Documentary by Peter Rosen, German Version (WDR Köln/ARTE), (USA 2000, Germany 2000)
Peter Rosen tells the story of Hollywood’s love affair with the piano, an “actor” who never leads a film’s cast list. Films like Casablanca, Rhapsody in Blue, The Seven Year Itch, Polonaise, Intermezzo, Humoresque and animation classics like Rhapsody Rabbit, even horror stories like The Beast with Five Fingers profit from the instrument. The piano is a symbol for romance, mystery and passion, but also for an average American’s hopes and dreams. It acts as a link between the “New World” and the old home of the immigrants from Europe. Among these immigrants were the first film directors and producers, who recognised the significance of music and piano early on and engaged the services of composers and pianists to make their films more cultivated. The list of piano-playing Hollywood stars is long, including Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine, Rita Hayworth, Katherine Hepburn (as Clara Schumann), Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Louis Jourdan – and Walt Disney’s figure Bugs Bunny, who takes on Franz Liszt. Professional pianists usually played the music in the background; some, like Oscar Levant and Jose Iturbi, also performed in the films themselves. There were comedic pianists like Victor Borge and Chico, the idiosyncratic piano player in the Marx Brothers, not to forget Liberace, who became popular and very rich as “Liszt of Las Vegas”. All of them can be experienced in Peter Rosen’s film, a cultural history of the piano in Hollywood film which is quite entertaining.