Thursday, September 4, 2008

The 2nd International Silent Film Festival: Die Austernprinzessin (1919)

Probably the best movie so far in this year's edition of the International Silent Film Festival is Germany's The Oyster Princess, a hilarious romp from 1919 directed by beloved film master Ernst Lubitsch. Lubitsch was known for his so-called "Lubitsch touch," a combination of a distinct filmmaking style and choice of material that made his comedies both classy and subversive at the same time. Try to watch "The Shop Around The Corner" (remade years ago as the tame "You've Got Mail") which starts as a light romantic comedy, but scratch around the surface and it's actually quite a dark film. A full-on laugh-out-loud Lubitsch movie is "Ninotchka," one of my favorite movies of all time, in which American playboy Melvyn Douglas tries to woo KGB agent Greta Garbo to hilarious effect.

The Oyster Princess is clearly among Lubitsch's best. A not-quite-aesthetically-pleasing spoiled brat, the daughter of "the Oyster King of America," demands a husband from her father, preferably someone like a prince to one-up another socialite who just got married to a count. The tycoon then gets the services of a matchmaker, who then chooses one Prince Nucki to be a prospective husband. Prince Nucki is a handsome but now financially bankrupt young man, who is seeking a rich woman to marry. Perfect. The guy sends his assistant to check out the woman; she mistakes the assistant for the Prince and demands that he marry her that same day, and the rest is comedy heaven. It's a wonder that in the 60-minute running time of the movie, Lubitsch was able to pack in so many memorable scenes and laughs, like the woman's long-ish bath assisted by about 20 servants as the assistant dies of boredom waiting for her in the foyer; the foxtrot scene during the wedding; the map given to the assistant to find his way around the woman's house; and the oyster king's nonchalant remarks of "I'm not impressed" to everything.

Trust the Germans (!) to put up a good show. To do the live scoring for the movie, they got Noli Aurillo, probably the best "underground" guitarist in the country. I saw him perform live in mag:net Katipunan a year ago, and he was not only virtuosic, but also very hilarious, a perfect fit for the movie. (Last Saturday, he backed Olivia at the 4th Backdoor Ventures Arts & Music Festival.) Aurillo was ably accompanied by the unbelievable team-up of Louie Talan, Kakoy Legaspi, and Wendell Garcia. The score they created was amazing. It was memorable and loads of fun, incorporating a lot of elements (including the theme from Rocky at one point). If they decide to release the score on CD, I'll probably buy it. It's that good.

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