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Thread: Polanski's THE PIANIST

  1. #61
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    last word?

    I must apologize for having posted so late, but I only saw "The Pianist" a couple of weeks ago. My reaction, as I am sure was almost universal, was to the brutality of the Nazi occupation. As in "Schindler's List", watching Nazi's persecute Poles or anyone else during the war is difficult at best. How we call this entertainment, I will never understand.

    What I do understand is acting, having been an actor since I was three and a writer/director since I was in sixth grade. Brody was able to carry this film on his ability to emote so purely at times, there could be no doubt about who would win the Oscar this year. I've seen many fine cinematic performances in my life, but Adrian Brody's performance is historic. The pathos which he gave will burn in my memory for years to come.

    I am almost "full blooded" German. I am proud of many of the great German minds and accomplishments. But the holocaust wipes out just about all that the Germans ever did that was good, and replaces it with a memory of having done the worst crime against humanity in the history of the world. Add "The Pianist" to the list of films which preserve that sordid memory.

  2. #62
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    Less Is More

    tabuno wrote:
    =====================
    But as a movie, to NOT use a narrative voice over to penetrate the inner sanctum of Adrian Brody's real character is unforgiveable....There was so much left unspoken, too many questions left unanswered.
    =====================
    ...I'm one of those in the minority when it came to Bladerunner and the original voice over that Ridley Scott took out in his director's cut, which effectively killed the film noir of the movie. In The Pianst, the mental struggle, the detailed inner emotionally turmoil as in Diary of Ann Frank brings a deeper, biting, and chilling experience that was lost in this movie.
    =====================

    Well Tabuno, I'm glad you consider yourself in the minority with the above statements. I always figured that the majority of movie-goers felt this way -- considering voice-over narrative a strength in a film instead of what it really is: a storytelling crutch. Less is more, my friend.

    Voiceover works well for a rare few works -- a perfect example is Spike Jonze's Adaptation, because the bulk of the movie actually TAKES PLACE in the protagonist's mind.

    What would you think about a movie 20 years from now, which follows the events closely of a survivor of one of the World Trade Center towers? Minute by minute he races for a venue of escape, panicking, passing both dead and burning people. He manages to get out of the building -- suddenly a woman's body hits the concrete only a few feet from him, and then rebounds 15 feet back up into the air. The towers crumble and he's buried in drywall soot.

    Now imagine that the filmmakers decide to provide his voiceover narrative as the events unfold -- maybe we hear his panicked thoughts as he races for escape -- or maybe he dictates his reactions as he "looks back" on these events.

    If the filmmakers did this, what did they just do to the audience? I'll tell you what they did -- THEY ROBBED THE AUDIENCE OF THE OPPORTUNITY OF EXPERIENCING THESE EVENTS AS *FIRST HAND* AS POSSIBLE. The audience is now locked into living the events through the protagonist's PERSONAL perspective instead of being able to formulate their OWN reactions and feelings should they be in the protagonist's shoes.

    The question should NEVER be "What was going through [the protagonist's] head?" A GREAT movie should only cause one to ask "What would be going through MY head if I experienced these things?" Because the second question can be emotionally challenging to the average movie-goer, most Hollywood movies attempt to appeal to the lowest-common-denominator of movie watchers. Adding voiceover, or drenching scenes with unnecessary dramatic music, or nicely tying up everything into some forced happy ending, or (what I hate the most) using a paragraph or two to sum-it-all-up, or provide useless "future information" -- all these tactics merely DULL or falsely MANIPULATE a viewer's emotional reaction to the events of the film. They turn emotion into sentiment. They turn "faithful re-creation of events" into "dramatization". They turn movies that COULD be great, into movies that are merely "good". LESS IS MORE.

    You say: "There was so much left unspoken, too many questions left unanswered." In the Pianist, WHAT WORDS could have been used that would not have detracted from the visual and audio experience of the Adrien Brody character? By choosing NOT to use words, Roman Polanski is telling you that THERE ARE NO WORDS that can describe what he is feeling, and what he is experiencing, without cheapening these things.

    I ask you: What's wrong with leaving questions unanswered? I'm not talking about confusing the hell out of the audience by leaving out key story elements; I'm talking about focussing on the important, relevant information that is necessary to tell a compelling story, and either leave out tangent storylines, or leave them incomplete and let the audience ponder. Why is it not better to leave certain things unanswered or in the "gray"?

    A film's power to challenge the audience is far more intriguing than its ability to provide the inner details of a person's personal thoughts. The visual and audio art of cinema is the perfect medium for such a challenge -- whereas a book must spell it all out for the audience in words, and only the author's skill of language can transend the medium.
    "Nothing human is foreign to me." - TERENCE, Heauton Timoroumenos

  3. #63
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    I welcome you and your smart comment. I completely agree on The Pianist. He is a recessive character as we observe him too (I don't know what he's like in his memoir), another reason for not having a voice-over narration. Many are uncomfortable with the long silent passage in The Pianist when Spilman is hiding, alone. It's just not comfortable for people to watch. They want something to break the intensity of the unmediated experience we get watching; they want a voice to mitigate the terrible aloneness. But of course you are right about the treatment Polanski uses. It not only fits the experience, but the specific character.

    In other cases where the protagonist is a writer, a voiceover narration may be appropriate. I seem to recall several French New Wave movies with voiceovers that are great. The more literary effect of a voiceover narration can be charming and amusing, especially in adapting a novel. Doesn't Richardon's Tom Jones have constant voiceover? And that's right because in the novel the narrator--the authorial voice, not the protagonist's-- is very obtrusive. Tom Jones is one of the best screen adaptations of a great English novel. But it's about very talky people, not about a musician who can't play his instrument (another way he's silenced) hiding alone cut off from everyone.

    I don't see the point of t's comparing The Pianist to the Diary of Anne Frank or Bladerunner--not relevant. But I tend to agree with having the voiceover for Bladerunner, or liking it anyway, because of the hardboiled private eye effect it creates. One thing is sure--a voiceover is obtrusive, and acts as a mediator of the experience on screen, as your excellent Twin Towers example shows.

  4. #64
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    This Movie Isn't About Audience Guesswork

    Too many questions left unanswered. Your World Trade Center example just doesn't fit. There is no comparison. The events, as is typical of American fast and simple, are compressed into a few minutes whereas the long, drawn out days and months, and years of The Pianst just beg for explanation. World Trade Center is visceral, action-oriented, thrilling, popping action of the terror and horror of war whereas in the case of The Diary of Ann Frank as well as The Pianst we are looking at the lengthy period of the traumatic exposure to Holocaust. The audience isn't interested in knowing what they themselves think, the audience is interested in the character. How do events impact the character not us. What was the character thinking? What was happening while he was sick during the lengthy time in bed. What thoughts were going through his mind? How did he think? What were his emotions? What was his reasoning and how did they deteriorate. The surface features as just that superficial without the supremely unique feature of human thought and feelings. Each person is unique. If the picture were about animals, a voice over wouldn' t be necessary, because the dog or cat emotions and surface features are all that really exist and count. But even the focus is on a singular individual over the length of this movie oer a period of years, the inner most spirit of the human mind is what makes this movie truly special and without it, The Pianst becomes more an empty shell to be filled in with everyman's experience - not too inspiring project then.

  5. #65
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    >>THEY ROBBED THE AUDIENCE OF THE OPPORTUNITY OF EXPERIENCING THESE EVENTS AS *FIRST HAND* AS POSSIBLE. The audience is now locked into living the events through the protagonist's PERSONAL perspective instead of being able to formulate their OWN reactions and feelings should they be in the protagonist's shoes.<<

    I have to disagree with you there. It has to be done with skill and deftness. In "Bladerunner", it's debatable that the voiceover was too much exposition. I see the film noir aspect that appealed to fans but I also don't need to be told what "skin-job" means or why I can't understand Gaff's langauge.

    For a good example of skill and deftness in this regard, look no further than "Saving Private Ryan". As we see Captain Miller make his way up Omaha Beach, Spielberg let's us experience both the sound and fury of the events while taking time out to show us Tom Hank's personal perspective with the "muted" segment. He repeats this effect at the end as the P-51 Mustang destroys a tank he is firing at with his side arm. A similar technique was used to good effect in "Copland". While neither of these examples is a voice-over, both techniques allow the viewer to understand the protagonist's personal perspective.

    If the storyteller's intent is to subject the audience to the events "first-hand" that is one thing, but often a storyteller wants the audience to come along for the ride.

    Look at "Hamlet" if we, the audience, were simply to experience the events (a death, a ghost, a break-up, a murder, a trip, a duel) in the play it would be a totally different experience than seeing through the eye of the young Danish prince.

  6. #66
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    Yes, but there's a bit of a difference between Hamlet's monologues and a voiceover.

    I would concede that The Pianist could be done with voiceovers during the long period of hiding. That would satisfy those who are uncomfortable with the unstructured feeling and their sense that it goes on too long. It would change things a lot though, and I like things very much they way they are. A long lonely period of isolation and anguish is well experienced as the lack of any internal voice in a movie where there are visuals. A play works differently and a novel differently also.

  7. #67
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    Move over Voice over

    The great thing about film is it is a VISUAL medium. A voice over isn't necessary if the the visuals on the screen portray the message the filmmaker intends to send.

    All of the esoteric dialogue concerning meanings is pure semantics, gentlemen. This is the story of a survivor of not just some event we label the "holocaust", because Jewish people were not the only ones who suffered pursecution. Many many others joined the Jews in deathcamps all over the region. I would say that Jews were the main focus of the Nazi Party, but the SS and Gestapo were relentless in rounding up any opposition to the party, including dissidents, homosexuals, the Russians (who suffered five times the losses compared to the "holocaust") and ethic minorities considered inferior.

    This story of Spillman is significant because it tells us that despite the odds, some of us can survive something as horrific as Nazi pursecution. This is a tribute more to the human wit than anything else, as in guile.

    The filmmaker, Roman Polanski, is a visual artist whose stories are rather straight forward. There are no surprises here. Because of this man's incredible talent, there were those who chose to risk their own lives to save him. Like a priceless oil painting or vase, it was in everyone's interest to save his life. It was as if he was more like a commodity than a person at times. Yet his struggle was brilliantly told, without an oral voice over narrative because one wasn't necessary.

    Polanski's style, as it was in Chinatown, is to further the narrative with short vignettes rather than visuals with a voice in the background telling us what to make of the images. To further agonize over what the character is going through is told through the actor's performance. We don't need to see what "he sees". It is redundant. This isn't philosophy 101. It is the world of cinema. The best films explain nothing. They allow every member of the audience to form his or her own opinion. They leave speculation to the critics and first year filmschool students.

    The only film a voice over ever worked in was Double Indemnity, and even then, it's corny. Hearing Fred MacMurray telling us what to think and how to interpret the visuals almost seemed a copout on the part of Billy. But that's another discussion.

    As for anti-semitism... I would say that prejudice and hatred of many people, including Jews, is alive and well in our own backyard, let alone some other region of the world.

  8. #68
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    Certainly I agree with you on The Pianist and I also agree with you that a voiceover is not necessary in general and in some cases is downright redundant and irritating. However there are cases in movies when a voiceover adds to the style which I have mentioned before, particularly in an adaptation of a novel which keeps the literary style of the movie, as in Tony Richardson's classic adaptation of Fielding's Tom Jones. To say that a voiceover is not called for in The Pianist you don't have to go overboard and insist that voiceovers are junk. Sometimes they are an essential part of a certain movie's style.

  9. #69
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    Re: Move over Voice over

    Originally posted by cinemabon
    The great thing about film is it is a VISUAL medium. A voice over isn't necessary if the the visuals on the screen portray the message the filmmaker intends to send. It is the world of cinema. The best films explain nothing. They allow every member of the audience to form his or her own opinion. The only film a voice over ever worked in was Double Indemnity, and even then, it's corny.
    I find myself in the unusual position of defending an overused tool borrowed from literatute, a favorite device of filmmakers who lack imagination or condescend to the audience. As Chris pointed out, there are appropriate usages of voice-over narration, even in some visionary films. (Chris mentions the French New Wave. Indeed, I recall Godard using it to complicate, even to confound meaning).
    Consider for instance the lengthy "News of the Hour" sequence in our beloved Citizen Kane. It provides a sanctioned, documentary version of the life of the man we see die in the poetic, opening scene. It stands in contrast to the incisive attempt thereafter to penetrate Kane's psyche.
    Wong Kar-Wai uses voice-over narration in Ashes of Time, my candidate for most visually arresting film of the 1990s.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 05-29-2003 at 01:14 PM.

  10. #70
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    Citizen Kane

    Excellent point re: Citizen Kane.

  11. #71
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    Film is a multi-media experience

    Just because film originally was a singular visual event when it was first invented in with 1890s and then sound was added soon after and became common place by the 1920s, 1930s...doesn't mean that motion pictures must restrict themselves to the visual experience...as the many Disneyland rides that rely more on physical, visceral experiences that provide an emotional high and active excitement, true serious drama shouldn't necessarily ignore the opportunity of bringing the greatness of the written text, the book, the novel to the screen. The opportunity to combine both the intellectual depth of the word and sound with the eye-popping, collision of color and sight should not be overlooked.

    To simply expect the audience to become dumbed down by omitting the more important meaning and mental thoughts is to deny the quintesential element of motion picture's potential. Dr. Zhivago is probably the classic example where the omission of a voice-over was at its best. Comparisons of The Pianst again to a movie like Saving Private Ryan, again ignores the context in which the beginning action takes place in real time over the brief (long for those experiencing) with bullets whistling by, one's life on the life (there was no time for thought). Survival by instinct and just plain human emotion is just what Saving Private Ryan was about but not The Pianst. There must of have been thousands of thoughts that the audience never had an opportunity to experience to make the substantive and sophisticated connection of the Holocaust real in the context of human thought, not just emotion, not just experience, but human mental thinking.

    What was Spelmann thinking while sick. Was he a selfish egoist more concerned about himself and his art? Or was he despondent over the deaths of his family? Was he delusional? What did he think of his neighbors? Was he scared or just plain bored? Did he think about music while in bed? What kept him alive his thoughts, will-power, his dreams, or just plain luck. It seemed that he lived life passively, letting luck and other people take him along, surviving not through any real unique character but being in the right place at the right time having the right talent with the right people. It's hard to believe that this particular movie was anything really significant, meaningful...except a brief excursion into an experential horror of war and "the accidental tourist" of everyman caught up in it.

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