Sima Bu Jawdeh & Ayeesha Starkey
Contributing Writer & Archivist
You are walking down the street of Abla away from the hustle and bustle of Hamra, still buried deep within your phone’s screen with your earphones blasting. Obviously, Anghami stops you for a commercial break, and then Ziad Rahbani’s Abou Ali comes on. But, you press next.
You continue scrolling through your playlist and turn a couple of corners until you find yourself in a library with books and magazines stacked high above you, beckoning you to read. Yet, while the library beckons you in, a small room at the back of the store seemingly pulls you towards it.
Upon entry, the seductive smell of freshly made Ghazel el Banet and its promise of a fistful of Festouk fills the room.
The walls are lined with vivid colors of posters draping from the walls—posters raging from the Thief of Baghdad to Guerres Des Etoiles (or Star Wars, to those of us who do not speak French).
The year is not 2017, and the era is that of Fairuz’s Bea’ al Khawatem. In the back of your mind, distant names like Dored Laham and Shoushou begin to take form.
It is a time when dressing up was necessary to attend the theatre. It is the time when Dored Laham and Shoushou are not forgotten names but prominent figures. Like Alice falling to Wonderland, the store sends all its visitors on a trip to the past.
The faces on the posters whisper, “Ahlan w Sahlan. Marhaba bekoum. This is the Golden Age of Movie Making in the Arab World.”
A man by the name of Abboudi Abou Jawdeh, is the guardian of this time now lost. He is a man on a quest to piece the pieces of a forgotten age.
Abboudi Abou Jawdeh is, like many, a movie fanatic. Growing up in Beirut before the civil war, he would collect movie posters in the alleyways—thrown away in garbage cans or simply neglected on lonely walls.
According to About Jawdeh, posters made in the 20th century differ widely from the posters nowadays as there were certain “artistic skills” used in making each poster.
The artist would take several days to finish the rough draft sketch, would then meticulously magnify it on bigger squares to attain the correct poster size, and then would send it to printing. This would be followed by replicating the drawing onto zinc plates, paying attention to every curve of Arabic letters, and finally filling in the paper over the plates with vibrant colors.
Abou Jawdeh has a collection of over 20,000 posters—from War and Peace, to Gone with the Wind, to Sabah’s Pearl Necklace.
Recently, however, he has shifted his attention to seeking posters relating primarily to the Arab world, regretfully stating that there is no coherent archive for films made in the Middle East, specifically Lebanon.
This is why he has strived to create his book “Tonight” or “Haza al Masa’” which documents the history of movie making in Lebanon from 1929 to 1979. For his achievements, Abou Jawdeh won “Best Artistic Book” in the Middle East awarded by the Arab Thought Foundation in 2016.
Abou Jawdeh is not only a man with a collection of posters, he is a man who has embraced and nurtured the Arabic culture we seek to deny.
Immediately after leaving Abboudi Abou Jawdeh’s secret hermitage and nostalgic sanctuary, updating our social media stories and falling back into the vicious circle of the 21st century throws us back into the fast tracked life we reside in.
A visit to Abou Jawdeh’s shop will instantly overwhelm you with a feeling of shell shock as a result of the culture treasures you have just witnessed. It leaves room for questions regarding the elapsed culture especially when it comes to music and film in the Arab world.
Perhaps next time we will not press next when Ziad al Rahbani’s or Oum Kolthoum’s songs come on our playlists, but we will instead keep them playing just a little longer.