Short Note on Screen Composition in Shoot The Pianist


Shoot The Pianist (1960)

In the early scenes of Shoot The Pianist we see Charlie in his dressing room getting ready before his performance. The mise-en-scene or screen composition reflects his character. The barriers of the wall and the window represent Charlies actions that ensure barriers to communication and emotional connection are blocked. His timid actions in the film indicates this point. The broken glass however is an interesting addition as typically a broken glass indicates a rupture or forced entry into personal space. We can infer that the broken glass is used because his ‘brother’ enters his life and the two men that followed him are soon to follow Charlie. The disturbed and disarrayed furniture also link to the sense of rupture as if Charlie is caught unawares at being seen without the barrier of the glass. The screen is composed so as to foreground the character of Charlie instantly and Francois Truffaut brilliantly uses compartmentalised setting and a disarray of objects to communicate this in Shoot The Pianist.

Future Worlds: The Familiar as Future in Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Modernist architecture is noted for its elimination of ornament and simplification of form. An outcome of Modernist architecture is that it produced large estates with many buildings built externally and internally uniform. The central vision of many Modernist estates, like the Park-Hill estate in Sheffield, were to produce easily reproducible identical living units which would satisfy and reproduce communities ravaged and displaced from their terraced estates by the second world war. Large sprawling streets were replaced with tall expansive high-rise apartment buildings. This style of architecture failed in many estates and rather than being a shining beacon of good planning the estates, like the Park-Hill estate in Sheffield, have become run down poverty stricken and crime infested. The lack of ornament and the Modernist belief in aesthetic uniformity is used in Fahrenheit 451 to symbolise the fictional societies philosophy. Uniformity is cited as the reason why books must be burnt – without uniformity society is violent, passionate and uncontrollable. The contemporary modernist setting of Fahrenheit 451 is used as a site in which the fictional societies philosophy is foregrounded.

Another reason why Modernist architecture is used is to produce a sense of familiar. Fahrenheit 451is set amongst the Modernist architecture of the 1960’s – the Alton housing estate in Roehampton, South London. Fahrenheit 451 uses the Modernist estate to to produce a future world built from the contemporary fashion and architecture of the 1960’s. This ensures that the future is not really “when” but rather an extension or an extreme version of “now”. Science fiction has always used the future as a safe space in which to deal with the threats and concerns of contemporary society. However Fahrenheit 451 does not allow this act of distancing – normally provided by the setting of a different and unrecognisable future – because the vision of the “future” in Fahrenheit 451 is evidently still the contemporary world. What this does is produce a critique of contemporary society and life that is unavoidable and unmistakable.

Fahrenheit 451 creates a “future” where uniformity has become so important that is has removed all elements of humanity, however; as science fiction critiques the contemporary we can also infer that Fahrenheit 451 is arguing against the very same architecture it is using in the film. It could be said that Fahrenheit 451 is arguing that “ornament”, what Modernist architecture and uniformity removes, is that which makes humanity so interesting and inspirational. Fahrenheit 451 communicates that ornament is the aesthetic response to understanding humanity as impossible to simplify and that “simplicity” of form is the attempt to dehumanize humanity. Therefore Fahrenheit 451 could be seen as a critique of Modernist philosophy of architecture and other rationalising philosophies.

Francois Truffaut on Film Criticism

Personally i found this highly interesting and thought it was worth posting.

Before beginning to make films, you wrote film criticism for the periodical Arts. How would you evaluate your former critical beliefs today?

In my articles in Arts, I would essentially repeat and popularize the critical positions taken in Cahiers. This happened especially at the start, for little by little my criticism became more personal, especially since I began to be interested in films that wouldn’t have interested Cahiers in the least. At the same time, I learned to submit myself to certain obligations. In Cahiers, telling the story of each film could easily be dispensed with. In a weekly journal, the story must be told, and for me, this was an extremely good exercise. Also, I think that in Cahiers, the critic feels the obligation to criticize each film on its own level, that is, to try and adapt the critical criteria to the film. For one film it may be necessary to speak abstractly of the directorial concep- tion, for another, to analyze the scenario itelf – each film demands its own particular treatment. In any case, the necessity to tell the story of a film every week was very good for me. Before that, I didn’t really see the films. I was so intoxicated with the idea of “cinema” that I could see nothing but a film’s movement and rhythm. In fact at the beginning I had such trouble summing up the stories that I had to consult a plot synopsis. This experience helped me to realize the faults of certain scenarios, certain gimmicks, certain easy ways of telling a story. I began to recognize anything in a film that had been copied from another film. For me this was an immensely worthwhile period – my experience in it corresponded with what must be the experience of a scriptwriter. It helped me to see things more clearly, and to become more aware of my own values, tastes, and proclivities. However I ended up becoming much too cutting in my criticism. During my last year with Arts, my criticism was no longer that of a film critic, but already that of a film di- rector. I would only get excited by those films related to what I myself wanted to do. I became too partisan, and, as a result, too vicious. Paradoxically, in my directing today, there remains something of the critic’s frame of mind. For example, when I’ve finished working on a scenario, I feel that I know, if not its faults, at least its dangers- especially in regard to what is trite and conventional in it. This knowledge guides me, gives me a direction to take against these dangers during the shooting. With each film I have done, the danger has been different. In the 400 Blows, the danger was becoming overly lyrical about childhood. In Shoot the Piano Player, it was creating too much hero-worship for a man who was always right. In Jules and Jim, it was portraying the woman as an exquisite shrew who could do no wrong. I was well aware of these dangers while shooting these films, and a large part of my work then consisted of trying to keep each film from succumbing to its inherent weakness. It so happens that my efforts in this direction caused all three of my films to end up being sadder films than planned, since seriousness, it seems to me, permits greater sublety of expression. Something that becomes more serious becomes more true. If one were to read, for example, the original scenario of the 400 Blows, one would discover the plot of a comedy. And in Shoot the Piano Player, where the danger was having the central character become too sympathetic, I tried so hard to point up his artist s egotism, his desire to isolate himself from the world, and his cowardice, that I made him finally rather hard and unattractive  – almost antipathetic. Doubtless this is one of the reasons for the film’s failure. The same thing happened with Jules and Jim: since I didn’t want the audience simply to adore the character played by Jeanne Moreau, I rendered her finally a bit too hard. Nevertheless, my improvisation on the set has always been in an effort to counteract the danger I sensed while reading the finished scenario. That’s what still remains of my formation as a critic.1.

1. François Truffaut and Paul Ronder, ‘François Truffaut: An Interview’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Autumn, 1963), pp. 3-13 pp. 4-5.