Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
It comes as no surprise to learn that "Shoot the Piano Player" aka "Shoot the Pianist" or "Tirez sur le pianiste" was released the same year that Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" was. The two have a lot in common, they are both viewed as proof for when France (and cinema in general) entered the 'modern era'. This means that we have darker themes that are played out carelessly, and then there's the editing. I don't have an area of expertise on film editing, but the jump cuts, voice overs, and transitional edits are something that modern cinema has adopted (now we have a more dubstep style of editing, best seen in TV commercials and movies like "Trance").
Anyways, François Truffaut's film "Shoot the Piano Player" is about family, love, and crime. So nonchalant is its stance on all three that the film can come across a little distant; but I'm pretty sure that was the intention.
Charlie Kohler (Charles Aznavour) is a piano player at a tiny diner and bar. His brother is running from two men at the movie's opening. The brother ducks and weaves between streets before plowing headfirst into a streetlamp, giving himself a black eye. A friendly passerby helps him to his feet and the two have a long conversation about marriage and family before they part. They it's back to running and ducking through alleys.
The brother shows up at the bar where Charlie works. He asks him for help and Charlie strongly rejects him.
But the two thugs out to get his brother think that Charlie can help them so they track him down.
Much of "Shoot the Piano Player" feels like a satire of itself. Take a scene for instance: Charlie and the waitress at the bar (who Charlie is pining for) are kidnapped by the thugs. They are riding in the car while one of the kidnappers launches into a long tangent about the difference between men and women...or more importantly, how women want to cuddle after sex and men don't. The kidnappers get so distracted with their conversation that Charlie and his friend are able to escape.
Charlie has a little bit of respect for women which makes him attractive to a few girls in the movie. For the majority of the picture, each character is an individual.
The story is so slight and the movie is quite short. It would be too easy to say that Truffaut didn't know exactly what he was doing before he got into the meat of the film.
Indeed this would make sense because Godard supposedly wrote each the shooting script for "Breathless" on the days they shot those scene in particular. But his movie came across as an unadulterated success, the meaningless conversations that he writes so well (and so unconventionally) really do add up to something near the end.
With Truffaut's piece, it's almost like an inverse. The actions of the characters are what is important, not what they say.
The movie looks great and somehow reminded me of "La Dolce Vita"...in appearance only.
The music is a permanent fixture of the movie. It's a morose but has a lively Scott Joplin-esque piano score, reminding us always of Charlie.
Secret lives, secret loves, and secrets themselves—"Shoot the Piano Player" proves that even though its performers don't have great emotional meltdowns, their sorrow, happiness, love, and hatred is still present and quite tangible.
Posted by Micah Jones