RM Hubbert played his new score to accompany the showing of By The Law at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on 3 December 2017.
The audience files in early to Cinema 1 escaping a blustery Sunday afternoon. They take their plush red velvet seats in front of the stage and screen for a live performance by the composer of his new score for the Russian silent film, By The Law. RM Hubbert (aka ‘Hubby’) takes his seat stage left with an acoustic guitar on his knee seeming all too relaxed as this is the last of seven showings that he has accompanied on a tour by the film around Scotland.
His score was commissioned by the Hippodrome Silent Film festival based in Bo’ness. It accompanies a film from 1926 about a team of five gold prospectors in the Yukon. The story is not one to cheer the heart as greed and inhuman treatment lead to a double murder followed by the need (or not) to exact justice in one of the remotest places on Earth.
Hubby begins to play and the curtains open. His rhythm and the backbone of his composition are triplets that he describes as reflecting the river that almost the entire film is shot beside. The logic of his choice is clear as nature is like an additional main character in the film as we passage through summer to frozen winter and then flooding in the spring thaw.
The score is not a dull uniformity. The main characters have themes and from time to time there are breaks that reflect the action in the film such as a jig in the happy, sunnier beginning of the expedition. Hubby also uses some obvious suggestions from the action such as a snippet suggestive of Happy Birthday which features with a tension laden scene as the birthday candles burn down to a decision about the fate of the murderer.
There is always debate about the degree to which a score should intrude on the consciousness of the viewer of a film. Hubby says later that he did no research into composing a film score prior to writing this piece but he judges very finely where there should be more or less. The highlight of his efforts to create atmosphere matching what is on screen is the burial scene. There is a raging storm outside the cabin and those inside are going crazy with loneliness and the burden of deciding what must be done to their friend, the murderer. The score slowly breaks down but still incessantly repeats and it seems to become yet another feature of the environment that is driving the characters towards their madness. It achieves its goal to drive the audience beg for the tension to be over and for order to be restored.
At the end of an 80-minute performance without any break, Hubby stretches his fingers in obvious relief and the audience bursts into applause. There is a short question and answer session after the film during which the audience are treated to the black humour that punctuates Hubby’s gigs. The questions range widely from how often he has watched the film (about 100 times) to who was his favourite character (the dog, who has the sense to be around during the sunny opening then only reappears once the good weather returns after the spring floods). After such a marathon playing session and such a bleak melodrama, Hubby’s humour and honesty make for an effective decompression from the tension of the performance.
Here's the film, albeit with someone else scoring it -