Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Grand Piano: Don’t Shoot the Piano Player
Thomas Selznick has done the nearly impossible, creating buzz for contemporary
classical music. Much to his embarrassment, he did so by crashing and burning
during an attempt to perform his late mentor’s “impossible to play”
composition. After years of nursing his wounds, his celebrity wife has coaxed
him into making his concert hall return, playing the very piano once owned by
his famous teacher. However, a criminal mastermind will hijack the program in
Eugenio Mira’s Grand Piano (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
the show begins, Selznick’s friend and conductor William Reisinger counsels him
not to sweat a flubbed note. Considering the density of the music they are
about to perform, nobody in the audience will possibly notice. It is good
advice musicians of all styles should take to heart. Unfortunately, Selznick
will not have that option. Instead, the shadowy “Clem” demands, through an
earpiece secretly slipped to Selznick, that he must play each selection
perfectly. One missed note and it is curtains for him and his wife, Emma.
course, it gets even more complicated. Clem also has a last minute set change.
For his solo closer, Selznick is to substitute “La Cinquette,” the very piece
that gave him so much trouble before. Naturally, his mentor owned a Bösendorfer,
because his unplayable piece requires those extra keys. As the concert
progresses towards it climax, Selznick engages in a cat-and-mouse game with the
gunman, while remaining rooted at the keyboard, in plain view to all.
by Damien Chazelle, this year’s Sundance sensation for Whiplash, Grand Piano has
a nice ear for how musician’s talk and think. Shrewdly, his script takes its
time establishing the Selznicks and Reisinger, as well as the elite classical
world they inhabit. Mira also sets the scene quite effectively, making the
mostly digital concert hall feel like a very real and ominous place.
Elijah Wood’s youthful piano lessons paid off, because he looks credible enough
at the keys. More importantly, he conveys the perfect level of nervous, ticky
stress for a socially awkward artist like Selznick. Don McManus also adds a
nice touch of flamboyance as Reisinger. Frankly, the revelation of the actor
playing Clem feels like it is intended to be a surprise, even though his name
is above the title on the one-sheet. In any event, he is more or less adequate
as the mystery villain, even though Grand
Piano is by far his best film since at least 2003. In contrast, it is safe
to say Bill & Ted’s Alex Winter largely
upstages the mostly unseen Clem as his henchman with an attitude.
Piano is a nifty thriller
that archly capitalizes on the claustrophobic setting and the neurotic nature
expected from musicians of Selznick’s rarified caliber. Cinematographer Unax
Mendia gives it a wonderfully dark, stylish look, suggesting a cross between
giallos and Hitchcock (whose Royal Albert Hall sequence in The Man Who Knew Too Much stands as an obvious inspiration for the
film). Well played and tightly constructed, Grand
Piano is enthusiastically recommended when it opens this Friday (3/7) in
New York at the Cinema Village.
Labels: Damien Chazelle, Elijah Wood