Film Society

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Royal” reminiscences

The above named institution had its origin in the Amateur Cinematic Society which was inaugurated in 1945. One of the principal persons who were responsible for it having been mooted was revolutionary, wittiest, most discerning, most integrated and legendary teacher of English Ceylon ever had, late R.C.L Attygalle, popularly known as “Dickie”.

He persuaded then Royal Principal late J.C.A Corea to allocate funds fpr the  purchase of a 33mm film projector and a copy of the film Henry V for the film Society. Dickie Attygalle had hoped to build up a library of films for the society, regrettable Royal being a government school he was unable to obtain funds to buy more films.

Dickie had the extraordinary ability to make the classics of English literature come alive and kindle the interest of all his students. Therefore, the Technicolor 1944 version of William Shakespeare’s Henry V produced, directed and starred bur Sir Laurence Oliver was a big hit with his students. Dickie Attygalle had many students in his class who acquired a love for the humanities thanks to his skill, not just a teacher, but as an educator. Most of his students in later life excelled in their respective fields. One such student who distinguished himself as a politician was late Felix Dias Bandaranaike, then known as Felix Dias.

Just after an year since the commencing of the film society, Dickie left Royal College for Paris as he was appointed the chief of the division managing all UNESCO’s adult education programmes. The mantle of continuing the film society then fell on the able broad shoulders of another brilliant teacher and multi-talented master Bevil St. Elmo de Bruin who passed away on his 80th Birthday on August last year(2007) in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Bruin who was fondly referred to as “Bruno” by students was a teacher of mathematics, English and English Literature, cricket and athletics during his tenure at Royal College. He too, like Dickie, had the unique ability to make students who never read anything but comic books to take interest in English and English Literature. Many Students, who took science as I did, took up English Literature as a subject thanks to Bruin who showed us the beauty, might and grandeur of the English Language.

Bruin arranged with the British Council to hire films from their library to be screened at our society’s film shows. During my stay at Royal, Bruin screened a number of top grade films on a variety of subjects and themes. Some of the I remember are Nanook of the North, a documentary on the life an Eskimo and his family made by very influential American documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty, Scott of the Antarctic, the Techni Colour film about the ill-fated 1912 expedition to the South Pole starting Sir John Mills as Captain Scott, and  Kind Hearts and Coronets, a first class British Ealing comedy.

Sir Alec Guiness, who was a member or the admirable cast, played eight roles in the film. Out or all the films I saw at Royal there is one particular film that I shall never forget and that film was Arsenic and Old Lace. It was the screened version of the immensely popular comedy written by Joseph Kesserling for the stage. The film version was directed by legendary Frank Capra and starred inimitable Hollywood star Cary Grant support by a distinguished cast who played their parts brilliantly to make the film one of the funniest rid-tickling comedies ever made up to date. I recall the film was screened in one of the science lecture rooms, which had pews of tired seats and we were all rolling in the aisles clutching our stomachs in uncontrollable laughter. Many of us had to walk slightly crouched the next morning due to the pain in our over strained abdominal muscles. I have seen the film over a dozen times since then and even today have the same reaction to it.

I am not sure whether there is a Film Society at Royal College today, but in our times at College, we enjoyed the film shows and had a lot of fun during the break downs of the rather old film projector. I am sure all the Royalists who attended these film shows must be fondly remembering those wonderful hours spent in the darkened lecture room watching the silver screen unfolding great films. 
                                                                                    -By Upathissa Attygalle
                                                            (The Nation Special, Sunday February 17, 2008)