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SXSW 2012: Gimme the Loot and The Oyster Princess

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SXSW 2012: <em>Gimme the Loot</em> and <em>The Oyster Princess</em>

Loose, shaggy, and more than a little rough, Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot hearkens back to NYC indies like Kids, invoking a feeling of summer without making a big deal of season or setting. While a little slight-seeming for the jury prize it earned here, the film is still a pleasing effort, a comedy of errors about two aspiring artists set in the world of street graffiti.

Malcolm (Tysheeb Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana R. Washington) have a dream that’s both impossibly big and weirdly specific at the same time: to tag Shea Stadium (which they refuse to call Citi Field), specifically the Home Run Apple, a NYC relic that no one has successfully hit, despite many attempts. There’s an added element here because the two are Yankees fans, a quality that has less to do with baseball than the fact that they’re from the Bronx. This all starts when they get into a turf war with a crew from Woodside, Queens, which makes the Mets scheme a battle over both personal and borough-related pride.

To get access to the apple, they need to collect $500 dollars, to pay off a shifty guard that Malcolm claims to be friends with. The majority of the movie follows their attempts to get their hands on the money, developing constantly frustrated schemes which move them one step forward, two steps back. Each progressive set piece is grounded in humor, even when the two are verging into felony territory. The jokey dialogue sometimes goes a little too far, stretching into Kevin Smith-style rant territory, but this is another element that contributes to the warmly messy feel of the film

Most importantly, Gimme the Loot knows when to end. Not everything is resolved, and a few questions are left resolutely hanging, but these omissions shift the focus from caper to slice of life. By setting its sights on the sounds and rhythms of the New York City streets, depicting a world that’s usually left out of movies set in the city, the film manages to eventually exceed the sum of its parts.

Ernst Lubitsch’s 1919 film The Oyster Princess establishes its interest in portraiture straight off, with the grinning visage of Lubitsch himself, who leads an opening-credits roll of short introductory clips of the cast. From then on, every shot seems as ordered and detailed as a painting, employing fantastic mise-en- scène that makes for a decorous plunge into the film’s affluent world.

It’s a style that Lubitsch uses both for comedy and social commentary. Most of the laughs here come from depictions of excess, and the film exploits the lush studio atmosphere of Weimar Germany to a dazzling degree. We’re introduced to the wealthy Quaker family through an image of its patriarch, at his desk accompanied by four elaborately attired black man servants: one holds his cigar, another his tea, one wipes his mouth, and the other brushes his hair. Such excess is echoed later in a wedding banquet scene, where each attendee has his or her own personal champagne pourer.

Beneath its constant comic tangents, The Oyster Princess is also a movie about transition. Its approach to this topic is especially elegant, encapsulated in the confrontation between broken-down old-world aristocracy and an emerging American corporate elite. One side wants money, the other prestige; together they unite to form a new upper class, a process the film depicts with a great deal of insight.

Such questions of wealth and power seem to have a lot of modern relevance, and the film is granted even more immediacy by the live score from Bee vs. Moth, who added a jazzy, witty element to the proceedings. Their backing was a reminder of how much silent movies stand to gain from this kind of live-show presentation, a format which further accentuates just how pertinent even the oldest of movies can still be.

SXSW runs from March 9—18.