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Rare Newsreels From 1930 Show Harsh Realities of Life in Colonial Saigon

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In an extremely rare collection of disjointed clips, Saigon in 1930 appears like the setting of a haunting fever dream.

The montage comprises many street scenes in Saigon, filmed on June 15 and 19 by Fox Movietone News, which produced newsreels from 1928 to 1963. The black-and-white clips featured here belong to the University of South Carolina Moving Image Research Collections. With sounds included, this is probably among the best footage of its kind filmed during the 1930s.

At the time, recording films was still a hassle involving clunky devices that probably drew the attention of many Saigoneers on the street, judging by their curious looks and confused stares at the camera. From the film, it’s clear that colonial eras, despite the common poetic-waxing in recent years, weren’t a thriving period for anyone except French colonists.

Numerous scenes depict skeletal rickshaw drivers in tattered clothes ferrying passengers around. One driver is even cheated off his pay by a rider, who quickly flops down at a snazzy street-side café on Dong Khoi Street (then Rue Catinat) and shoos the driver away. Street vendors selling snacks are also seen in some sequences, surrounded by children who seem undernourished and under-dressed. Although some smiles and jokes can be heard occasionally, it’s apparent that life was tough for local Saigoneers in 1930.

Watch the complete clip below:

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