Musical accompaniment in For the Term of His Natural Life
Today Australian film music encompasses many styles and approaches. Technological advances in multitrack recording, synchronisation, and developments in digital production, distribution and reception have meant that film music can be produced and arranged in all sorts of innovative ways. Back in the early days of Australian silent cinema, however, musical accompaniment had to be performed live by a musician (often a pianist) for small theatres - or by an orchestra for big city houses. While the images were fixed, performances were interchangeable, varying somewhat from screening to screening. That said, distributors would often provide a recommended musical continuity (i.e. generic pieces and classics that could be keyed and adapted to narrative titles and scenes). Moreover, theatre musicians had a wide repertoire of ‘generic’ mood music which could be adapted to match the film. Many of the musical codes and strategies standardised in this early period are still deployed today.
This clip features imagery of the film For the Term of his Natural Life (originally released in 1927, but restored by the NFSA in 1981). This version of the film includes musical accompaniment from the Palm Court Orchestra. The score draws directly from the original music cue sheets and plays a critical role in bringing images to life. It was recorded for the composite print of the film that was screened on the closing night of the 1981 Melbourne Film Festival.