香港第一間影院:域多利的始與終 The First Cinema in Hong Kong: The Beginning and the End of the Victoria

文:黃心怡|指導:葉月瑜教授

香港的電影放映活動歷史悠久,從1897年在香港大會堂的第一次公開放映開始,不同的場所,如酒店、露天場地、店鋪、戲園都舉行過電影放映。可以說到了1907年,華人與外國觀眾對電影這個新媒體已略知一二,但直到那年,香港才出現第一間專門為放映電影而設的戲院——域多利影畫戲院(Victoria Cinematograph)。


前所未有的放映設備

域多利影畫戲院由西班牙商人雷瑪斯(Antonio Ramos)在1907年10月31日於德輔道中,砵甸乍街街口(現永安集團大廈)開設。從開幕當天刊登在《華字日報》的廣告可見,首日的放映分為七點和九點兩場,每場約兩小時。內部寬敞舒適,設有電燈。[1]座位分為三類:廂房一元;頭等七毫;二等四毫(圖一)。

以往的電影放映經常會出現畫面搖顫的技術問題[2],然而新聞卻指域多利的放映並不搖顫,放映機與放映員亦被稱讚(圖二),可見域多利早在開業初期已對設備有所要求。

圖一:域多利戲院開幕廣告(《華字日報》,1907年10月31日)
圖二:域多利戲院開幕新聞(《南華早報》,1907年11月4日)

 

 

轉瞬即逝的舊戲院

 域多利從開業至1910年期間都持續在報紙上刊登中文及英文廣告[3],除了顯示雷瑪斯對宣傳的重視外,也展示了域多利並不像其他放映場所般只服務單一種族[4],而是同時歡迎華人和外國觀眾。1910年3月出現域多利會搬遷至中環街市對面的新聞後[5],便再沒有域多利的廣告,直到1911年5月25日才重新在報紙上看到域多利影畫戲院原址重建後重新開張的消息(圖三)。

圖三(左):新建影畫戲院(域多利)開院新聞(《華字日報》,1911年5月25日);(右)新的域多利戲院仍在德輔道中(《南華早報》,1911年5月27日)

從舊域多利戲院短暫的壽命可以推測,重建前的域多利戲院雖有不錯的設備和環境,但應該是相當小型、簡單的建築,才會在短時間內拆除。與域多利在差不多時期建成的香港影畫戲院以木材建成[6],也很快在兩年後被域多利戲院的「孿生兄弟」奄派亞影畫戲院(Empire Cinematograph)取代。[7]

 

豪華戲院的誕生

 雷瑪斯在1909年透過競投贏得中環街市對面的官地[8],並在12月動工興建奄派亞影畫戲院。翌年4月4日,奄派亞影畫戲院開幕。當天的報導詳細形容了奄派亞的內部裝潢:有六個包廂的戲院大廳能容納800人;地板是水泥地;牆壁以鋼和磚建成;屋頂由鋼架支撐。戲院的放映機用鋼製的防火隔間隔開,院內有風扇,通風良好,可見防火措施相當全面。[9]

1911年5月26日開幕的新域多利影畫戲院也有相似的設備。雷瑪斯特意聘請當時負責過香港及亞洲多個建築項目的知名建築公司Palmer and Turner設計兩間戲院[10],可見他深知形象包裝的重要性。兩間戲院都被稱「室內裝飾精美時尚」[11],在開幕當天同樣收穫了大量觀眾(圖四),顯示了其受歡迎程度。

圖四:(左)奄派亞戲院開幕新聞(《南華早報》,1910年4月5日);(右)域多利戲院開幕新聞(《華字日報》,1911年5月27日)

 

戲院大王的營銷策略

 兩間電影院能名留青史,創辦人雷瑪斯功不可沒。雖然有關雷瑪斯的資料不多,但透過他的營銷策略可知這位戲院主人有一定的商業頭腦。

除了大量宣傳及歡迎不同種族的觀眾外,域多利和奄派亞的另一特色是與電影同場加演的娛樂表演。這其實和雷瑪斯公司專營娛樂事業有關。雷瑪斯公司的網絡遍及上海、澳門、澳洲、馬尼拉、天津[12],除了電影放映,還精於提供歌舞和雜技節目。域多利以歌舞和電影放映為主打,剛開幕便有歌舞節目娛樂觀眾。[13]這些節目五花八門,例如俄羅斯歌舞表演(圖五)。重建後仍保持這種表演混合電影放映的模式[14],讓觀眾有全面的娛樂體驗。

 

圖五:俄羅斯舞蹈表演新聞(《華字日報》,1908年4月13日)

 

除了節目安排,戲院的選址也有所考量,奄派亞戲院所在的海濱空地曾是露天戲院,以及後來的香港影畫戲院,對觀眾而言已是熟悉的放映場地,把奄派亞設在海濱空地,能吸引原本固定在此地觀影的觀眾。其次,奄派亞華麗的設計與簡陋的露天戲院作為對比,在噱頭和視覺上亦能吸引目光。

兩間戲院分別在1919年及1920年因未能成功續約而被拆除。[15]縱觀香港放映史,域多利和奄派亞影畫戲院無論在放映設備、內部裝潢還是節目內容都精心安排,為觀眾提供優質的觀賞體驗,開啓了優質電影院的先河,也是娛樂表演不可或缺的場所。

 


參考資料

Yeh, Y.Y. (2023). More than law and order: Film regulations and the control of Chinese theatres in colonial Hong Kong. Screen, 64(1), 38-57. https://academic.oup.com/screen/article/64/1/38/7082847.

殷慧嘉:〈香港的早期電影院:1900-1920〉,《走出上海:早期電影的另類景觀》。北京:北京大學出版社,2016,頁193-237。

電影與創意產業研究中心:〈香港電影放映與接收史料庫(1897-1925)〉。香港:嶺南大學,2023,檢自:https://digital.library.ln.edu.hk/en/projects/flim/intro

[1] 〈The Victoria Cinematograph〉新聞,《華字日報》,1907年10月31日,第4頁。

[2] 〈影戲可觀〉新聞,《華字日報》,1907年11月11日,第3頁。

[3] 〈今晚開演〉廣告,《華字日報》,1908年1月7日,第3頁;〈Victoria Cinematograph〉廣告,《南華早報》,1908年9月30日,第3頁。

[4] 例如位於雲咸街的威士文酒店主要觀眾為洋人;戲園則主要招待華人觀眾。

[5] 〈HongKong Cinematographs〉新聞,《南華早報》,1910年3月22日,第5頁。

[6] 〈Local News〉,《南華早報》,1910年4月2日,第2頁。

[7] 同上。

[8] 〈Land Competition: Government Gains Big Profit〉新聞,《南華早報》,1909年9月30日,第6頁。

[9] 〈The Empire: New Cinematograph Theatre〉新聞,《南華早報》,1910年4月4日,第11頁。

[10] 同上;詳見香港大學圖書館〈Palmer & Turner Collection〉,https://digitalrepository.lib.hku.hk/pnt。

[11] 同上;〈Victoria Theatre: New Place of Amusement Opens To-morrow〉新聞,《士蔑報》,1911年5月25日,第1頁。

[12] Yeh, Y.Y. (2023). More than law and order: Film regulations and the control of Chinese theatres in colonial Hong Kong. Screen, 64(1), 45.

[13] 〈Victoria Cinematograph〉廣告,《南華早報》,1908年12月15日,第3頁。

[14] 〈Victoria Theatre: Duncan Company’s Farewell Performance Tonight〉新聞,《士蔑報》,1914年11月3日,第5頁。

[15] 〈A New Cinema: On Empire Theatre Site〉新聞,《士蔑報》,1919年1月29日,第5頁;〈The Victoria Theatre: To be Demolished April 1st〉,《南華早報》,1920年2月28日,第12頁。

 

Article by Wong Sum Yee|Instructed by Professor Yeh Yueh Yu

Hong Kong has a long history of film screening activities. Since the first public screening at the City Hall in 1897, film screenings had been held in various venues such as hotels, open-air venues, shops, and theatres. Although it is fair to say that by 1907 Chinese and foreign audiences were already familiar with film as a new medium, it was not until that year that the Victoria Cinematograph, the first cinema in Hong Kong, was opened for the purpose of screening films.


Unprecedented Screening Facilities

The Victoria Cinematograph was established by Spanish businessman Antonio Ramos on 31st October 1907 on Des Voeux Road Central, at the junction of Pottinger Street (currently Wing On House). The opening day advertisement in the Chinese Mail showed that the screening programme on the first day was divided into two sessions at 7pm and 9pm, each lasting about two hours. The interior was spacious and comfortable, with electric lighting.[1] Seats were divided into three categories: $1 for box seats, 70 cents for first class and 40 cents for second class (Fig. 1).

Past film screenings often had technical problems involving shaky images[2], but the press reported that the Victoria’s screenings showed no shakiness and the projectors and film technicians were praised (Fig. 2), indicating that the Victoria had already set high demands on its equipment from the very beginning of its operation.

Figure 1: Advertisement for the opening of the Victoria Theatre (Chinese Mail, 31st October 1907)

Figure 2: News release on the opening of the Victoria Theatre (South China Morning Post, 4th November 1907)

 

The Short-lived Old Cinema

 From its opening to 1910, the Victoria continued to place advertisements in both Chinese and English[3]. Not only did this demonstrate that Ramos took publicity seriously, but it also showed that the Victoria did not just target a single ethnic group like other cinemas[4], but that it welcomed both Chinese and foreign audiences. After the news in March 1910 announcing that the Victoria would move to the opposite side of the Central Market[5], no further advertisements for the Victoria were published. Until 25th May 1911, news regarding the re-opening of the Victoria Theatre after its reconstruction in its original location was again announced in the press (Fig. 3).

Figure 3 (left): News of the opening of the new cinematograph, (Victoria) (Chinese Mail, 25th May 1911); (right) The new Victoria Theatre remains in Des Voeux Road Central (South China Morning Post, 27th May 1911)

The short lifespan of the old Victoria Theatre suggests that, despite its decent facilities and environment, it should be quite a small, simple construction that would allow it to be demolished within a short period of time. The timber-built Hong Kong Theatre, constructed around the same period as the Victoria[6], was also quickly replaced two years later by the Empire Cinematograph Theatre, the “twin brother” of the Victoria[7].

 

The Birth of the Grand Cinema

 In 1909, Ramos won a tender for the government land opposite Central Market[8], and the construction of the Empire Cinematograph Theatre began in December. The following year, on 4th April, the Empire Cinematograph Theatre opened. A news report on that day described the interior decoration of the Empire in detail: a six-box hall with a seating capacity of 800, concrete floors, walls made of steel and brick, and a roof supported by steel frames. The cinema’s projectors were separated by steel fireproof compartments, and fans were installed to ensure good ventilation, indicating that fire protection measures were comprehensive.[9]

Similar facilities were used in the new Victoria Cinematograph, which opened on 26th May 1911. The fact that Ramos commissioned Palmer and Turner, then a leading architectural firm having worked on various prestigious projects in Hong Kong and Asia, to design the two cinemas clearly shows that he was well aware of the importance of visual presentation[10]. Both cinemas were described as having “modern and sophisticated interior decoration”[11] and both attracted large audiences on their opening day (Fig. 4), indicating a high degree of popularity.

Figure 4: (Left) News of the opening of the Empire Cinematograph Theatre (South China Morning Post, 5th April 1910); (right) News of the opening of the Victoria Theatre (Chinese Mail, 27th May 1911)

 

The Marketing Strategy of the King of Cinemas

 The fact that the two cinemas had made their mark in history was largely thanks to their founder, Ramos. Although not much is known about Ramos, his marketing strategies suggest that the cinema proprietor had a certain amount of business sense.

In addition to the extensive publicity and welcoming of audiences of all races, another feature of the Victoria and the Empire is the entertainment performances that accompanied the film screening. This is in fact related to Ramos’s company being specialised in show business. With a wide network covering Shanghai, Macau, Australia, Manila, and Tianjin[12], Ramos’ company offered not only film screenings but also singing, dancing and acrobatic shows. The Victoria featured singing and dancing as well as film screenings, and just as it opened there were singing and dancing programmes to entertain the audience.[13] These programmes ranged from a variety of shows, such as Russian singing and dancing shows (Fig. 5). This mix of performances and film screenings was maintained after the reconstruction[14] to provide a comprehensive entertainment experience for the audience.

Figure 5: News of the Russian Dancing Show (Chinese Mail, 13th April 1908)

 

Apart from the programmes, the location of the cinema was also taken into consideration. The waterfront open space where the Empire was located was once an open-air cinema, and later the Hong Kong Theatre, making it a familiar screening venue for audiences. Furthermore, the contrast between the glamorous design of the Empire and the modest open-air cinema was a gimmick and a visual attraction.

The two cinemas were demolished in 1919 and 1920 respectively due to unsuccessful contract renewals.[15] Looking back at the history of film screenings in Hong Kong, the Victoria and the Empire were carefully planned to provide a quality experience in terms of projection equipment, interior decoration, and programme content, pioneering the development of quality cinema and an indispensable venue for entertainment.

 

References

Yeh, Y.Y. (2023). More than law and order: Film regulations and the control of Chinese theatres in colonial Hong Kong. Screen, 64(1), 38-57. https://academic.oup.com/screen/article/64/1/38/7082847.

殷慧嘉, “香港的早期電影院(Cinemas in Hong Kong in the early days):1900-1920”, 走出上海:早期電影的另類景觀. Beijing: Peking University Press, 2016, p.193-237.

Centre for Film and Creative Industries: “A Historical Archive of Film Exhibition and Reception in Hong Kong (1897-1925)”. Hong Kong: Lingnan University, 2023, retrieved from: https://digital.library.ln.edu.hk/en/projects/flim/intro

[1] News article “The Victoria Cinematograph”, Chinese Mail, 31st October, 1907, p.4.

[2] News article “Film screening to watch”,Chinese Mail, 11nd November, 1907, p.3.

[3] Advertisement “Showing tonight”, Chinese Mail, 7th January 1908, p.3;advertisement “Victoria Cinematograph”, South China Morning Post, 30th September 1908, p.3.

[4] For example, the hotel Cafe Wisemann in Wyndham Street serves mainly foreign audiences, while the theatres mostly serve Chinese audiences.

[5] News article “HongKong Cinematographs”, South China Morning Post, 22nd March 1910, p.5.

[6] “Local News”, South China Morning Post, 2nd April 1910, P.2.

[7] As cited above.

[8] News article “Land Competition: Government Gains Big Profit”, South China Morning Post, 30th September 1909, p.6.

[9] News article “The Empire: New Cinematograph Theatre”, South China Morning Post, 4th April 1910, p.11.

[10] As cited above; see HKU Library for details ”Palmer & Turner Collection”, https://digitalrepository.lib.hku.hk/pnt

[11] As cited above; News article “Victoria Theatre: New Place of Amusement Opens To-morrow”, The Hong Kong Telegraph, 25th May 1911, p.1.

[12] Yeh, Y.Y. (2023). More than law and order: Film regulations and the control of Chinese theatres in colonial Hong Kong. Screen, 64(1), 45.

[13] Advertisement “Victoria Cinematograph”, South China Morning Post, 15th December 1908, p.3.

[14] News article “Victoria Theatre: Duncan Company’s Farewell Performance Tonight”, The Hong Kong Telegraph, 3rd November 1914, p.5.

[15] News article “A New Cinema: On Empire Theatre Site”, The Hong Kong Telegraph, 29th January 1919, p.5;”The Victoria Theatre: To be Demolished April 1st”, South China Morning Post, 28th February 1920, p.12.

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