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SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER

François Truffaut 1960

Again, trying to talk about these gorgeous films is a bit daunting, but then not trying seems a bit chicken. I was late to discover this film, and ended up watching it many times while writing and trying to get BEGINNERS made. It’s hard to say why it became a sweet little medicine for me during hard times, but good things always feel more possible after watching it. I think it’s because the film is so wonderfully misshapen, the story does not progress in anything like a straight line (but it works so well). Most dramatically, there is filmically delicious whole-life-in-20ish-uninterputed-minutes-flashback that occurs halfway through the film. The film does follow a typical gangster story and is based on a David Goodis novel, but it’s like a conversation that can’t stay on course. Even the plot-driven scenes, maybe especially the plot-driven scenes, find a way to meander inside their dramaturgical duties: gangsters talk about wearing women’s underwear while kidnapping our heroes, lovers talk about getting good deals on underwear while undressing, a stranger talks intimately about his marriage after helping a thug come back to consciousness. And then, every once and a while out of nowhere comes an over-the-top narrator that speaks to Charles Aznavour’s character Charlie, telling him to not be shy, not look at her legs, to list athletes’ names as a way to stay calm. It’s as if all the characters are grabbing at what amuses them as they unwillingly perform the requirements of this faux-gangster plot. And maybe that’s what I love the most, and relates to my experiences with my dad’s illness, the sadness and pain that came with it, the hospitals and the whole complicated web of health care you enter. You’re on a ride you can’t control, a ride you all know is going to get nothing but worse, and all you have are the little jokes, little moments of grace where you remember yourself, some absurdist digressions that break everything open, a few glimpses of your old free life along the way. And these little grabs at what makes you happy while the prison guards aren’t looking are your only way of re-claiming yourself in a world (or hospital, or plot) that is the last plot you want to be in. Both my parents were actually very good at this, and Christopher Plummer for reasons I don’t know has deep, deep access to this comic subversiveness. Maybe it comes from growing up and finding yourself during the Depression and World War II and the emotionally repressive post-war America? Maybe it’s just that they’re deeply funny people.

And of course Shoot The Piano Player has the most romantic score created by Georges Delerue. As Henry Rollins would say “If you haven’t heard it, you’re gonna dig it, you’re gonna dig it with a big shovel”. (Did anyone hear his amazing show on February 12 celebrating Abe Lincoln’s birthday?) The “honky-tonk” piano piece that Charlie plays through the movie is one of my favorite pieces of music ever (yes I have lots of favorite things), the happy-sad tone of the lone piano, like the characters in the film, sort of cheerily trots along in the midst of a storm. That tone did really influence our score, and me in general.  You can hear a sample in the clip above, immediately after the studio credits.

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