The Odeon Cinema - a link between the innovations of cinematography and Art Deco

Odeon Cinema at  the height of its popularity - Picture credit:
The Odeon Cinema located at No. 237 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (formerly Batu Road), Kuala Lumpur is strategically seated at the corner of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Dang Wangi (formerly Campbell Street).

Built by the Cathay Organization in 1936, the Odeon Cinema was an expression of the links between the innovations of cinematography and Art Deco.

A.O. Coltman was the architect instrumental in designing this Art Deco edifice as he also designed some other Art Deco buildings in Kuala Lumpur.  Meanwhile Steen Sehested prepared the reinforced concrete design. The building featured new safety designs such as emergency lighting and fire prevention systems for the projector room. State-of-the-art ventilation grills and exhaust fans enhanced air circulation. The foyers were laid with locally produced rubber flooring.

There are strong Art Deco elements such as the lettering style of the cinema name, vertical pylons and flagpoles. Above the entrance, a horizontal beam, embellished with a mosaic depicting drama, comedy and music, intersects the strong vertical mullions. On the side façade, ‘ribs’ create a vertical rhythm.

Odeon Cinema
The former Odeon Cinema of the present day - rear view. Notice the typical Art Deco flagpole.
When the Malay Mail reviewed the opening of the Odeon in 1936, it showered praise on the aesthetic virtues of this “magnificent” cinema:
“The auditorium is gained by the stairs leading from the refreshment foyer, and it is from the top of these stairs that one gets a truly impressive view. The proscenium [the area
surrounding the screen] immediately catches the eye by its powerfully designed lines, as does the ceiling with its modern curves and indirect lighting.”
What impressed the Malay Mail writer most was the marriage of form and functionality: the Odeon did not just look good, it also provided a superb movie-watching experience.

Meanwhile The Straits Times in its report dated 17 November 1935 announced that Kuala Lumpur would have the second super-cinema named Odeon which at that time was in an advanced stage of construction. Earlier The Straits Times had reported on the first super cinema situated on Jalan Pudu referring to the Majestic Cinema.

In its heyday, the Odeon Cinema used to screen foreign films unlike small cinemas like the Coliseum and was frequented by people from the Chinese, Malay and European communities. The biggest and most expensive Malay film in the early 80s - Bukit Kepong - was launched at the Odeon.

The historic Cinema operated as a movie theater until November 1997 when it closed briefly, and reopened as a 250-seat cinema upstairs, and an arcade selling clothes, magazines, electronic goods and snacks downstairs. It was twinned around 2006, with the upstairs screen operating as a single auditorium, and a section of the downstairs converted into a second screen, the retail arcade taking up the remainder of the downstairs area. The cinema closed again in 2010. It was the end of an era for a stand-alone cinema. Stand-alone cinemas in Malaysia and worldwide have lost its appeal and popularity since early 90s.  Moviegoers prefer more convenient and more technologically advanced cineplexes located in the shopping mall which made their presence since early 90s.

Odeon Cinema
The Art Deco typeface sadly is spoiled partly by the installation of the billboard frame
Odeon Cinema
The front part of the Odeon Cinema
Odeon Cinema
The front facade of the former Odeon Cinema of the present day which has been turned into a shopping arcade


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