REVIEW: ‘Showtime 1958’ – What Cinema’s All About

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Showtime 1958 - But Why Tho

Showtime 1958 is the fictionalized recounting of a 1958 cabaret held to support the striking actors of the Malayan Jalan Ampas Studio in Singapore as well as the writing of the Eid al-Fitr song “Aidilfitri Mulia.” The film is directed by Anwardi Jamil, the son of Jamil Sulong, one half of the songwriting duo.

Showtime 1958 is a good bit confusing, even upon researching the real-life backstory of P. Ramlee, Sulong, and the golden age of Malayan cinema. It’s not structured so as to carry any heavy plot from the beginning to the end and it does rely somewhat on the audience’s recognition of the many famous names throughout the movie. However, if you don’t let the cold open and the thin plot deter you, Showtime 1958 is a movie with two powerful messages, equally poignant today: labor has an obligation to support labor, and cinema’s transportational quality is its most important. And these two aspects of the film are intrinsically connected.

The movie wouldn’t be happening were it not for the unionized actors’ refusal to be pushed around by their employer and their willingness to band together to demand higher pay and better working conditions. They have evidently made a fortune for their bosses and, with the backdrop of a recently free Malay and emerging opportunity in Kuala Lumpur. The variety show is a perfect example of worker solidarity where the proceeds are given to the members of their community who are most struggling as a result of the strikes. Labors are given chances to star as singers, poor orphans are fed for Eid and set upon the beauty pageant.

And not for a moment is anybody’s value to their community questioned on account of their social or economic status, or for any other reason. They are simply supported. In a time of a rising labor movement and the increasing necessity of communal infrastructure to support the most vulnerable among us, it’s nice to see a stark representation of such a workers’ movement in Showtime 1958.

The movie as a whole is really just an enactment of a variety show. There’s little else to the film besides watching each act, hearing the jokes in between, and occasionally observing characters lament the economic conditions or their personal struggles, all of which are, again, ameliorated by the generosity and communal support of the union over the course of the movie. Even childcare by one man on behalf of another man is simply provided without question or an expectation of compensation. A moment early in the movie where a laborer’s boss makes him pay five cents to make a phone call is starkly contrasted by the unquestioning generosity of these brethren. It’s just so shocking to see given it’s real-life rarity.

I don’t think this story would work at all though were it not about the film business. There’s sometimes about the actors in Showtime 1958 hamming it up to come off as real people the way that film characters did in that era, with their overly exaggerated tone and expressions. It is specifically this reminiscence on the golden age of Malayan cinema and mid-century cinema in general that makes the whole otherwise boring scenario feel charming. The individual acts are pretty forgettable, save for one good comedy bit and a famous ending song. But none of the specifics mattered much to me by the end as I soaked in the mere feeling of the golden cinema age.

Showtime 1958 is a bit of a confounding movie with little plot to speak of, but it is a very good demonstration of the power of worker solidarity through an age where movie magic and the trappings of fame and fortune wouldn’t seemingly go so hand-in-hand with a progressive and supportive union.

Showtime 1958 is streaming now exclusively on Netflix.


Showtime 1958
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Showtime 1958 is a bit of a confounding movie with little plot to speak of, but it is a very good demonstration of the power of worker solidarity through an age where movie magic and the trappings of fame and fortune wouldn’t seemingly go so hand-in-hand with a progressive and supportive union.