“The Oyster Princess”, a 1919 silent classic, has been given new life. Local Austin band Bee vs. Moth wrote an original musical score for the film and performed it for the first time at SXSW last week. The film is an over-the-top comedy about a young woman who wakes up one morning and decides she wants a husband. Her father is a very rich man and she is quite the spoiled brat so he agrees to find her a prince to marry. Little does she know, the man who comes claiming to be her prince is actually his gluttonous servant just looking for a good wedding feast. What ensues is four acts of hilarity.
Bee vs. Moth was originally approached by SXSW to write music for the film. They supply the only voice to this otherwise silent film and do a seamless job at both representing and commenting on the actions onscreen. What follows is an email Q&A with the band:
Q: How did Bee vs. Moth come up with the idea to play a soundtrack for a silent film? Was the music written for this film specifically or were the songs already in the repertoire?
A: Bands have been doing soundtrack projects for silent films for many years in Austin, and this is actually our second such project. We’re an instrumental band, and listeners had told us throughout the years that our music seemed theatrical or cinematic, so soundtrack work always seemed like a good fit. We started from scratch for “The Oyster Princess” and wrote all new music.
A: This project was actually a special request by SXSW Film Festival, so the festival staff collaborated with Kino Films to choose the movie. “The Oyster Princess” is a comic critique of the rich and the spoiled, so it’s timely with recent discussions of income inequality. It’s also a great example of the early German work of Ernst Lubitsch, who later went on to fame as a director in the US.
A: Several festival-goers we’ve talked to have mentioned “The Artist”; since these silent film projects have their own history in Austin, I honestly hadn’t made the connection. It does seem that “The Artist” and “Hugo” have brought silent film back into public consciousness, at least for the short term. Silent film is a wonderful art form that challenges directors’ and actors’ creativity by limiting their palette. Since film and audio have historically been so starstruck by new technology, I’d be surprised to see a step backward in the mainstream. But there might be more room for silents in arthouse films.
A: Austin is a very competitive musical environment. It takes a lot of hard work and innovative thinking for a band to stand out from the crowd. I think for the handful of local instrumental bands that may have a compositional streak, silent film projects are interesting creative challenges that also offer a great opportunity to gain exposure with audiences who might not otherwise wish to come out to a rock club at midnight.
A: Upcoming screenings [will be] at the Texas Theater in Dallas April 7; Discovery Green in Houston May 4, and likely a future non-festival show in Austin.
I sincerely hope that Bee vs. Moth is able to perform this in Austin again as it was a great experience. For information on their other upcoming performances, check out their website.