With Penang’s rich history, it’s surprising how difficult it is to find film of the island before WWII.
Penang was a major port in Southeast Asia at the turn of the 20th century, site of a famous naval battle during WWI, and a required stop for many steamers carrying pilgrims to Mecca, as well as Western tourists on round-the-world trips. Tourists that included many famous personalities of the 1920s & 1930s like Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, May Pickford, Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, and Somerset Maugham. All of whom stayed at the E&O Hotel in George Town.
Film does exist like the restored vacation film (shown above) from an American couple who visited Penang in 1932 aboard the Glasgow built ship – Edavana. The film provides a glimpse of Penang in 1932 with shots of the harbor from the lawn of the E&O Hotel, of Weld Quay and the Malayan Railway Building (the tallest structure in George Town at the time), kampung houses with attap roofs, Batu Ferringhi, bullock carts, and Snake Temple. But the most fascinating shots are toward the end, when the American tourist films his journey (on a rickshaw?) through the shophouse lined streets of George Town on his return to E&O Hotel.
But where are the other films of Penang? With the number of affluent tourists and famous personalities who passed through, they must exist? Many films must have already deteriorated or been lost. Others stored away in film studios and military archives. And maybe more buried in attics in Europe and the US. Some may have been found and restored, but the owner hasn’t made them public, or has, but can’t determine the locations of a film that may cover numerous countries during a round the world trip.
Evelyn Reinhardt, a high school teacher from St. Louis, Missouri, dreamed of traveling the world before her 40th birthday. And in 1939, at the age of 39, she boarded a ship in San Francisco and filmed her journey around the globe, stopping shortly in Penang.
The majority of the clip (shown above) reveals life in Singapore a few years before WWII, as well as a few shots of the Kuala Lumpur area and a major tin mine in Malaya (maybe in Perak?). But the last part of the clip shows Penang, starting with a shot of the pagoda at Kek Lok Si Temple, and then a very interesting shot of a trishaw, which didn’t replace rickshaws in Penang until after WWII. She then films her ride down Penang Hill on the funicular railway, with views of Air Itam before it was the heavily populated area it is today. A quick shot of a viper from the Snake Temple, but note that the temple shown after is actually Khoo Kongsi Temple (with a badminton net in the foreground). She then films a shophouse lined street in George Town (maybe Beach Street?), and scenes of Weld Quay.
Hopefully, more film of Penang before WWII will be found and made available to the public.
Unfortunately, films of Penang in the two decades following WWII seem to be almost as scarce. The clip above is of a group of men pulling in large fishing nets at Batu Ferringhi in 1952.
And this is a vacation video from a couple, Hans & Toyoko, during their visit to Penang in 1964.