September is National Piano Month. Trying to come up with movies to watch in celebration of the piano is about as difficult a task as trying to find an overweight white guy at the GOP National Convention. On the other hand, shouldn’t National Piano Month be a time to celebrate those movies that would be far less than they are today without the introduction in some manner of a piano. Taking that perspective is more akin to fining a skinny bisexual woman of mixed race at the Democratic National Convention. It can be done, but hardly as easily as locating that fat dude among the Republicans.
I contend that “Rocky” is the only movie to win Best Picture solely on account of its musical score. Let’s face it: “Rocky” has nothing else going for it in its claim to be the best movie of any year. “The Sting” won Best Picture, too, and while the value of the piano playing cannot be underestimated, at least “The Sting” had a solid screenplay, good acting and directing that you wouldn’t be ashamed to admit to. Still, trying to imagine watching “The Sting” without the constant presence of arguably America’s most important native musician, Scott Joplin. “The Sting” without ragtime accompaniment would still be worth watching, but it would not be nearly as worthwhile viewing during National Piano Month as it is in its present condition.
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Dr. Seuss and the movies have not fared especially well. The result of arguably America’s most important writer combining with the visual appeal of the movies is best described as uneven. But for every really horrible Ron Howard live action bastardization of a beloved animated Christmas classic there is something along the lines of “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” The great character actor Hans Conried got one of his few chances at being the star in this movie that has all the appearance of being a kids’ movie, but instead, as these things often turn out, becomes a very dark and sinister glimpse into the subconscious fears of childhood. The piano at the center of this surreal masterpiece is a mammoth creation that unfurls on and on so that it becomes long enough to be played by all 5000 fingers of the unfortunately abducted children Dr. T needs to make his lunatic dream a reality. Keep an eye out for the character my family and I refer to as Buckethead. He’s a keeper. I also think that the one-armed dress worn by the main kid’s mother immediately puts to shame anything ever made by those wannabe designers on Realty TV shows.
I suppose it would be possible to tell the story of Mozart and his apparently fictional feud with Salieri without a piano, but it would not be nearly as entertaining. Every time Tom Hulce’s “Amadeus” sits down to show off his amazing talent capable of stimulating coincident feelings of hatred and envy in the soul of Salieri, the movie pops into another level of entertainment. Hulce seemed one of the unlikeliest actors of the time to play genius in the form of Mozart and, of course, that’s the point. Recognizing this necessity for meeting the film’s theme head-on, Hulce at the piano or harpsichord or any other instrument becomes an eye-opening experience. It’s like watching that kid who not only is going to have to repeat the sixth grade stun you with his guitar virtuosity, but with the additional component of realizing that playing the piano to such brilliance is about a thousand times more difficult than the guitar.
For more from Timothy Sexton, Yahoo!’s first Writer of the Year, check out:
Highs and Lows on Dr. Seuss on the Silver Screen