A feminist and a pianist: This week’s movies

During that thrift-store visit I blogged about yesterday I picked up a DVD of DOWN WITH LOVE (2003), the delightful take0ff on the Rock Hudson/Doris Day sex comedies (not that there was a lot of sex happening but it was clearly on their minds) of 60 years back. Renée Zellweger plays Barbara Novak, author of Down with Love, a book about how women should approach love and sex like men: don’t get attached, have your fun but never let it interfere with your career. After globetrotting womanizing reporter Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) — “man’s man, ladies’ man, man about town” — stands her up for an interview in favor of getting laid (stewardess Jeri Ryan being among the distractions), she singles him out as precisely the kind of man women should stay away from. As her book climbs the bestseller lists, Block sets out to prove Novak is no different from any other woman — he’ll make her fall in love with him (after assuming a disguise, of course) and catch her confessing her deepest desire is to be a housewife!

I was curious what TYG would make of this as she hasn’t seen any of those old comedies (including Lover Come Back and Pillow Talk) but she enjoyed it as much as I did. Part of the fun is the glamorous ultra-fashionable 1960s set design and fashions; we also have Sarah Paulson as Novak’s frustrated editor and David Hyde Pierce as Block’s editor and buddy, the kind of long-suffering sidekick role Tony Randall played in the Hudson/Day comedies (Randall himself appears as a publisher). Probably not to everyone’s taste, but definitely to ours. “I had the idea that I was in some zany sex romp and you’d switched keys with the lead so that you could use his apartment to entrap me.”

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (1960) was Francois Truffaut’s second feature and unlike The 400 Blows it lived up to my memories. The protagonist is a piano man (Charles Aznavour) tickling the ivories on a second rate piano in a small Paris bistro; when his brother shows up, on the run from some hoods, the pianist helps him get away and thereby draws the thugs attention to himself. As his story (including striking up a relationship with a cute waitress [Marie Dubois]) progresses, we also flashback to when he was a star concert pianist only for tragedy to erupt. Ever since then he’s been hollowed out — will he come back to life now? Will the thugs give him a chance?

As a film writer with Cahiers du Cinema, Truffaut and his colleagues expressed an admiration for American filmmaking that was quite radical for the time (Hollywood films were generally considered Not Art). The Hollywood influence is much stronger here than in 400 Blows: this is a noirish crime drama where no matter what the protagonist does, it’s probably going to end badly. However it’s also distinctly Truffaut, though I’m not sure I could define what I mean by that. “All I ask of a man is to tell me when it’s over — no-one has.”

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