The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

Here’s the opening page of my article on The Piano Tuner of Earthquakesand here’s the link.

Time and the Image: The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes


“In these machines is contained the Dream.” The mad scientist and the piano-tuner.


These things never happen but are always. – Sallust

The dead love the most, love the longest. – Malvina von Stille

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Centuries of thought and imagination, mechanics and perversity have gone into the making of the Quay Brothers’ The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (2005). It is both pure crystal and corrupt palimpsest: as crystal, its facets and aspects are mutually illuminating; as palimpsest, its density of sources revel in a poetics largely derived from a pre- and early cinema era.1 The Piano Tuner is – and this is the central thesis of this article – a cinematic narrative that aspires, in an excess of a Baroque/cinematic stylistics of complexity, movement and illusionism, to the condition of a single image that will recur forever. The film is all repetition and variation, part and whole, the many and the one, returning again and again like the image of the flywheel – the animating apparatus – we see in the opening credits [Figure 1] – all of it a set of images (all images the image2), characters, machines (mechanical yet (emotionally) moving): thus, the story will go on forever: the beautiful woman will be kidnapped; the doctor become a monster; his mistress abandoned; and the lovers will form a new kind of union, an image hovering forever between stillness and movement – in this strange and beautiful film that purposefully acknowledges its artificiality so as to that more forcefully declare its poetic/cinematic truth. All of which is to say (in the words of the film’s epigraph): “These things never happen but are always”3 – the very paradox of cinema, stillness and movement.