Monday, July 17, 2006

Another One Bites the Dust

An Old Photo of Capitol Theatre courtesy of (Memories of Singapore)

(This article was first posted on Yesterday.sg on 8 Jul 2006

Ravi Veloo is going to be very disappointed. In 2001, he wrote; “There is now a movement in England to preserve its older cinema halls, some of which are quite beautiful. Fortunately, there is a similar move to conserve the lovely old Capitol Theatre in Singapore, a historical and marvellous building, and one which holds a lot of fond memories for many a Singaporean.”

Last Sunday’s Life Section of the Straits Times carried an article headlined, Capitol Downhill. It went on to describe the derelict state of the 76-year old grand dame of the cinemas in Singapore, saying that it was ‘reeking of urine and its doors rotting. Unless a new owner can be found for it soon, Capitol looks set to join the ranks of
Odeon, to be demolished and replaced by a spanking new shopping complex or hotel,.

Blogger Readymade (
Farewell to my Capitol) does not believe there will be any takers for this building and fears that the beautiful structure would be torn down soon. “Despite its nostalgic value, a check with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) shows that it is not gazetted as a conservation building.” said the ST report. Or as Readymade so aptly puts it “Nostalgia alone doesn't count for much here.” So he asks us to “take a minute or two to remember the grand old dame of Singapore cinemas”. And this is what I will do.


There are 3 things that I remember about Capitol.


Firstly, the unique ornate design of the cinema hall itself: very high ceiling, stately columns, a pair of maidens on white winged horses and zodiac signs. Watching a movie from the circle seats was really quite an unforgettable experience.

Secondly, I remember the huge shiny curtains and stage. I recall there were a couple of occasions when they had live performance on stage before the actual show began. Unfortunately, I cannot recall other details.

Thirdly, any mention of Capitol Theatre will bring to my mind the unforgettable movie;
The Chinese Boxer (龙虎斗), starring Wang Yu (the One-Armed Swordsman) and Lo Lieh. I remember what a thrill it was to watch this trend-setting martial arts movie with my brother, David one afternoon after school. Although the story was a no-brainer; you know, the typical Chinese hero vs Japanese baddie story, and the action was nothing to compare with Bruce Lee’s or Jet Li’s or any of the other kungfu action flicks of today; but it was a totally new experience for us in 1970. Some of the unforgettable scenes include Wang’s character practising his ‘iron fists’ (铁砂掌), and the grand show-down between the two, literally, fuming antagonists in the snow.

I don’t remember any other movie that I have seen in this theatre. Can you?

19 comments:

household name said...

I think I watched 'Abba, the Movie' at Capitol.

It will be such a shame if it's to be torn down. Losing another bit of heritage...

Actually, I quite liked the shops they set up there in the 90s. Why is the place in such a bad state? (pardon my ignorance, I missed that article)

zen said...

I can remember Cathay cinema more because as a kid I saw the Ten Commandments there. The building impressed me because of its solid granite structure. According to my late father, Cathay was a huge bomb shelter during the Japanese Occupation, saving many people during bombing raids. As for capitol, I was most impressed by its seating capacity that was why it was the largest theatre in Singapore at that time. After one big renovation, the cinema introduced a very comfortable deep blue coloured bucket-cushion seat arrangement, although the seats were not large. I was one of the many shift-workers frequenting this cinema during week-days either seeing the 11 am show, took lunch, and reported work at 3 pm (2nd shift), or seeing a show at 4 pm after working lst shift work. Such timing enable shift workers to beat the fierce cinema crowds at that time, in the sixties - the golden age of Singapore cinemas. One of the many memorable films I saw in Capitol was 'Trapeze' acted by veteran actor Tony Curtis

Lam Chun See said...

I remember seeing Chariots of Fire at Cathay. We sat in the front row, and it gave me a stiff neck.

chuck said...

Ah... Capitol........fond memories - especially the show 'Papillon.' I think the main actors are Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen and also the cheap ticket price of $2.00 during my time in the 70s. After that it's usally a short walk to Bras Basah for the famous Indian Rojak and Tek Terik from the numerous stalls there.

zen said...

My memory is being jolted. I remember Capitol and Odean were competing with each other by staging the so-called early bird shows. These performances would start at 9am and completed by 10.30 am every Sunday. The shows featured local pop singers like Sakura & Bands like The Quests, The Crescendo etc) - both in English & Mandarin. Local dialect-speaking comedians Wang Sa & Yeh Fong also appeared frequently in these shows.

Lam Chun See said...

I met a girl once who said she saw the Abba movie 7 or 8 times! I wonder how many times Household Name watched it?

As for reason for letting go of Capitol. It's basically economics. Not enough audience; and expensive to maintain. Hence no takers.

peter said...

Instead of building another auditorium, can't they ask SMU to use the Capitol since already acquired by the goverment? At 1,600 seating capacity and with a rich interior, this place got character. Only a short walk from the campus.

Saw this movie on a date - S.W.A.L.K. The Bee gees got a theme song for this movie which became a hit - Melody Fair I think.

Papillion - only time in my life I ever read a novel and this had to be the one. Shiok!

Lam Chun See said...

I too read the book Papillon by Henri Charriere. Mention Pipillon, and I recall this horribly cruel scene where this guy was tied to the tree to be eaten alive by flesh-eating ants. I am not sure if that was in the movie. But it was definitely in the book.

Which reminds me of yet another cruel scene from another movie. (Yes, Victor is going to say I am morbid). This one is Horse With No Name - I think it starred Richard Harris. The Red Indians tied this chap to the ground and sewed his eye lids so that when the sun rose, he got blinded slowly.

frannxis said...

Wang Yu was one of the best kung-fu stars before Bruce Lee came into the scene. The Chinese Boxer and The One-armed swordsman were two his better movies.

I only remember one movie I saw at Capitol, don't really know why I remember this movie. The title: "It's Alive!". A horror story but not really frigntening. My favourite is still 'The Exorcist'.

household name said...

Ha ha, Mr Lam, I only watched the ABBA thing once, lah. But I did get my dad to buy me the piano book with the scores. And my uncle had the record which we listened to a million times.

Anyway, my school was just across the road from Capitol so we saw it every school day and everyone knew the 'Capitol bus stop'.

Btw, that sewing of the eyelids thing sounds really gross.

peter said...

To Household
You saw which showtime: 11am or 1.30pm? Which gate you took to run awy from school- North bridge Road or Bras basah (opposite BOAC office)? You not scare of "Bulldog Face" teacher? Tell leh!!!!

My time safest route was through Annex tuckshop - wait till prefects had their recess, then sneaked and ran across to BOAC office (where Ah Ting shop of Raffles Hotel). Then run behind CHIJ Vicotria Street side and then run across Stamford Road and walk along Capitol shops and enter by side road to Capitol.

household name said...

Eh, I was very law-abiding. Never ran away from school to catch movies, even though Capitol and Odeon were nearby.

Err... anyway, I don't know who bulldog face teacher is... we were from different schools...

Lam Chun See said...

I thot Peter was from RI. So how can a tai-tai be from the same school? She's probably from CHIJ.

Lam Chun See said...

Speaking of old pre-Bruce Lee kungfu stars, my favourite was Ti Lung. I enjoyed the one about Thai boxing.

peter said...

To Household name...
alamak sory

You must be from Convent right? If you are welcome. We always thought they look very good (attractive...) in school uniform.

I do know of a freind who took STC #17 at Capitol just to see all the wonderful sights from Capitol to Toa Payoh (not me ok)

zen said...

You could not believe it when SB produced a black and white film called 'Tiger Boys'. The company was probably trying to test out their new director called Chang Chieh who was trying out his new proteges: Wang Yu, Lo Lieh and a few other young actors. This action film impressed the company so much that he allowed Chang to produce more such films using all male cast (with females in minor roles). Using his proteges, Chang subsequently produced 'Red Lotus Temple and ....the One Arm Swordman which broke all time box office record at that time. The success sent the whole lot of them to mega-stardom

household name said...

Ha ha ha, Mr Lam and Peter, this is getting very funny and definitely veering away from the point of your post! ;-)

Edward said...

I remember North Bridge Road where Capitol cinema was. Nearby was a shop famous for its "goo bak kway teow" (beef rice noodle). It was probably in a coffee shop (kopi tiam). I went to this place several times for the beef noodle.

Edward

Anonymous said...

The last movie I watched at Capitol was 'Eraser' starring Arnold Schwarznegger and Vanessa Williams in 1996, just before the cinema closed down.