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Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Pied Piper: a movie review

The Pied Piper
Directed by JACQUES DEMY
1972, 90 minutes, 35mm. Starring Donovan, Jack Wild, Donald Pleasance, and John Hurt.

This movie was seen in revival at The Anthology Film Archives. They are playing a lovely new 35 mm print so the picture looks very good. There are interesting setting and costumes. The Piper comes into town with a traveling theater family. The Black Death is all around the area but not, so far, in Hamlin.
Donovan as The Piper is not given that much to do. We don't get any big speeches from him, he is not involved in romance, and has no conflict other than the one involving the plot of the familiar fairy tale. And that story is told pretty much as one remembers it. He gets rid of the rats, is cheated, and takes away the children. But all this doesn't take up much time. Most of the action involves other characters and a plot, none of which is fully developed and therefore not all that interesting. There is a very young girl who is getting married off to a greedy rich guy (a very young looking John Hurt), there is the boy she is really interested in who is the son or assistant of the local alchemist. The rich guy wants the alchemist to make fake gold for him, but he is busy trying to find a cure for the plague which he thinks is from the rats. He gets in trouble with the church guys, all in red robes, who say the Jews cause the plague. Then there is some bit about a guy who wants to finish the grand cathedral which we see under construction, but can't get the money to do so.
Anyway, the rats come. There are a lot of them but they are the most cooperative of wild rats. They as quite slow and allowed themselves to be picked up and moved about.
So then the familiar plot kicks in and that's about it.
One very interesting aspect of the movie is the use of sync sound in scenes where Donovan plays original songs. This is a very nice touch. The use of lip sync with singing is the curse of the movies. It's almost always fake looking and therefore defeating of the performance. You see someone trying to move lips at the right time with the prerecorded track, you don't see a living breathing musical artist expressing themselves. In this movie the songs are recorded as they happen, and that is a delight. The choice to do this with Donovan's beautiful songs is the best thing about the movie.
Anyone wanting to investigate the difference that it makes to use sync sound with musical performances should check out some of the old Vitaphone shorts. Many of them are absolutely wonderful.

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