The piano has always been a device that’s been used to create the sound of romance in movies. But while many memorable movie scenes at pianos have been done, there haven’t been myriad iconic ones where a romantic scene takes place. One arguable reason is because it may be too snicker-worthy when a thought of two people becoming overly lusty at or on a piano conjures something a little too prurient.
That didn’t stop South Korean director Park Chan-wook from filming a very sensual scene at the piano in his new “Stoker.” Here, it’s a steamy piano duet (written by Philip Glass) between Mia Wasikowska’s India and her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). India’s uncle attempts to show her how to be more expressive in her piano playing.
As incestuous as it sounds, the scene becomes quite erotic, even though no line is crossed.
Yes, this is whole new territory for the piano in movies, and one that could have turned into parody if not for the visual mastery of Chan-wook. It doesn’t necessarily ruin chances of more innocent romantic or love scenes taking place at the piano in movies. After all, it all started innocently enough in the movie “Casablanca.”
All we have to do is conjure the picture of Rick and Ilsa separately listening to Sam the piano man play “As Time Goes By” to give the sense of a once profound relationship. This was also the template to how the piano became the most-used instrument in conveying cinematic romance, even if it evolved into the soundtrack rather than always utilized in the film itself. Nevertheless, it was consolidated as both in at least one iconic romantic film.
If you’re female, then you’ve seen “An Affair to Remember.” You also would remember the scene where the grandmother of Cary Grant’s Nickie character plays the famous title theme on the piano while Grant and Deborah Kerr gaze at each other in love. If you’re male, then you might need reminding, despite that very scene kicking off similar scenes where romance is only implied near a piano.
Such a philosophy carried over for decades, right up to films in recent years depicting the peccadillos of legendary piano composers. The 1991 movie “Impromptu” showcased George Sand’s relationship with Frederic Chopin. You might remember the scene of Sand lying under a grand piano in bliss while listening to Chopin play.
Similarly, you have repressed romance at the piano with Beethoven in the 1994 film “Immortal Beloved.” The same applied to Holly Hunter’s mute character in “The Piano.” Even “Twilight” managed a piano scene where Edward plays a love ballad next to Bella, which looked straight out of a 1930s romantic comedy from MGM.
And let’s not forget the ultimate scene at a piano where sexual tension manifests all in music performance: Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance of “Makin’ Whoopie” in “The Fabulous Baker Boys.”
But now that “Stoker” has taken it one step further at the piano, will we end up seeing more graphic love scenes on a piano? The chances are we won’t, because it’s too obvious. Love repression at the piano is where the art of playing the piano ultimately coalesce.
Just about every romantic piano piece ever written has its heart in love found, likely denied, and perhaps denied in a very tragic way. The movies seem to understand that correlation and will likely make sitting at a piano a more romantically innocent place to be.