The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

Indonesian Cinema


In 1993 Indonesia had a total population of 186 million people made up of 300 ethnic groups (with over 300 languages and dialects) spread across the 13,000 islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago. The main population centre is the island of Java with over 100 million people. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Indonesia became the world's fourth most populous nation.

Prior to independence, a small number of films were made in the Netherlands East Indies. About 110 films were produced between 1926 and 1950, mainly by Chinese companies, but also by the Dutch colonialists. An indigenous Indonesian cinema only began in earnest in the first year of independence from the Dutch in 1950. In the following decade, Indonesia produced an average of thirty-five features a year, mostly made in Jakarta, the national capital, in the national language, Bahasa Indonesia, a language similar to Malay.


The growth of Indonesian cinema after 1950 was led by the pioneering director Usmar Ismail, who made more than twenty-five films before his death in 1971. Usmar's first post-independence productions- Darah dan doa' ('The long march', 1950), Enam djam di Djogdja ('6 hours in Jogja', 1951), and Lewat djam malam ('After the curfew', 1954) -- all celebrate the years of struggle for independence, but as post-revolutionary productions have an unusual scepticism, the very opposite of what was found in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Instead, these films highlight, with a quiet understatement and considerable subtlety, the moral ambiguities produced by the revolutionary period. His most successful film, Krisis, now lost, was a comedy about the housing crisis in the early years of the republic; and in 1955 he made a brilliant and prophetic satire on the dangers of charismatic political leadership in Indonesia, Tamu agung ('Exalted guest'), which was released despite its implicit criticism of President Sukarno.

Usmar's production company, Perfini, provided a framework for the emergence of a number of other talented young directors. Most notably it supported Djayakusuma, who was interested in traditional cultures and regional diversity. He explored these issues in his 1953 film Harimau Tjampa ('The tiger from Tjampa'), which centred on the western Sumatran self-defence ritual pencak silat, and the Islamic philosophies of restraint that underlie it. Perhaps his most ambitious film was Tjambuk api ('Whipfire', 1959), a drama about villagers resisting oppression by the village head. Tlie film mixed cultural traditions from different regional areas, attempting to prove that the Indonesian national motto, 'Unity in Diversity', could work as a formula for a feature film.

Other significant writer-directors to emerge under the Perfini umbrella were Asrul Sani-who was also a noted poet, and who scripted Usmar Ismail's Lewat Djam Malam- and Nya Abbas Akup, a director of comedies. Nya Abbas Akup 's Tiga buronan ('Three fugitives', 1957) was a story about three bandits harassing the citizens of a quiet Islamic village. With a mild and easy wit, the film mixed the humour and style of lenong Betawi (a form of lyrical subversive theatre that evolved in the nineteenth century as entertainment for the indigenous population of Batavia under Dutch colonial rule) with a plot and visual style that also bear traces of the Hollywood Western, mocking in a gentle Indonesian way some of the conventions of Hollywood. Another major director who began work in the 1950s was Wim Umboh, whose best film, Matjan Kemayoran ('The tiger of Kemayoran', 1965), was a romantic portrait of resistance and collaboration in the colonial era, based on popular legends of the period.

The period of Guided Democracy ( 1957-65) saw a decline in local film production, and, when President Sukarno increased the power of the Communist Party, the government agency PAPFIAS ( Committee to Boycott Imperialist American Films) ordered the banning of all American imports over a period of two years. The events of 30 September 1965, in which some leftist elements in the army massacred six leading army generals, resulted in the annihilation of the left in Indonesia and the emergence of a right-wing, military-backed government, known as the New Order, led by General Suharto, who remained in power for over three decades. Most of the films that had been made by left-wing directors such as Bachtiar Siagian and Basoeki Effendi were lost at this time, though some scripts have survived. New Order policies lifted restrictions on American imports and prioritized the emergence of a highly commercial indigenous cinema, which began to take off in the early 1970s.


In the 1970s and 1980s Indonesian film production averaged about sixty to seventy features per year. Throughout this period many of the producers were of Chinese or Indian origin, but most of the writers and directors were Indonesian (Javanese, Sumatran, Sulawesian, at least one Balinese). From 1967, the national industry was subsidized with money from imports, and in the mid-1970s a quota on imports was introduced. In the 1980s about 180 films were imported into Indonesia each year, and statistics


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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