Sunday, July 14, 2013

VOICES OF MALAYA: The Ethnocentric British

Hantu Laut

The film best describe Malaya then. Watch with caution and open mind. Some may not like the racial connotations. 


Film showing Malaya before, during and after the war.
The film shows: how people from many races have settled here; the way that the Malays live; the Chinese and their way of life; the role of the Europeans, the 'white' man, in bringing civilisation to this area; the Indians and the way that they helped to build up Singapore; the way that money was spent - on hospitals, law and government, for example - to turn Malaya into a prosperous and contented country; 1941, when the Japanese overran the country and undid the work of more than a century; the building up of a secret resistance movement; the Japanese surrender; the desolation that faced people as they came back either from hiding or the army; cleaning up the mess that the Japanese had left before real productive work can proceed; disease, and the fact that the Japanese had refused to give medical treatment and many people were a long way from hospital and beyond the reach of ambulances; the shortage of food, which eventually led to stealing; the newspapers that were being produced; more easily available advice, and the idea that now, 'Malaya has changed. New ways grow side by side with the old. In no country is the struggle between traditional ways and the modern world more intense'.
Production: 'The Crown Film Unit wishes to express its grateful appreciation to the men and women of Malaya and to those organisations - both in Malaya and in Britain - whose whole-hearted cooperation made this film possible. Amongst them are: His Highness Sir Abdul Aziz the Sultan of Perak, the Malayan Film Unit, Malay 
Opera Company, Chinese Opera Company, Malay Tribune, Geographical and Survey Museum, London


Although released in Britain in 1948, production on Voices of Malayaactually dates back to September 1945, when a detachment of the Crown Film Unit went ashore with the first wave of troops into Malaya. Cameraman Denny Densham explained how the Unit came to be there; ‘We had been standing by with a small flotilla of minesweepers in Southern India awaiting the start of an operation known locally as “Zipper” the invasion of Singapore’. On hearing that the British would take over the occupation of Penang Island on 3 September ‘Ralph Elton and I bribed the skipper of an M.L. to take us ashore, rather against orders, and we were set up on the jetty with our camera ready and waiting for the first official landing party’. Densham explained that after a couple of days, they explored the mainland, cleared themselves with the Japanese military headquarters in Taiping, and then drove south to interview the Sultan of Perak. ‘It was’, Densham added, ‘a great opportunity to put on record the history of a country as it unfolded before our camera; a chance almost unique in documentary film history to make a picture that lived with newsreel realism, yet had a heart so much deeper. We made a request to London for permission to go ahead on the story of a country’s post-war construction, and it was granted’ (Colonial Cinema, June 1948, 38-43).
Ralph Elton, who headed the Unit with a nucleus of four Englishmen and nine Malayans, returned to England with Densham in October 1946 (The Straits Times, 7 October 1946, 3). The crew had shot 250,000 feet of film, and the film was then left to a team in Britain, headed by Terry Trench, to edit. Densham referred to the ‘jungle of tin cans’ found in the cutting rooms and noted the enormity of the task facing the assembly unit back in London (Colonial Cinema, June 1948, 43). Trench and his team were responsible for ‘moulding the film’, developing a narrative and formulating the idea of the ‘Five Voices’, although this in itself is derivative of Alexander Shaw’s 1938 film for the Malayan Government, Five Faces.
It was difficult to complete the film because of the rapidly changing political situation within Malaya. Ralph Elton noted in 1946 that ‘script writing was very difficult. We would anticipate history and find that next week we were hopelessly out of date… it’s all very amusing to read our first rough script’ (The Straits Times, 4 August 1946, 4). Densham also noted that ‘owing to constant political changes in the Far East, it was impossible to shoot to a script… we shot most of the film off director Ralph Elton’s cuff’ (Colonial Cinema, June 1948, 39). The constant changes forced Crown to abandon their initial plans for two separate films – Speed the Parting and Reconstruction in Penang– as Speed the Parting was deemed out of date before completion, so both films merged into Voices of Malaya (INF 6/397).
By the time the film was finally released in 1948, the political shifts were even more pronounced. The Malayan Union, established in April 1946 and the subject of much Malay opposition (as noted by a banner within the film) had been replaced by the Federation Agreement on 1 February 1948, while the Emergency was declared on 18 June 1948. The COI file for the film noted that ‘the end was altered in accordance with the request of the Malayan Government before the film was released’ (INF 6/397). Mary Heathcote explained that the commentary originally hinted that Malaya still faced ‘internal problems’ but the government, claiming that ‘everything in the Garden’s lovely’, was unhappy with this and the commentary was changed. Heathcote suggested that the ending was now likely to be changed back again ‘to be in keeping with current events’ (The Straits Times, 1 August 1948, 9). The version viewed here concluded that ‘Malaya has a long tradition of peace. The goodwill with which all communities have accepted the new Constitution gives confidence that her problems will be solved as the four races build up a common loyalty to Malaya’. However, the script held with the COI file offers a different final line, without direct reference to ‘her problems’: ‘Progress is seldom simple, but Malaya is a naturally rich country with a long tradition of peace. The chances are in her favour. If the four races can build up a common loyalty to Malaya’ (INF 6/397).
Footage from the expedition was also used elsewhere. Densham noted that the filming served ‘mainly for record purposes, while quite a bit of footage was taken and used by the newsreels’. In addition, their material was used in a number of Crown and COI films including This was JapanPop Goes the WeaselThe World is Rich and Burma Victory, while subsidiary films were made from the footage includingThis is MalayaMalay VillagePeople of Malaya, and Products of Malaya (Colonial Cinema, June 1948, 38, INF 6/397).

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