Precious Bodily Fluids

Shoot the Piano Player

PianoPlayer7Shoot the Piano Player should not be so playful for being made by a man who had been a critic before he made it. The attitude of critics nowadays is anything but playful, but rather serious and pretentious, intellectually insecure and arrogantly taking it out on people clearly more creative than they. Which critic can honestly say s/he would rather write about art, music, literature, than create it? Francois Truffaut and all his cronies didn’t take any of their endeavors, critical or artistic, with too much seriousness, and so everything they did was all the better for it.

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Guts

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A banal sashay

The Pee-Wee/Pepe-le-Pew main character of this film pulls off that kind of complacent zest for life that French New Wave characters embodied so well, perhaps especially Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Pierre Léaud. This guy, apparently really a musician and not an actor, must have been the inspiration for the health inspector (of course also French) in Ratatouille, with those apathetic eyebrows and protruding lower lip, with a stature that immediately makes you both feel sorry for him and kind of despise him. This film’s willingness to take periodic breaks from its narrative is, of course, directly related to the film noir genre of cinema that it loves so well. It isn’t that these breaks never took place in the Bogart films, but that they were significantly shorter, usually no more than a comment or gesture on the part of a character. But here, when a chase scene is interrupted with a brief discussion about the banalities and profundities of life, it’s refreshing, isn’t it?

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Narrative/character shift

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Metronome: keeping time

Still, as with so many of these nouvelle vague films, there is a cruel insistence on the darker side of things. Death always coexists with the playfulness, not so much interrupting the party as joining it. It only ever feels out of place, like in Shoot the Piano Player or Pierrot Le Fou, when you stop and think about it. From the film’s perspective, it’s quite natural, almost a given that things would end this way. Perhaps in this way death isn’t so much treated as a “real” thing but as the cinematic convention it has become. All the conventions from film history are in these French films; they’re just tweaked and warped, rearranged to rip them out of conventional status and into a new one. If, as Tom Petty has insisted, Chuck Berry wrote the only three rock and roll songs there ever were and the others have all ripped off those, perhaps the only three films were made long before the French New Wave, and this movement was the Tom Petty of film movements, admitting finally that they weren’t original, so why not just have fun with it?

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Like in the movies

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Not like in the movies

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Headlining the classics

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Ready aim fire

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Unfriendly squeeze

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A New Wave ending

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This entry was published on September 26, 2009 at 10:23 am. It’s filed under 1960s Cinema, Francois Truffaut, French Film and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Shoot the Piano Player

  1. This is one of my favourites. Tarantino is famous for the off-handed references and pastiches in his movies, but I’m sure he too might have bowed his head in acknowledgement at the wonderful homage paid to American genre-cinema by Truffaut here in one of Nouvelle Vagues’ most definitive masterpieces. Playful, irreverent, whimsical, humanistic, soulful – the movie was everything rolled into one. And most interestingly, even in its apparent self-parody and freewheeling sense of fun and humour, Truffaut must surely have been more deadly serious than any artiste could possibly have been. I loved 400 Blows, but for me this was the clincher.

  2. The name of Tarantino’s production company – A Band Apart – (to say nothing of every detail of his films) definitely pay(s) homage to the French New Wave’s homage-paying to American genre-cinema. Shoot the Piano Player is so different from 400 Blows, it’s fascinating that the two were consecutive efforts from the same director – apparently he had an eclectic style from the get-go. I’m not sure about Truffaut’s seriousness…I suppose it depends on how you look at his films. Perhaps “good-serious” means counterpointing your seriousness with goofiness and “bad-serious” is just Steven Seagal. Or CSI: Miami. Neither of which has any place in anything remotely related to Truffaut.

  3. Yeah, I know. The fact that Tarantino loves movies shows even in his production company (and a good play of words at that!). Yeah, the fact that Truffaut directed a movie like Shoot the Piano Player right after 400 Blows, and followed that up with Jules & Jim, are proof enough of his genius – though I’m sure no one’s doubting that. By the way, by seriousness I didn’t mean serious as in serious & goofy. What I meant was an artiste’s willingness to create good art, something that would do justice to both his talent and his love for the medium – pursuit of excellence, if you will.

  4. Of course you’re right. The truly serious and truly gifted critic is the one who drops his/her pen and enters into the creative process. Looking forward to experiencing more Truffaut…

  5. Pingback: Quickies, Vol. XV « Precious Bodily Fluids

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