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Cinema is the biggest fraud in human history. At twenty-four lies per second, every film is an elaborate scheme of make-believe by a cabal of fabulists: producers, directors, actors, scriptwriters, etc. Like a fake necklace sold in an intricate jewel box, films had their own boxes. Once upon a time in Kuala Lumpur, those boxes were the standalone cinemas, an elaborate set up of colours, lights and sound to entice the impressionable.
Today, only a handful of these cinemas remain. Unlike the stories within it, the biography of cinema in Malaysia has neither a beginning nor an end, only a perpetual narrative through the ages; from the penglipur lara (storytellers) who regaled his audience with a mask and a violin, to the mak yong, wayang kulit, bangsawan theatre, and currently, film.
An advertisement for the first film screening in Kuala Lumpur read:
‘Edison’s Projectoscope, at the Selangor Club, To-night 27th November 1897, Lifelike representations of scenes from actual life, including the Jubilee Procession, Corbett prize fight etc. etc. With lime light effect.’
A few days later, a screening was held in a theatre on Petaling Street, an area largely populated by the working class, most of whom never had the luxury of such elitist entertainment.
‘The people were so amazed that they ran to have a look behind the screen. But all they saw was a big Russian man cranking a mysterious machine,’ says Hassan Abd Muthalib, who has been working with films for the past 50 years. His book, ‘Malaysian Cinema in a Bottle’, serves as a study into the history of the once illustrious life of Malaysian cinema.