Silent Movies

Jan Preston is originally from a remote part of the South Island of New Zealand, and her aunt, Mag Preston, for many years earned her living playing for the silent movies at a cinema in the far south.

Jan’s father had a passion for Buster Keaton and although the family of 13 were very poor, he would manage to sneak into the silent movie screenings, by carrying his older sister’s case of sheet music.      

Thus Jan grew up surrounded by the sounds of old time piano music, and after completing a classical music degree at Auckland conservatorium, Jshe became musical director for the NZ political fringe theatre group, Red Mole.    

Sam Neil, then a filmmaker, saw her performances and asked Jann to compose music for a 1974 documentary, “Show Me The Way to go Home” he was directing. This was Jan’s first film score commission. 

Following a move to Sydney in 1980, she continued working in film composition, writing for TV documentaries, feature films and won three Best Film Music Awards,  1982 Asian Film Festival Best Music for a Feature Film , 1988 NZ Film and TV Awards Best Music for a Feature Film, and 1993 Australian Guild Of Screen Composer Awards, Best Music for a Documentary , whilst also keeping a profile as a live piano player and singer, playing festivals and concerts throughout Australia, NZ and Europe. (Jan Preston is known as “Australia’s Queen of boogie piano”.)

In 1989 Jan was asked to compose and perform music for the iconic German silent classic, Fritz Laing’s “The Spy”, which was ultimately recorded for the Australian National Film and Sound Archive and broadcast in it’s entirety on SBS TV.

She went on to compose more silent classics (see list below) and these performances combine her composers’ sense of filmic dramaturgy, together with her marathon skills as a live piano player. 

No wonder Jane Campion employed Preston as her piano teacher in the lead up to the making of the film, The Piano!


1989 Fritz Laing’s The Spy. Chauvel Cinema, Sydney

1991 Ernst Lubitz’s So This is Paris. Sydney Film Festival

1992 Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita. Chauvel Cinema, Sydney

1993 Raymond Longford’s On Our Selection. MCA, Sydney

1993 Early Australian Ads. MCA, Sydney

1994 Alexander Granovsky’s Jewish Luck. Jewish Silent Film Festival, Melbourne.

1995 Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail. Mandarin Club cinema, Sydney

1996 Franklyn Barrett’s Girl Of The Bush. Sydney Hyde Park Barracks Wool Board?

2001 William Wyler’s The Shakedown. Sydney Film Festival

2003 Harry O. Hoyt’s The Lost World. Sydney Film Festival

2004 Harry O. Hoyt’s The Lost World. NZ Film Festival

2005 Erich von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow. Sydney Film Festival

2007 Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy. Sydney Film Festival