Singapore vs Hollywood

Singapore and Malaya is hardly a stranger to Hollywood, yet it seems few Hollywood films set in Singapore and Malaya have made past the film censor, and more importantly, won the praise of British Malayans.

Bring ‘Em Back Alive, and the films set in the jungles of Malaya were very much the anomaly in this case, with Roland Braddell noting that film distributor Joe Fisher comments that Bring ‘Em Back Alive had been one of the greatest financial successes in Singapore.[1]

Roland Braddell, a well-known lawyer in British Malaya, had been critical of Hollywood representations of Singapore, for reasons that we might identify with today. Considering the kind of publicity Malaya gets from films the “wrong kind”, Braddell had this comment to make:

beba-newsI

Solving Malaya’s Problems. The Straits Times, 24 February 1933, p. 12

In the spirit of tabloid journalism, a Straits Times journalist tracked down director of Bring ‘Em Back Alive for his response to Braddell’s comments. Claiming that the introductory scenes of ‘Bring ‘Em Back Alive showed the modern city’s waterfront and street scenes, Elliott however, did concede that some of his peers and predecessors in Hollywood continue to make films that merely conform to the the ‘popular world impression of the city that had once been called ‘the Cesspool of the East’ ‘[2]

While Braddell seems to have respected Buck –he considers Buck a ‘honorary citizen’ of Singapore– and considers the film Bring ‘Em Back Alive as ‘first-class’ entertainment, he was less forgiving about the director’s sleight of hand and the factually inaccurate representations of Singapore. At a rotary club address about Hollywood in 1933, Braddell responded to Elliott’s defense:

beba-newsII

Mr. Braddell’s Impressions Of Hollywood. The Straits Times, 9 March 1933, p. 14.

The director’s sleight of hand does not end at how Singapore’s “river runs down from wild jungle”. In a remarkably frank interview, director Clyde Elliott reveals how they superimposed two separate scenes of an elephant and tiger running around to create a ‘fighting scene’ between the two animals.[3]

This reveal-it-all was done much to Buck’s irritation, who, as honorary citizen of Singapore, did not fail to defend himself against Braddell’s criticisms. Describing Elliott as ‘the sort of chap who has shown he can’t keep his mouth shut’ and someone who ‘is biting the hand that feeds him’, Buck went on to clarify the creative process behind the film:

When I started out to make Bring ‘Em Back Alive, the one thing I had in mind was not in any way to make a picture that would cast any reflection on Singapore as a civilized place.[4]

However, Buck is right to comment that at the very least, Bring ‘Em Back Alive ‘it does not picture Singapore in a sensational or degrading light’.

For all the malayablackandwhite followers out there, who have persisted through the exaggerated and at times, cringe-worthy filmic representations of Singapore and Malaya by Hollywood, join us for the screening on 13 March to judge for yourself if Hollywood has done right by Singapore this time!

 


[1] Roland Braddell, The Lights of Singapore (London: Methuen & Co., 1934), p. 122.

[2] Hollywood hits back at Mr. Braddell. The Straits Times, 26 February 1933, p. 9. http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19330226-1.2.54.aspx

[3] Pictures and how they are made. The Straits Times, 8 December 1932, p. 16. http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19321208-1.2.90.aspx

[4] $1,000,000 Picture Maker In Singapore. The Straits Times, 5 April 1933, p. 12 http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19330405-1.2.49.aspx

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