From block of wood to display-room splendor, the journey of a Steinway concert grand is conveyed with much esteem and redundancy in this documentary film by Ben Niles. Inside an Astoria factory in Queens, L1037 begins its year-long gestation—carved, branded, cleaned, painted, and tuned by a United Nations of employees who each bring a distinctive sensibility to their work. Because of this unique confluence of influence, no two pianos that come out this Steinway factory are quite the same. For sure, no human has been conceived and reared with as much fuss, but this idea that grands are like snowflakes is repeated almost ad nauseam. Wood type and temperature, as much as craftsmanship, determines the sound of one of these pianos, though only someone with a remarkable ear for music is liable to tell the difference between L1037 and, say, L1038—like Harry Connick Jr., who prefers a piano that “plays back” to him. No musician interviewed by Niles is as personable as the crooner, though Lang Lang’s seemingly rehearsed revelation that the Tom and Jerry cartoon The Cat Concerto motivated him to follow music is almost sweet—that is, until his impromptu, braggart’s performance of “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” kills the mood. Because Niles doesn’t evoke a particularly deep synergy between the technicians who build these large musical instruments and those who play them, its easy to imagine a much warmer film experience had the director focused entirely on the private lives and dreams of the technicians, whose revelations about working their way up the ranks and fine-tuning without the aide of computers are ultimately more interesting than the often snotty opinions the talking heads from the musical world express about tinkling ivories.
- 81 min
- Ben Niles
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