STANDING ON GUARD

for peace … for freedom … for Canada

Pianomania

Release Year:      2010
Studio:     First Run Features
Format:       Colour; NTSC; English & German w/ English Subtitles
Rated:     Not Rated
# Discs/Episodes:      1/1
Running Time:      93 minutes
DVD Release Date:      February 14, 2012

Directors:       Lilian Franck, Robert Cibis
Actors:       Stephan Knupfer, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Lang Lang
DVD Features:      5.1 surround sound; Director Q&A
E:Top Picks Rating:      10/10

First Run Features Write-up:
As Steinway & Sons’ Chief Technician and Master Tuner in Vienna, Stefan Knupfer is dedicated to the unusual task of pairing world-class instruments with world-famous pianists. Juggling the demands of the pianist, the piano, and the piece to find the perfect match requires boundless enthusiasm, but also endless patience and nerves of steel. No detail is too small or too inconsequential for Knupfe, not even the tiniest speck of dust on a piano string.

Pianomania is a funny and surprisingly suspenseful peek into the heated clash of will between a genius craftsman and the renowned pianists who rely on his talent as they search together for that elusive perfect tone.

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 
The pursuit for perfection is not unknown in the world of art, but how many of us have ever realized that pursuit can be found behind the scenes in the art world, and in what is normally thought to be the purely technical side of things? In this case, being a piano technician. The film could easily be entitled THE ART OF THE PIANO TECHNICIAN, but PIANOMANIA is more accurate, really, because there is true “mania” on display, that is, if we understand “mania” to be a heightened energy and focus–the opposite of “depression”. In that light, the title is apt.

In the world of classical piano, Steinway & Sons have long been recognized as the principle supplier of quality instruments worldwide. It is understandable that great instruments require equally masterful maintenance. Therefore it is logical that the best of these technicians require the right mixture of qualities, namely technical skill, a superior work ethic, an appreciation for the music they help to create (by providing the artists with the best instruments in optimum condition), boundless enthusiasm, obsessive attention to detail, a finely tuned ear, a sense of humour and a psychiatrist’s ability to deal with quirky and neurotic personalities (the artists).

Stefan Knupfer is precisely that type of individual. As Steinway & Sons Chief Technician and Master Tuner in Vienna, Knupfer’s world is one of variety, privilege and very great demands on his expertise. To quote the box art for the film, “no detail is too small or too inconsequential for Knupfer, not ever the tiniest speck of dust on a piano string.”

The film is briliant on a number of levels, but what is most impressive is the technical standard of the soundtrack. Clearly a film that focuses on details of sound–getting a pitch just right for a very picky pianist–must be recorded at a high standard so that the audience can hear for themselves the subtleties and nuances being bandied about. Documentary filmmaking is often a hit-the-ground-running scenario where you work without a script and have to be very much on top of things to capture what is at hand, much of it spontaneous. The filmmakers accomplish this miracle and then some.

The world of classical music is not for everyone, and PIANOMANIA will simply not be of interest to some people. But the pursuit of perfection is compelling when coupled with an interesting and amenable personality (like Knupfer’s). His job requires a sense of humour, and that element helps to make him a fascinating protagonist. You don’t have to appreciate classical music to enjoy this film.

On a side note, there is a sequence where Knupfer interacts with the classical comedy duo Igudesman & Joo which allows Knupfer to “let his hair down”. This eccentric duo, highly capable concert musicians who emphasize comedy in their act with the stated goal to make classical music more appealing to the masses, is a much needed shot in the arm in this film, as prior to their appearance we have been privy to the eccentric behaviour of some of the world’s great pianists who, great artists though they are, aren’t the most jolly fellows around. Some of their nitpicking about pitch and tone may even be annoying for some viewers, though this accurately represents the kinds of issues Knupfer has to contend with in his job.

Like a perfectly tuned concert grand, PIANOMANIA hits all the right notes and fills the screen with highs and lows, pianissimo and forte, drama and comedy. Highly recommended.

[Top]