Note By Note: The Making of Steinway L1037
Directed by Ben Niles
November 7 through 20, Film Forum
Given rapt attention and care in the framing, there is no more engrossing subject than man at work. The proof, yet again, is in director Ben Niles chronicle of the production of a single Steinway concert granda nine-foot beast that requires a plank the length of an anaconda, a year of assembly, and a small army of blue-collar technicians whose skills are as minutely focused and compartmentalized as a safecrackers. Niles gathers testimonials from a variety of pianists, from classical (Hèléne Grimaud, the infectiously effusive Chinese prodigy Lang Lang) to jazz (Harry Connick Jr., Hank Jones, Marcus Roberts), to describe and demonstrate the variances of sound inimical to each Steinway, among the last of the hand-crafted pianos. But theyre distractions from the drama in Steinways Queens factory, where a single slip of a pizza wheel wire stretcher or an imbalance of a few thousandths of an inch could ruin a $25,000 instrument. Niles and cinematographer Ben Wolf scrutinize each step as if it were Rififis climactic heist, offering moments of fixated strangeness and wonderas when a burly Croatian bellyman named Ante Glavan installs perfect rows of teensy little notches in the bridge, using swift, unhesitant repetition that seems more magical than robotic. The movie may sell the Steinway supremacy a bit insistentlyno wonder a film link turns up on the manufacturers websitebut as a study of stubborn artisanal tradition in the ProTools age, Note By Note is a stirring symphony of specialized labor.