Monday, July 22, 2013

The Oyster Princess (1919)

WHO: Ernst Lubitsch directed and co-wrote this.

WHAT: I haven't seen The Oyster Princess except in brief clips (such as those in Mark Cousins's The Story of Film) so I'll excerpt from Ian Johnston's fine review:
In Hollywood the director was famed for the so-called Lubitsch Touch, an amalgam of grace, wit, and sexual innuendo. The Oyster Princess doesn’t share the gracefulness, subtlety, and lightness of touch of Lubitsch’s best Hollywood work (is there a more perfect romantic comedy than Trouble In Paradise?), but then it’s a different kind of comedy – it explicitly characterises itself as “grotesque” – yet one that works superbly well in its own right. The setting is a strange never-never-land where some kind of German stereotypical fantasy of rich Americans is plonked down into a recognisable German world. The “oyster princess” of the title is Ossi, the daughter of the fantastically wealthy oyster magnate (whatever that may be) Mister Quaker.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Rafael Film Center at 7:15.

WHY: The 18th San Francisco Silent Film Festival ended yesterday. I saw a total of ten film programs plus the archival presentation, which means I missed six shows- a record high for me since 2005 when an unexpected disruption of my weekend made me miss most of the festival, including never-repeated opportunities to see Sangue Mineiro, Stage Struck, The Big Parade, The SideshowPrem Sanyas and It in 35mm prints (I have managed to see the last of these in 16mm at Niles in the meantime, but the others remain elusive- which is why I won't hold my breath for another shot at seeing The Joyless Street in a local cinema. At least I had a good reason for missing it). In the intervening years the festival has grown so much; it's almost doubled the number of festival programs (itself a more-than-doubling of the festival's four-program size the first year I attended) and added an annual Winter satellite program as well as special events like Napoléon and the Hitchcock 9. All this is in no small part due to the relationships the festival has built with the major European film archives, which provide them with the best possible prints of the newest restorations and raise international awareness of their work. And though it creates a gaping mid-July hole in the Frisco Bay festival calendar, it's nice we won't have to wait a whole year for the 19th edition of the festival, as a save-the-date slide advertised that next year's festival will run earlier: May 29-June 1st, 2014.

But the past weekend's bounty of silent film screenings has not quite ended. Though it's been a dormant one for a couple of years, the Rafael in Marin has had a tradition of inviting some of the musicians who fly in from out of state to perform at the Castro event to perform within a day or two of the SFSFF end. In 2010 it was Alloy Orchestra performing with Hitchcock's Blackmail and in 2009 it was the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra with Harold Lloyd's The Kid Brother, for instance. Previously these events have featured films (relatively) recently brought in by the SFSFF or another local festival (Alloy had played for Blackmail at the 2004 San Francisco International Film Festival), but The Oyster Princess hasn't been shown by the SFSFF, and has only played once, at the Pacific Film Archive, in the many years I've kept tabs on the local screening scene. Two of the musicians from the Mont Alto Orchestra will accompany it tonight at the venue.

The Rafael's new calendar also includes digital 3D screenings of Alfred Hitchcock's (decidedly non-silent) Dial 'M' For Murder this Thursday and Sunday.

HOW: The Oyster Princess screens on a bill with Buster Keaton's Cops, with live music by Rodney Sauer & Britt Swenson. These will be screened via DCP as the Rafael is unable to run 35mm prints at frame rates other than 24fps, which is really too slow for many silents.


  1. Brian: Speaking of frame rates, veteran PFA projectionist Craig Valenza told me when they recently showed Walsh's "Regeneration" at 16 fps it
    couldn't have moved any more briskly if they'd
    decided to speed it up.

  2. I'm a little unclear whether you mean that the pace of the action, editing, etc. was remarkably zippy, or saying something technical I'm not quite getting. But I enjoyed it a lot. Compared quite favorably against most of what I saw at the Castro this weekend, and I'm hoping I can make it to What Price Glory? on Saturday.