This research programme addresses a neglected aspect of Malaysian social history: the way in which Malaysians experienced cinemagoing in Kuala Lumpur during the 1970s. The main objective of the project is to investigate the memories of cinemagoing in the period through detailed, one-hour-long interviews with individuals who experienced it first-hand growing up.
My critical approach is to explore cinematic spaces from the perspective of audiences that made sense of the movies according to the specificity of their own lived experience. The multi-layered method of this project – a contribution to what is coming to be known as the New Cinema History − is very timely, given the most recent turns to cinemagoing and cultural memory. Large scale projects, represented by Italian Cinema Audiences in 1950s Italy (2013-2016; Oxford Brookes, Bristol and Exeter), European Cinema Audiences (Oxford Brookes, De Montfort, Ghent, Amsterdam, Utrecht, 2018-2021) and Cultural Memory and British Cinemagoing in the 1960s (2013-2015, University College London) attest to such shifts.
This innovative, scholarly effort follows the methodological frameworks employed by such projects, yet applies them to completely uncharted terrain. While historical cinemagoing has been a site of increased scholarly interest, almost all projects of this kind focus on the European context. To date, large historical studies on moviegoing in ASEAN countries have not been conducted. Similarly, Anglophone works on film exhibition and consumption in Federated Malay States, Indonesia and the Philippines remain limited to less than a handful of chapters and journal articles (Barnard 2009; Ruppin 2017; Tofighian 2017; Taylor 2013), some of which are produced by academics working at SASS (Driskell 2019).
The key objective of this research is to analyse the ways in which cinemagoing featured in the lives of Kuala Lumpur’s residents in the 1970s, at the time of rapid urban development and population growth. The number of inhabitants rose from 525,00 in 1972 – the year in which Kuala Lumpur was given city status – to nearly a million by the end of the decade. The study aims to tackle the following research questions:
• What was the role of cinemagoing in the lives of ordinary Malays and their communities?
• How did Malay women and men respond to film programming? What were their film preferences, and how did they relate to the conditions of life in a recently decolonised country?
• What is the relationship between cinemagoing and wider social changes in Kuala Lumpur at the time?
• What shapes the memories of cinemagoing? What can they reveal about the selective nature of memory and nostalgia?
• What was the impact of various identity markers – such as gender, age and ethnicity – in shaping one’s experience of urban entertainment?