Watch "Tirez sur le pianiste" in French with Spanish subtitles on the Internet Archive
TRUFFAUT AND GOODIS
If you want to understand key aspects of the personality and motivations of David Goodis, watch Tirez sur le Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player), Francois Truffaut's 1960 adaptation of David Goodis' novel, Down There, also known as Shoot the Piano Player. Truffaut (1932-1984) was a leader in French new-wave cinema, and he loved the Goodis noir style.
That's the view of Julian P. Rackow, one of the attorney's who represented Goodis in his law suit over the TV series "The Fugitive." In June 2009, Rackow attended a screening of Tirez sur le Pianiste, in French with English subtitles.
The film starts in the middle of a story. Charles Aznavour plays the role of a piano player in a dance club. He finds romance with a female bartender. The film gradually reveals that the piano player had originally been a gifted and famous concert pianist, but met tragedy. His life and world of fame fall apart, and he eventually resurfaces in the dance club. The piano player is pulled into a conflict involving his brothers, who have gangster connections. The piano player and his girlfriend become entangled in deadly issues with the gangsters (the result of which will remain for viewing of the film).
At GoodisCON, Rackow had been asked what he remembered of David Goodis as a person. "This question was a struggle for me to answer. It had been 40 years since I had known Goodis. At that time, there was no reason to retain memories of him as a person, since we were focusing on the legal issues of an important copyright case. I had nothing written about him as an individual, and could only rely on long-forgotten mental images and a reaction," Rackow said. After seeing the movie, he could answer the question.
"The piano player, as played by Aznavour, had many of the personality and physical traits of David Goodis," Rackow said.
"Imagine being on a psychiatrist's couch and having buried details flashed up on the big screen. For example, Aznavour has a discussion with his girlfriend, in which she tries to draw him out and learn about his past. Although the piano player had a droll sense of humor and appeared to be outgoing in his dance club persona, he has trouble responding. He says that he is shy, afraid to open up, and does not know how to help himself move ahead to rebuild his life," Rackow said.
"The apparently extroverted, popular, hot-shot piano player in a bar, is in fact, the quintessential loner. This character was David Goodis, all wrapped up tightly within himself. It was as if Goodis were projecting himself onto the screen. Like Goodis and his famous Hollywood connections, the piano player, with wonderful artistic talent and great relationships, had difficulty with fame, and appeared far more comfortable within his own shell," Rackow said.
"Upon leaving the theater, my wife said that I looked as pale as a ghost. I was shaken because it was as if I had seen David Goodis," Rackow said.
"Tirez sur le Pianiste was an incredible experience," Rackow said. "In addition to the connection to Goodis, it is phenomenal movie-making. The movie is almost 50 years old, but it seems as relevant, contemporary, and insightful as any current film. It is brilliantly directed, and while the style is film noir, there are scenes that are wonderful comedy. The film captures the droll style of a Goodis novel, but it is not a light or "funny" movie. Part of Truffaut's (and Goodis') brilliance was the ability to tell a serious and ultimately sad fictional story, with a lightness that allows the audience to feel the reality of the events," Rackow said.
Rackow send me excerpts from Francois Truffaut Correspondence 1945-1984 edited by Gilles Jacob and Claude de Givray, Cooper Square Press, New York, 2000. Truffaut wrote about his friend Goodis and the movie.
On June 22, 1960 Truffaut wrote from Paris to a screenwriter, "I have never been able to understand flashbacks; that's why I can't make head or tail of my new film, in the middle of which there's a long sequence set in the past." (Page 144)
On August 21, 1960 Truffaut wrote from Paris to Helen Scott, "Finally, I returned to Paris to add a few final touches to Le Pianiste which has had a very poor reception from the public in spas like Vichy, Deauville and Biarritz. It's been withdrawn from circulation until it opens in Paris, most probably in October; its career depends now on the Paris critics and first-run audiences. Even so, don't think I'm downhearted, because failure stimulates me just as success terrorizes and paralyses me. (Pages 144-145)
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"There's also Goodis. Tell him again how much I like and admire him." (Page 145)
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". . . The new edition of Down There is to be titled Shoot the Pianist, like the film. Braunberger is on holiday and no longer seems to have the slightest interest in Le Pianiste, which Malraux likes a lot and had designated for Venice. It seems the Italians refused it for some bloody silly moral reasons. Too bad for Shapiro whom we could play off against Davis, who's also interested." (Page 145)
On October 15, 1962 from Paris, Truffault wrote to Marcel Duhamel, founder of the Gallimard imprint Serie Noir which specializes in thrillers, "I made the acquaintance in New York of David Goodis for whom, I believe, you share my admiration.
"Through a screening of Tirez le Pianiste, Henry Miller became a friend of his and an enthusiastic fan of his books.
"That pleased me for Goodis' sake, as it has to be said that the situation of the thriller-writer in America is not an enviable one. Lost in the shuffle, ignored by the American intelligentsia, maltreated by his publishers who insist on happy endings, compromises, cuts and title changes, poor Goodis consoles himself as best he can.
"He is very happy to know that he has admirers in France and very proud of the fact that some of his books have been translated by Serie Noire.
"He gave me four novels as yet unpublished in France.
"Since I don't read English, I was unable to ascertain what they are like, but my wife very much enjoyed them. I take the liberty of forwarding them to you on Goodis' behalf in the hope that you will read them and possibly include them in your list.
"I trust that I am not imposing on you and wish to convey my very warmest regards." (Pages 200-201)
On April 8, 1980, Truffaut wrote to Charles Aznavour, "Le Pianiste was my second film. I was still at the stage when I didn't know a Nagra [tape recorder] from a cameflex, [camera], but it gave me a marvelous sense of security to have you on the set in front of me, at the centre of the screen, attentive and open-minded, meticulous and flexible, ordinary and unique, nervous and poetic. What a host of wonderful, beautiful memories, especially of the filming in the snow, but also what a host of people who have died since that adventure: Nicole Berger, Claude Mansard, Albert Remy, Catherine Lutz, [members of the film crew] Francois Cognary [Truffaut's assistant director on the film], David Goodis! (Pages 508-509).
Truffaut biography by francoistruffaut.com
Truffaut filmography by francoistruffaut.com
Truffaut biography by Juan Carlos Gonzalez A.
YOU TUBE excerpts of Tirez sur le Pianiste .