mac, Birmingham UK
The Belgian big band, Flat Earth Society, were playing a live soundtrack, written and arranged by their leader Peter Vermeersch, to Die Austernprinzessin (The Oyster Princess), an Ernst Lubitsch silent film from 1919.
It’s a surreal and extremely funny film, grotesque and slapstick by turns, and from this distance in time, and Lubitsch being less familiar than Chaplin or Keaton, would probably have provided a satisfyingly entertaining hour on its own.
The music transformed it into something much more enjoyable still.
The nature of the film, the opulence of the millionaire’s and his daughter’s lifestyle (his afternoon nap and her bath routine both highlights), the poverty of the Prince’s contrasting circumstances, the emphasis on drunkeness and its after-effects, all these give Vermeersch full licence to explore the comic brass band and circus band elements of the Flat Earth Society’s make-up, and his 13 players were managing a few laughs and smiles even as they were tied in to the demanding work of following conductor and film transmitted on supplementary screens.
And who could resist the screen board stating simply: “A foxtrot epidemic breaks out”?
Although it is mostly ensemble playing, there are occasional improvisational and solo sections built in. I also liked the fact that Vermeersch wasn’t hidebound to providing a continuous soundtrack, sometimes leaving silences, and and not always at the obvious moments. His choice of other sounds was brilliant, too. Bird calls are used at one point, mock operatic singing too, and incomprehensible mumbling… the wit and humour of the music adding extra layers of humour and insight into the broad comedy of the film.
Perfectly balanced as the film/music experience was, I couldn’t help thinking I’d also like the opportunity to give the Flat Earth Society my undivided attention sometime. Maybe Birmingham Jazz (this was a co-promotion with mac) can bring this superb group of musicians back.
Categories: Live review