The Pianist
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THE PIANIST - TRUE STORIES ARE THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE

This movie is a true masterpiece and might just be on a par with Schindler's List.  Certainly this movie delivers strong messages which include that it is the responsibility of all mankind to never let such events ever occur again.  It makes a strong case for the responsibility of people everywhere to not tolerate any society where such events seem likely permit such inhumanity to happen again, such as what is going on in Iraq and what happened in Yugoslavia. This Cannes Film Festival Award Winner is one movie that certainly needs to be on everyone's must see list.  Director Roman Polanski won the Academy Award for Best Director and Adrian Brody won the Academy Award for Best Actor in what many people still feel was the best movie of 2002, the Pianist. I found a few reviews of the book "The Pianist" so that you may have some advanced information as to what this movie depicts.  I also located an obituary for your reading so that we can all appreciate this remarkable man.

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The New York Times Review of the Pianist winning the award at Cannes

Top Prize to Polanski at Cannes Festival
By A. O. SCOTT

CANNES, France, May 26 — The jury at the 55th Cannes International Film Festival awarded its top prize tonight to Roman Polanski for "The Pianist." Shot in the director's native Poland, the film, based on the memoirs of Wladislaw Szpilman, a Jewish pianist who survived the Warsaw ghetto, was an unusually personal project for Mr. Polanski, and the award represents his return to the first rank of international filmmakers. It is also, in some ways, a deeply conventional film: a meticulously detailed period drama with a careful, melancholy performance by Adrien Brody at its center...

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The Boston Globe Review of the Pianist winning the award at Cannes

Polanski takes prize at Cannes
By Peter Brunette, Globe Correspondent, 5/27/2002

CANNES, France - Last night, at the end of what most critics and journalists here seemed to believe was the most interesting Cannes Film Festival competition in years, prizes were awarded in 10 categories by an international jury headed by American director David Lynch. Owing to the general excellence of many of the films, suspense regarding the identity of the winners continued up until the moment they were announced, unlike in previous years, when favorites were often firmly established well in advance of the closing-night ceremony.

The awards were spread out among a number of films, indicating that the jury as well was impressed by this year's offerings. The Palme d'Or (first prize) was awarded to Roman Polanski for his Holocaust-themed film ''The Pianist,'' which was shown near the end of the festival. The film stars Adrien Brody (''Summer of Sam,'' ''Bread and Roses'') as the real-life Polish-Jewish concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who survives the war through the efforts of non-Jewish Poles - for once portrayed positively in a Holocaust film - and a cultured Nazi officer who helps him hide from German troops in bombed-out Warsaw.

Though the first half of the film seemed overly familiar, according to many critics, once Polanski embarked on the depiction of Szpilman's heroic struggle for survival, it became quite moving, and it looks to be an early contender for Oscar honors next year. In his acceptance speech, Polanski, a Polish-born Jew, said that ''this is a film that represents Poland'' and thanked the thousands of Polish extras without whom the film could not have been made.

 

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L.A. Times Bestsellers List

Sunday Book Review, December 5, 1999

The Best Books of 1999 - BEST NONFICTION OF 1999

THE PIANIST; By Wladyslaw Szpilman; Picador: 222 pp., $23  

'The Pianist,' Wladyslaw Szpilman's remarkable memoir of his survival in Warsaw between the years 1939 and 1945, is a significant contribution to the literature of remembrance, a document of lasting historical and human value. Unforgivably overlooked since its publication (in Polish) in 1946 and translated into English just now for the first time, the book is a relative rarity: an account of the Holocaust written in the immediate aftermath of the experience itself. It has all the rawness and specificity of horrors painfully and uncomprehendingly withstood and afterward just as uncomprehendingly --but necessarily-- recorded. Writing this book would seem to have been a further act of survival by a man who performed more of them in six years than most human beings do in a lifetime. At the center of this book is of the largest hows in all of human inquiry: how one people set about systematically and relentlessly annihilating another. It is a how that Szpilman tells with clarity, intelligence, candor, courage. It is the how that must be told again and again and again.

There are many ways to read a book about the Holocaust, and one of them, surely, inevitably, is to try to answer the unanswerable: What makes one man endure when so many others succumb? We can only learn from those who testify; the others of course are mute. From Szpilman's testimony we learn this: It is an ineffable and wholly unpredictable mixture of fate, determination, accident, instinct. To know Wladyslaw Szpilman is, in the most hopeless of contexts, to know a modicum of hope.

Los Angeles Times, 5.12.1999

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Boston Globe

The most disturbing and moving book of the year

has been Wladyslaw Szpilman's ''The Pianist,'' an account of his survival in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto that Szpilman wrote more than 50 years ago. The book was swiftly suppressed, but Szpilman's son discovered it and arranged for its international publication over the last few years. Szpilman lost his entire family, but he was repeatedly saved by others, particularly by other Polish musicians and music lovers who were not Jews; he also survived because of his own resourcefulness and resilience. One of the most dramatic episodes in the book comes when a Nazi officer spares Szpilman's life after the pianist plays a Chopin nocturne for him.

Boston Globe on 10/22/99.

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Independent, 14 August 2000

OBITUARIES

Wladyslaw Szpilman

When the shells of the invading Nazis forced the closure of Polish Radio on 23 September 1939, the last live music heard was Wladyslaw Szpilman's performance of Chopin's C sharp minor Nocturne. When broadcasting was resumed in 1945, it was again Szpilman who initiated the transmissions, with the same Chopin nocturne. (Around the same time, rather less high-mindedly, BBC television resumed an interrupted Mickey Mouse cartoon.) What happened to Szpilman in the interim formed the stuff of one of the most harrowing of all accounts of Jewish life under the Nazis, in a book published last year as The Pianist that immediately climbed to the top of the international bestseller lists --- hardly surprisingly: it is a compelling, harrowing masterpiece.


Szpilman wrote Death of a City (the initial title of his memoir) in 1945 more or less as therapy --- to put his memories down on paper and thus somehow to externalize them. In doing so he revealed that he was a masterly writer: his text matches a sharp eye for detail and for human character with a complete absence of self-pity and of sanctimony.


For the first two years of the occupation Szpilman played in the bars and cafés that continued to open for business behind the walls of the ghetto, sealed off from the rest of Warsaw on 15 November 1940. Szpilman records life there with dignity and dispassion. He recalls watching the SS forcing a group of prisoners out of a building:

They switched on the headlights of their car, forced their prisoners to stand in the beam, started the engines and made the men run ahead of them in the white cone of light. We heard convulsive screaming from the windows of the building, and a volley of shots from the car. The men running ahead of it fell one by one, lifted into the air by the bullets, turning somersaults and describing a circle, as if the passage from life to death consisted of an extremely difficult and complicated leap.

Time and again, chance dictated that Szpilman escape death. The end seemed finally to have come when he and his family were ordered to turn up at the Umschlagsplatz where, skirting the rotting corpses around them, they were to be herded onto trains headed for the gas chambers. Szpilman's last memory of his family is movingly understated:

At one point a boy made his way through the crowd in our direction with a box of sweets on a string round his neck. He was selling them at ridiculous prices, although heaven knows what he was going to do with the money. Scraping together the last of our small change, we bought a single cream caramel. Father divided it into six parts with his penknife. That was our last meal together.

But as the Szpilmans were being crammed onto the train, one of the Jewish policemen grabbed Wladyslaw by the collar, yanked him out of the throng and refused to let him through to rejoin his family on the journey to death. Szpilman continued to avoid death's clutches, surviving against all odds, often half-starved and usually alone, hidden in obscure corners of bombed, burned or empty buildings, intermittently helped by Polish friends risking their own lives to bring him food or find him shelter: helping a Jew automatically brought a death sentence. The strangest twist in Szpilman's strange story came at its end: he was discovered by a German officer who, after Szpilman had given proof of his profession by playing that same C sharp minor Nocturne on an abandoned piano, hid him and brought him food and an eiderdown for warmth.

Not the least extraordinary aspect of Szpilman's book is the complete lack of the indignation and anger that anyone writing immediately after such years of hell might reasonably be expected to allow himself. Yet even the grim vignettes of pointless death that are studded through his text don't draw judgment --- perhaps because none was necessary:

A boy of about ten came running along the pavement. He was very pale, and so scared that he forgot to take off his cap to a German policeman coming towards him. The German stopped, pulled his revolver without a word, put it to the boy's temple and shot. The child fell to the ground, his arms flailing, went rigid and died. The policeman calmly put his revolver back in its holster and went on his way. I looked at him; he did not even have particularly brutal features, nor did he appear angry. He was a normal, placid man who had carried out one of his many minor daily duties and put it out of his mind again at once, for other and more important business awaited him.

Death of a City was published in Poland in 1946 and soon suppressed by the Communists because, as Wolf Biermann surmises in an Epilogue to The Pianist, it "contained too many painful truths about the collaboration of defeated Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians and Jews with the German Nazis". More likely, it was Szpilman's record of the suffering of the Jews that required silencing – after all, the Jews could hardly expect a warmer welcome in Stalin's empire than in Hitler's: when Stalin died, in March 1953, he was already assembling the transport for his own eastwards "resettlement" of the Jews, and his own death prevented would probably have been a second Holocaust. And so it was only after the collapse of the Soviet bloc that, thanks to the efforts of Szpilman's son, publication became possible.

Szpilman's initial training as a pianist was in the Chopin School of Music in Warsaw under Josef Smidowicz and Aleksander Michalowski, both of them former students of Liszt. In 1931 he enrolled at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, studying piano under two of the most distinguished players of the day, Arthur Schnabel and Leonid Kreuzer, and composition under Franz Schreker, the renowned composer of Der ferne Klang and other similarly successful operas. On his return to Poland in 1933 he formed a highly successful duo with the violinist Bronislaw Gimpel that formed the basis, 29 years later, of the Warsaw Piano Quintet, whose tours soon earned it a reputation as an ensemble of world standing; Szpilman played with the Quintet until 1986.

Szpilman's own early compositions include a violin concerto and a symphonic suite, The Life of Machines, and when the Nazis invaded he was engaged on a Concertino for piano and orchestra --- a jazz-flavoured, Gershwinesque piece remarkably good-natured for the circumstances of its origin. The score went with him from hiding-place to hiding-place before he had to sacrifice it to survival; he reconstructed it after the War. His light music was particularly successful: for decades the Poles sang tunes from his three musicals, 50---60 children's songs and 600-odd chansons as they went about the business of their daily lives.

A CD released in 1998 by the German label Alina (run by Szpilman's son, Andrzej) testifies to both his fluency as a composer and his excellence as a pianist --- and it includes an archive recording of that life-saving Chopin nocturne. Six more CDs of Szpilman as both performer and composer are scheduled for release in Poland in the autumn. With luck his last-minute fame as a writer will bring his music the wider currency he would have wished for it during his lifetime.

Obituary written by MARTIN ANDERSON

Wladyslaw Szpilman, pianist and composer, born December 5, 1911, Sosnowiec, Poland; married Halina Grzecznarowski, 2 sons; died Warsaw, July 6, 2000.