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Stein, A. (2004). Music and trauma in Polanski's The pianist. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 85(3):755-765.

(2004). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(3):755-765

Music and trauma in Polanski's The pianist (2002)

Review by:
Alexander Stein

In 1946, the celebrated 35-year-old Polish composer and pianist Wlstrokadyslstrokaw Szpilman wrote his memoir, Death of a city, in which he recounts his traumatic ordeal during the Nazi occupation of Poland. With melancholic remove, he tells of the atrocities and lacerating indignities perpetrated upon him, his family and their community, and the capricious alchemy of indominability and improbability which together permitted his survival in hiding but which extinguished his entire family along with half a million other Jews in Warsaw.

Almost immediately withdrawn from circulation by Polish factions of the Stalin regime, Szpilman's book languished in relative obscurity for decades. Not until Szpilman's son Andrzej shepherded the manuscript to translation and republication did it finally appear in English, in the late 1990s, retitled The pianist: The extraordinary story of one man s survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945.

As adapted for the screen by Ronald Harwood, Szpilman's book is the basis of the Palme d'Or and Academy Award-winning film The pianist (2002) directed by Roman Polanski, himself a child survivor of the 1939 German occupation of Krakow. Film adaptations of pre-existing literary works often require deviations from the original text to oblige both the demands of movie storytelling and the narrative vision of the director. Film is also a narrative medium that occupies time and space differently from the written word. The divergences and discontinuities between book and film—compressions, expansions, distortions, additions and omissions—will invariably be grounded in an amalgam of directorial sensibility, production and budget considerations, studio politics, and the real logistical implications of transposing one aesthetic modality, writing, to another, the kinetic amalgam of sight and sound known as film.

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