Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1174, (28 November - 4 December 2013)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1174, (28 November - 4 December 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Long Live Film

The golden age of Egyptian cinema is on display at Al-Hanager Theatre on the Cairo Opera House grounds, writes Nevine El-Aref — in the form of original film posters from the 1930s to the 1950s

Al-Ahram Weekly

A collection of 32 movie posters of the golden age of Egyptian cinema is on display at Al-Hanager Theatre, recounting a remarkable story. Dating from 1933-1958, the posters not only introduce the history of Egyptian cinema but also reflect Egyptian society of the time. Here is “the Lady of the Arab Screen” Faten Hamama with Kamal Al-Shennawi in Al-Malak Al-Zalem (The Unjust Angel), “the Musician of All Generations” Mohamed Abdel-Wahab with the renowned singer Laila Murad in Yahya Al-Hobb (Long Live Love), the great comedian Ismail Yassin in Ismail Yassin in the Navy and renowned singer Asmahan with prominent Arab stage actors Youssef Wahbi in Gharam wa Entekam (Love and Revenge) and the famous actress and dancer Taheya Karioka in Samara...
The exhibition was inaugurated early this week by the head of the Cultural Development Fund (CDF) Mohamed Abu Seada on the fringe of the 16th round of the Egyptian National Film Festival; it will last until the end of November. Present at the opening were well-known actress Laila Elwi, film director and head of the festival Samir Seif along with top officials, artists of fine arts. The posters are borrowed from the private collection of film critic Sameh Fathi and they are displayed chronologically according to the day and the year when the film was launched. The first poster on show is Kafari Aan Khatiyatik (Repent for Your Sin), starring the actress-producer Aziza Amir, launched in 1933. The last, launched in 1957, is the Ismail Yassin film. Faten Hamama and Farid Shawki take up a large part of the exhibition, which includes seven posters featuring each actor. Laila Murad, Youssef Wahbi and Anwar Wagdi come in second stage, with only one of Ismail Yassin’s 350 films represented.
“This is an embodiment of the memory of the golden age of Egyptian cinema and a documentation of the country’s different living features and standards,” Nagat Farouk, the supervisor of the Fine Art Section at the CDF, explains. She says every poster on display reflects a part of Egypt’s political and economic history as well as the different facets of society at the time — the state of the country under the monarchy and how it changed after the 1952 July Revolution. Farouk feels that, though the industry of posters has nowadays reached new peaks using state-of-the-art technology, posters are seldom as agreeable as they were during the golden age. “A handmade poster, which could take up to three months to finish, creates a warm link between the designer and the paper and hence the viewer himself...”
For his part Fathi says his love for Egyptian cinema, which he has discussed regularly with his father since the earliest age, was behind his obsession with collecting old posters. “My father also taught me how to tell an authentic poster from a fake one,” he says, recounting how, when he was eight years old he used to live in the neighbourhood of Al-Sakakini where many second-rate film theatres were available; he would buy posters from the kiosks outside them. “When I showed them to my father, he would explain to me how to tell the difference and where the ‘forgery’ showed.” At first he did not have enough money to collect authentic posters so he would photocopy them from collectors, but after paying a fee. “The first poster I photocopied was a 1962 production Al-Hareb (The Fugitive), starring Farid Shawki. Then I started to collect authentic ones. I continued to do so until I met film critic Youssef Sherif Rezkallah, who encouraged me to put together a documentary book of all the posters I collected.”
To collect more posters Fathi browsed the web and travelled all over the world. He has 1,500 posters which cost him over LE2 million. A poster, he said, could cost anything from $500 to $5,000. Fathi says the most expensive poster he bought was of Ghazal Al-Banat starring Laila Murad, Naguib Al-Rihani, Anwar Wagdi, Youssef Wahbi, Mahmoud Al-Meligui and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab. “It cost me $5,000 because it features a group of renowned actors.” The cheapest, of Ard Al-Ahlam (Land of Dreams), showing only Madiha Yousri, cost him $500. Besides the number and calibre of actors on it, a poster gains in value depending on the quality of its paper and its condition of preservation. The Dananir poster on display, because it features Umm Kolthoum, cost Fathi $1,000 — he was offered $40,000 for it (by a German-Jordanian friend) but refused to sell it. “Some posters are bloody expensive and surpass my financial abilities,” Fathi confided, giving the example of the Umm Kolthoum film Fatma, which costs $14,000.
Fathi shares Farouk’s point of view that the poster industry in the golden age produced more beautiful specimens than contemporary poster design. In the old days, he says, poster designers were heroes: the two Greeks Vasilio and Marcel and the Egyptians Gassour and Abdel-Aziz, for example. Gassour’s first poster was in 1946 of Ahmar Shafayef (Lipstick) starring Naguib Al-Rihani and Samia Gamal. Its backdrop was painted in red to imitate the colour of lipstick at that time. In the 1970s and the 1980s Anwar Ali and Mortada Anis were the best known poster designers. “My hope,” the collector concludes, “is to establish a permanent museum of Egyptian film posters, and Minister of Culture Saber Arab promised to help me to make this dream to come true. More exhibitions of film posters will be organised until the establishment of the museum...”

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