Sat, 05 Jul 2003

Icons of a bygone era

The death of the great American film actress, Katharine Hepburn, last Sunday was practically unnoticed by the majority of Indonesians. Hepburn died at the age of 96 in New York. At her peak, in the 1950's, she starred in the classic film, The African Queen alongside Humphrey Bogart. She appeared with great leading men Cary Grant and famously, Spencer Tracy. Hepburn and Tracy were an irresistible combination for moviegoers with an on screen chemistry that is impossible to recreate. Katharine Hepburn was Hollywood's most distinguished star, but maybe its understandable that a lot of Indonesians simply don't remember her.

Who is to blame them? The younger generation are mostly on the look out for new releases and those fortunate enough to have been able to catch a Hepburn film as a new release are few.

Since the Hepburn years much has changed for those that saw her first time around -- insurgences and a coup attempt swept across the nation -- we're talking about a generation who is getting on in years.

But it is a shame to watch the likes of Hepburn and Tracy, Grant, Bogie, Gregory Peck, whose recent death went largely unnoticed here ... simply fade away. In many other countries they shine brighter than ever and their films still play to star- struck audiences. This is thanks to specialist movie houses which showcase the work of great directors and actors, playing in a way, a history of the silver screen.

Not just other countries ... even Jakarta boasted such a theater in the 1950s, located in what is now the Taman Ismail Marzuki art center at Cikini, Central Jakarta. There, the best films of former years and art films that would normally draw too few spectators to be worth the cost, were regularly shown.

The morale of this story is that the film community in this country, as in others, should and can do more to boost the appreciation of younger Indonesians of what is essentially film history. The art of preserving and restoring old films made in this country is another area that could use more attention. Its never too late to make a start and it would be unfortunate indeed if works by film artists such as Usmar Ismail should be forever lost.