This weekend, I succumbed to the attraction of all meme-y marketing and went to the theater to see the surprise hit of the horror comedy m3gan. Overall I enjoyed it: the jokes are funny, the scares are effective, the plot centered on the rather intelligent robot plus our fresh new wave of artificial intelligence anxiety. That not the bloodiest Prayed scariest movie— the gore had to stay PG-13 — but the constant tension and references to horror classics do their job well. For me, though, the most chilling aspect of the film doesn’t come from anything you might expect: the off-screen murders, M3gan’s deranged humanoid visage, the pressures of capitalism. It actually stems from a deceptively insignificant 10-second scene that occurs halfway through the movie, in which the titular bot takes the piano out of the house. You might remember to slide it in the trailer:

To be clear, I don’t find this scene so viscerally terrifying because of the piano melody itself (in the film, a solid instrumental version of Martika’s 1989 number one hit “Toy Soldiers”), or by the general threat of the moment, a turning point in the development of M3gan. Instead, I’d like to step back and focus on something seemingly more innocuous: hands.

If I’m looking at these (mostly normal) robot killer doll hands, it’s because I’m in awe of the fact that they have quite a strong hand position on the piano. As a long-time former piano student, this is something that always stands out to me during any live concert, visual recording, or keyboard performance: the hand position structure. My fellow pianists can remember all the lessons about cupping your hand into a C to match the length of your fingers, keeping your knuckles bent and steady without tensing your arms, keeping your elbows at the proper level, never allowing your joints to buckle. when you play a new note, being careful to position yourself so that your hands are not flat on the piano or too high or bent. It’s all about simultaneous stiffness and dexterity, keeping your technique sharp while allowing yourself to play loose. It’s certainly not easy. My own teachers made me drill to no end Czerny and Hanon exercises they were meant to teach good posture. So it’s not a lesson I’ve forgotten, and chances are if you were ever any good in ’88, you didn’t forget it either. Clearly, it’s also one of the many lessons that M3gan’s AI has internalized.

M3gan's hands on the piano.
now that’s how do you do it.
Screenshot from YouTube/Universal Pictures

You might be thinking: so what? But what M3gan does there is far from common within the film piano canon. In fact, in far too many movies, some of which, unlike m3ganthey actually focus on actors playing the piano – human pianists have terrible, just amazing hand position. As a viewer whose piano regimen has loosened up in recent years but who still instinctively curves their hand before pressing a different set of keys (on my laptop), it makes me lose my mind. Yes, I realize that many actors are not trained and capable musicians. No, I’m not saying anything about the scene of Great. Yeah, I read that trade post profile that goes into depth on how it was given to a cast member Intensive piano playing lessons in search of award recognition.. No, I don’t think Bill Murray did a very good job on groundhog day-that Rachmaninov sounds so clumsy.

The thing is, good hand position is essential for even basic piano playing, let alone Van Cliburn level. Firm, curved, even yet flexible fingers are the ones that get the best possible sounds from any piano note or melody. However, if my movie viewing is any indication, a killer robot doll displays much better technique in a few seconds than many human characters during the runtime of full movies.

You do not believe me? I have been collecting a folder of tests. First, let’s look at another recent and beloved movie: call me by your namestarring the talented Timothée Chalamet.

That’s very bad form, my boy. Those flat fingers! The constant bouncing of the hands and arms, an unnecessary and useless waste of physical energy! Those muscles flexed, showing how tense they are! I find it hard to believe that a fictional character who apparently spends so much time at his piano would be so careless about his finger work, but hey, I’m not an Oscar-nominated actor.

Let’s move on to another Oscar-nominated performance in another Best Picture nominee: Ryan Gosling in the the earth. Your technique here is not the worse, exactly. I tend to give more leeway to jazz pianists; think of Art Tatum, from the early twenties.the19th century legend who, although visually impaired and mostly self-taught, was able to rock the fastest, clearest, most incredible trills and tremolos without the “proper” technique. Ryan Gosling, however, is not Art Tatum. You can tell how stiff his hands are, how forced his cross jumps are, how clumsily he braces himself in the moment to land on the chords. I mean, not to denigrate the talented Mr. Gosling, who plays some impressive parts in the film (like learned on the job), but his amateurism is brutal. He is not the only offensive jazz player in recent cinema: the way he plays the piano in the Pixar movie Drunk was animated not great either. But that’s just the latest in a long history of sloppy piano depictions in animated films.

One more from the Academy files: the controversial biopic of Freddie Mercury Bohemian Rhapsody. Rami Malek’s transformation into the late Queen frontman was undeniably impressive, but it didn’t translate to the position of his hands. Now, he also tends to give a lot of freedom to rock pianists; it’s hard to believe fat dominoes, jerry lee lewisPrayed Mercury himself they would have had the impact they did had they been bound by classical craftsmanship. Yet, this is what wins you Best Actor? All props due to get the training to play those immortal Mercury riffs on your own, but man, you really don’t have to force your hands to the back of the keys like this. It’s not efficient or fast! Everything could have been so much easier if you could have modified your chord hammering style with just one touch.

Lest you think this is a recent trend, let me recommend a movie to you, no less than White House. I hate doing the great singer dooley wilson like this: he himself was not a pianist, and the keys you hear in the film are bent. But we go. He could have put a little more effort into the scenes where his hands are seen playing, instead of moving the hands up and down in the upright position. I’m not sure I disagree with the YouTube commenter who calls it “the worst fingering in movie history.”

I could go on and on. The disrespect paid to none other than Scott Joplin in his own 1977 biopic; tea inconsistency in positions in the movie who dares to call himself The piano. And sure, I’ll shout out some cinematic piano moments with superb technique, from movies with appropriate themes like Amadeo, shine, The pianistY The Legend of the Pianist Sull’oceano. It’s not impossible to make it happen! But this has been a pox for English-language films for far too long, and with the release in January of m3gan, we start 2023 with a group of big-name actors being bested by an android. how do we expect keep AI out of the music industry if we can’t even pretend to get over it? I have many concerns about how the already battered creative class will suffer. AI-powered amenities. I have less sympathy for actors who don’t even bother to internalize the elementary teachings of the piano. Shape those hands, humanity, minus the M3gans of the world are coming for you.

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