September 10, 2016
For my third book in Raquel's Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge, I read "Shoot the Piano Player" by David Goodis. The book was originally titled "Down There" but was changed when Francois Truffaut released his film version in 1960, entitled "Shoot the Piano Player."
I bought a movie-tie-in copy of the book, with a Henry Miller quote on the front proclaiming that the book is "even better than the film." I really liked the book but I actually felt like the story itself worked better as a movie. A lot of the book almost felt like a script -- lots of dialogue, expository details and a fight "scene" with a blow-by-blow breakdown so tedious it really read like instructions for actors. This isn't a bad thing, obviously, it's just that every page left me thinking "I can totally see why Truffaut wanted to turn this thing into a movie." He must have felt that he was reading something cinematic, something that NEEDED to be transferred from the page to the screen.
One thing that I particularly loved about the book was the way that it followed the thoughts of the main character, and it's a detail that Truffaut must have loved as well since he retained that in the film. Interesting fact that I can't actually verify because I'm not home to double-check it in my Truffaut biography but I'm 99% certain it's correct: Truffaut felt that Charles Aznavour's voice was too confident for the self-conscious inner monologue voice overs, so he recorded it in his own voice.
So, was Mr. Miller correct? My own opinion when it comes to "is the book better than the movie?" usually depends on which one I experienced first. If I watched the movie first, I tend to like it better than the book. If I read the book first, I tend to be disappointed with the movie (the only exception that comes to mind is The Martian.) In this case, I really did like both. I personally prefer the film, but it's almost entirely because the film was the product of Truffaut and starred Charles Aznavour (who, by the way, at 92 is still performing live and I'll be seeing him at Madison Square Garden in October!) I'm definitely biased when it comes to Truffaut and Aznavour.
I really wanted to close out this post with some excerpts matched up to their corresponding movie scenes, to illustrate just how much the book feels like a movie, but I'm currently on vacation and left my DVD at home. I'm definitely planning on adding that when I get back though :)