this film would say that it would be more apt to named it “Three Shaolin Stooges”.
This 1947 flyer by Rex Theatre Penang, located at the corner of Lebuh Kinta and Jalan Burma, is only in English. It is also one of the earliest flyers in the Penang House of Music archive.
Front and back of a flyer featuring Kasi Yathirai, a Tamil comedy show from 1973. The poster, probably designed by the movie’s distributor in South India, has more information about the show in English and a short blurb in Malay indicating that it is a comedy film.
The Love Bug by Walt Disney, the second-highest-grossing film in the US in 1969, also premiered in Malaysia. The front of the poster features the film in English, while a brief translation can be found in Chinese and Malay at the back of the page.

Paul Augustin

is the director of Penang House of Music, and founder and festival director of the Penang Island Jazz Festival.