Original classification rating: not rated.
This clip chosen to be G
This clip shows eight members of the Melbourne Chinese Orchestra performing at Efftee Film Studios in 1931. A stage curtain parts to reveal the orchestra on stage together with some Chinese props. After a wide shot of the whole ensemble, the camera moves in to focus on individual musicians.
This black-and-white clip shows part of a traditional Chinese musical performance on stage by eight members of the Melbourne Chinese Orchestra in 1931. The clip begins with a caption reading: ‘SELECTIONS / Melbourne Chinese Orchestra’, shown on the closed stage curtain. The music begins at the same time and then the curtain opens, revealing the robed performers playing on a stage decorated by lanterns, a scrolled painting and the model of a dragon. The camera closes in and pans from left to right to show individual performers and their instruments.
Educational value points
- This clip with its distinctive sound unfamiliar to most Australian cinema audiences denotes a significant moment in the history of Australian film – the introduction of locally made film complete with sound. In January 1931, $50,000-worth of US sound equipment was installed in film director Frank Thring’s (1882–1936) Efftee Studios and was used for the production of promotional items such as this one and another for the first Australian 'talkie’, the feature movie Diggers.
- The costumes and props may have been intended to evoke the growing fashions for the exotic and for things influenced by Chinese art that developed in the 1930s as part of the Art Deco movement. The 1925 Paris Exposition showed art deco designers using China as a source for exotic imagery. Later films such as The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and Frank Capra’s The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) associated China with mystery and allure.
- The instruments shown in the clip are used in traditional music in China and feature plucked and bowed string instruments, reed instruments, cymbals and drums. The ‘yue-qin’ is like a mandolin, the ‘souna’ is a kind of trumpet and the ‘san-xian’ resembles a banjo. The ‘erhu’, two of which are shown in the clip, is a kind of violin with two strings, a long vertical neck and a small resonator box.
- The dominant sound is produced by the souna, which is an ancient wind instrument with a double reed, wooden body and conical metal bell. It has a nasal penetrating sound and is often heard at Chinese celebrations and ceremonies such as weddings or funerals. It is also used to accompany theatrical performances. It first appeared in the Wei and Jin periods (220–420 CE) and comes in several sizes.
- The Melbourne Chinese Orchestra is not documented in publications of the time and traditional Chinese music would usually only have been heard at private occasions. The orchestra may have been so named especially for the film. An oriental orchestra undoubtedly existed. Founded by Mabel Chinn (1884–1991) in Victoria in the early 1930s, it appealed more to mainstream taste by playing western instruments and western music with an oriental ‘flavour’.
- The Orchestra was one of the items featured in the variety shorts that comprised the Efftee Entertainers series, part of the Efftee Studio’s talking picture program filmed between 1931 and 1933, but it was by no means typical. These items usually featured popular music and comedy acts from Australia’s stage stars offering audiences a snapshot of variety acts in the 1930s.
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