There have been no events electric enough to raise that much fervor here this year. The Piano might have been that film. The problem is that I saw it on its first showing and was disappointed. People keep coming up to me and telling me it's great, but I don't agree.

You keep reading that The Piano will figure in this year's Academy Awards. Maybe it will. But it no longer seems likely to me.

Everyone here knew that The Piano had won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes festival and that Holly Hunter, who stars as a mute Scottish widow, had won the prize for Best Actress.

Harvey Keitel, the powerhouse, plays opposite Hunter. Keitel, who is on the cover of this month's Esquire, has belatedly seized recognition as one of Hollywood's most forceful actors.

The salute is late in coming, because Keitel was every bit as effective a screen personality back in 1973, when he played opposite Robert De Niro in director Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.

My problem with The Piano was that after the first 30 minutes, there was not one character I would not gladly have ordered dropped into a kettle of boiling oil.

There is more stiff, self-conscious acting in The Piano than in any period costume drama since John Huston's Moby Dick.

Directors tell you that the actual shooting of a movie is a painful, agonizing process that consists of constant minor disappointments. They insist there are some films in which they feel that with each scene, something valuable and irretrievable is being lost.

The Piano starts off with a bang.
Holly Hunter arrives on the beach of primitive New Zealand to meet her new husband. She does not have the power of speech. But she is imperious. She refuses to leave the beach until her piano is carried through the forests.

Here, we have a tiny, tightlipped, prim woman who can't speak and will do nothing but play the piano for the entire film. And then, without much ado, she hops into bed with Keitel and almost gets herself killed by her jealous husband.

Admittedly, there are a few highly charged moments in the film. One of them may even be unforgettable.

I say this with a caveat. It's memorable only if you regard it as high art to see Hunter's jealous husband chop one of her fingers off with an ax so she can no longer give piano lessons to Keitel.

I think Keitel steals the film. But, then again, I think he has stolen virtually every film he's ever appeared in.

But Keitel does so this time at tremendous cost to the film's unity. He goes native, paints his face and, at one point, strips naked, almost gleefully exposing his genitals.

Keitel began this striptease routine last year in Bad Lieutenant.
This was probably not a performance dictated by the director. This was a volunteer job. It had to be Keitel's own idea. And if he keeps this up, he may someday earn a special citation from the Academy: the award for Distinguished Full-Frontal Nudity.

But one wonders when Keitel will finally find a scriptwriter who will provide him with a legitimate reason for disrobing.

In The Piano, Keitel is provoked into removing his clothes by the dubious stimulus of a classical piano lesson given to him by Hunter.

In Bad Lieutenant, there was even less justification for disrobing, but Keitel leaped into his routine with equal gusto.

Film critics expend so much energy complaining about gratuitous violence. When will they realize that Keitel's aggressive disrobing scenes are nothing more than gratuitous nudity?

@rule:
@body:The film that created the most excitement was not even a film about to be released to theatres. The Boys of St. Vincent was a two-part TV special, made by Canadian television, about sexual abuse in a Catholic school.

There is an enormous fascination about this sort of thing. I could sense while standing on the very long line that formed outside the theatre how concerned most people were that they might not get a seat.

The Boys of St. Vincent is a harrowing tale of the sexual abuse of young schoolboys by members of a Roman Catholic religious order. In the book, written about the actual incident, it was identified as the Irish Christian Brothers of Newfoundland.

The film hits the mark. Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien should order it shown in all of the Catholic schools in Phoenix.

No punches are pulled. So, naturally, it's been banned on television in both Toronto and Quebec.

@rule:
@body:A high note of the festival was the special tribute given to John Alton, the 91-year-old cinematographer noted for his work in film noir. The organizers have been trying to locate Alton for years.

He earned an Academy Award for his filming of the ballet scene in An American in Paris, and he was at the height of his career in 1960 when he shot Elmer Gantry, which won an Academy Award for Burt Lancaster.

It was at this point that Alton walked away from Hollywood, never to return.
Alton was interviewed by the Frenchman, Tavernier, who admitted that Alton's camera work on Anthony Mann films like Raw Deal, T-Men and Border Incident had inspired him as a young man.

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