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Maybe one shouldn't compare the movie and book versions of a story. But sometimes that's inevetibable. And sometimes the movie actually improves on the book, ie. "In a Lonely Place." However, in the case of "Shoot the Piano Player," based on the book "Down There," by David Goodis, I can't say this is so. The look of the movie has that gritty noir feel, but all the time one feels as if they're watching the characters in a goldfish bowl ? from a great remove. You don't really get to know the characters or their motivations. In the book, this is much more clear and makes for a much more involving experience. Also, the addition of the character Fido (the piano player's younger brother) adds little to the story. In novel and movie we don't really get a great feel for why the waitress does what she does, but in the novel we get more of a feel for it and that does make a difference. It also makes a difference that we know more of the piano player's background, that he served with Merrill's Marauders in World War II, that, after losing his first wife, he went on a binge of anger and hate and fighting that finally led him to be the "docile" person he is when we meet him. This is little explained in the movie. Some of it's there, but much of it isn't and without it the character just seems a cypher. Read the book, watch the movie and decide for yourself.
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What a wonderful film it is. Nouvelle vague mogul Francois Truffaut and milestone french singer Charles Aznavour team up to light up the screen in one of the most memorable movies in french cinema history.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
I use the word 'emotional' a lot. It means everything to meJuly 5 2001
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Truffaut said he realised, when filming 'Shoot the Pianist', a gangster film, that he hated gangster films. He shows his contempt most by consistently emphasising human truth over generic convention, but finally allowing generic convention to win brutally through. For Truffaut, genre is incompatible with humanity and its messiness. Like many of my favourite films (and it is my favourite), 'Shoot' is a reworking of 'Vertigo', the story of a man who lets two women die because of his own emotional cowardice, leaving him in emotional shellshock. Aznavour's performance - and this isn't sufficiently realised - is one of the towering achievements of cinema, a complete, physical embodiment of diffidence, guilt, solitude and emotional paralysis, a man more lethal in his dithering passivity than murderous gangsters are in their violence. Like all the best art, 'Shoot' is a tragicomedy, moving bewilderingly between the two moods, creating a devastating emotional texture - the hilarious scene where Charlie debates the best way to hold Lena only to tragically realise she's gone, or the frightening abduction scene that sees captor and juvenile captive argue comically over scarves. As the title suggests, music is this film's soul, the only thing that can transcend genre for Charlie, the only way an emotionally dead man can feel. Truffaut's restlessly inventive mise-en-scene, switching between studied artifice and breathless open air filming, is full of Hitchcock, Godard, Ophuls, Ray, Renoir - all the best of cinema; but in truth, there is no other film like it.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A Funny and Emotional RideMay 8 2003
R. W. Rasband
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Format: VHS Tape
Truffaut's "Shoot The Piano Player" is a remarkable thing: a funny and light-on-its-feet movie about despair. The director combines the grittiness of David Goodis' noir novel "Down There" with his own more optimistic humanism and the full stylistic arsenal of the French "New Wave" to create a film that manages to say as much about Art and Life as any really good, satisfying book. Charles Aznavour plays the timid Edouard, aka Charlie, a piano player in a cheap bar who is really a classical concert pianist hiding from a catastrophic, tragic history. A pretty new waitress knows who he is and encourages him to live again. But as in most American gangster movies, you can't run away from your past. Truffaut includes an amazing amount of philosophy about women, Fate, success, failure, marriage; all couched in a runaway style that is familiar to us today, but must have been shocking and exhilirating back in 1960. (The famous cut to the "old woman dropping dead" could have come directly from MAD magazine.) And who hasn't sometimes felt bedeviled by fortune and shyness: we greatly identify with Charlie. The comically incompetent yet sinister villains are also a great touch. This movie feels as fresh as it must have 40 years ago.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A classic movie filled with many wonderful momentsJan. 10 2006
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Truffaut's second film after THE 400 BLOWS, and it finds him experimenting all over the place. Charles Aznavour plays Charlie Kohler, once a very prominent concert pianist, but now playing honky-tonk in a back alley joint. Once he thought only of his great career, but in the process lost his wife to suicide (she slept with his promoter to help advance his career and he could never forgive her); now he wants only obscurity. But he inadvertently gets mixed up with a couple of thugs who are after his two brothers, and he falls in love with another woman (Marie Dubois). The thugs end up kidnapping Aznavour and Dubois, and although the two lovers had made plans that Aznavour would pursue his "career" again, fate seems to be against them: she is killed in a shoot-out at the end.
Truffaut said this movie was "a grab bag." And it does seem to have everything in it but the kitchen sink: it's rooted in "B" Hollywood gangster movies, is a wonderful mixture of comedy and tragedy, and has almost no storyline. In fact, Truffaut throws the storyline to the wind: it's a picture of touches, of quick, fleeting moments, rather than narrative continuity. Its juxtapositions are wonderful: fame and obsurity, love and hate, gangsters with a sense of humor, lots of action and the desire to go and do nothing. It's a great movie - funny and sad - and one filled with many memorable moments. Definitely worth a watch.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Brilliantly Bewildering and Innovative Cinema by Truffaut...Jan. 19 2006
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Diverging is the first word that comes into mind after having seen François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player. The word in itself often brings to mind confusion and bewilderment, but this is not the case with Truffaut's film even though it is refreshingly surprising and innovative. The story presents one idea that delivers a new concept that becomes the parent of another fresh notion. A continual flow of new impressions allows the viewer to reflect for a brief second on the current state while awaiting the next sensation. Nothing is constant, as the story continuously provides new information, which after awhile begins to support itself in order to help generate different a thought altogether, as two different ideas converge where a third and unlikely concept emerges. Eventually the massive amount of thoughts delivers a complete and exhaustive idea - the show must go on.
Truffaut opens with the inside of a piano clinking away on a joyful tune. The massive number of keystrokes on the piano ultimately delivers the upbeat melody from the inside, which serves like a reminder to the audience about the complexity of a melody that rests in a large number of basic sounds. It could also analogously direct the viewer in to the concept of how basic elements in a series could present a rather complex idea, which the film also does in multiple levels. The inside of the piano could also symbolize the inside of a person, as people can talk about how they feel inside, and on occasion, the feelings emerge through actions. In either case, the complete truth might never appear, as a person has the power to decide what they say, or show through their actions. There are also moments when the spoken words conflict with the actions, yet life continues to run its course towards its unavoidable doom.
A jump cut, much used by Godard in his brilliant Breathless (1960) to save money, moves the audience from the piano to a man escaping something in the middle of the Parisian night. The scene provides a sense of urgency together through a number of intriguing camera angles that accentuate the stress until the man slams into a streetlight. The sudden stop provides an inspirational flash, as it surprises the audience while the question lingers in the air - from what is the man running. Consequently, a stranger appears and helps him up. Again, Truffaut astonishes the audience, as the stranger and the man begin an amusingly interesting conversation about relationships with women. However, the chase is not over, as the man continues his running escape until he arrives to a local bar where his brother Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour) works as a piano player.
Besides the scurrying getaway, the audience quickly learns that there is something mischievous in the works, as the man addresses his brother Edouard. However, for the viewer to guess will only get the audience in the wrong direction, as Truffaut intentionally uses visual syntax and signs in a deceptive manner. Everything that Truffaut does in the film breaks against the traditional visual narrative, which helps bring out the original experience that rests within the story. For example, Charlie, or should we call him Edouard, refuses to help his brother who is in deep trouble with a couple of pipe smoking gangsters. It also should be noted that the pipe is often one of the tools to symbolize the law enforcement such as Sherlock Holmes. Nonetheless, Charlie aids his brother in his escape, as his words also conflict with his actions.
In the process of helping his brother, Charlie ends up in trouble himself and he brings his neighbor Clarisse (Michèle Mercier) into the mess, as he sleeps with Clarisse almost every night. During the days, she takes care of his much younger brother Fido while she finds time in-between to make a living as a prostitute. Truffaut also provides a positive view of the oldest profession in the world, which also conflicts the cinematic norm of the time. At the same time, Charlie desires to approach Lena (Marie Dubois) who works as a barmaid at the same bar he plays the piano. While courting Lena more of Charlie's past surfaces, especially information in regards to his ex-wife Therese (Nicole Berger) comes forward in an extended flashback. After countless unexpected turns the film eventually will draw towards its end, as the story has many times circled the important aspects of life while never truly stated what is significant in life.
It is evident that Truffaut had a soft spot for film noir and gangster films, as he was also an expert on Hitchcock. He even published a book on Hitchcock. The gangster element is prevalent in Shoot the Piano Player, but it is far from the only important aspect in the film. Truffaut also touches on several issues that were important to him such as relationships and freedom. However, he does not continue in the same light, as filmmakers before him, as he bends and purposely breaks the many indoctrinated rules of cinema from before the 1950s. It is within the cinematic rebelliousness much of the diverging characteristics emerge, as Truffaut prompts a large number of ideas that at times seem to go wandering aimlessly. This directionless impression converges into new ideas that help strengthen the artistic perspective of the film. Ultimately, it allows the viewer to enter an utterly unique visual experience that will play with the audience's preconceived notions and assumptions, which will both intrigue and entertain those who desire something beyond the ordinary even though the film is over 50-years old.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A masterpieceJan. 29 2007
Peter G. Keen
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How on earth can I be the first reviewer of this movie -- one of the greatest "film noir" of all time -- in the same overall style as Grifters. It stars the enigmatic Charles Aznavour, one of France's legendary Tony Bennett singers and the lover of Edith Piaf in the late years of her melodramatic and tragic life.
Its story is sad and elegiac; the withdrawal from human interaction by Aznavour after the tragedy of -- well, watch the movie -- and his gradual reconnection, not of his choice, with the world of feelins. It is partly a thriller, sort of. It is funny. It is filmed in black and white and stylistically one of the finest films of all time. It has Truffaut's extraordinary gentleness and laconic casual style that can rise to an intensity of emotion that is devastating. There is a death scene that captures all his strengths in his handling of actors/actresses and mis-en-scene.
Truffaut seems somewhat out of fashion today. He is in the great tradition of the French humanists, most obviously Jean Renoir.
I hope a few film lovers come across my review. If you like Seventh Seal (Bergman), Les Enfants du Paradis (Carne), Jules et Jim (Truffaut) or Regle du Jeu (RenoirO then this is for you.