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Music Lesson

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Mark Kermode | 11:44 UK time, Friday, 25 September 2009

In the week that brilliant musician Jamie Foxx plays a genius cellist abandoned by society in The Soloist, why is it that for me actors portraying musicians on film always strikes a bum note?

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  • Comment number 1.

    No it doesn't really bother me but I haven't seen a film based on a musician for a while. I only started learning the guitar a couple of months ago, so before I had no idea how to play it.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am barely a musician (a bit of guitar, piano and bass) and it annoys me enormously. When the actor actually performs it really shines through, e.g. Jeremy Northam in Gosford Park.

  • Comment number 3.

    It generally bothers me when acting is prentending rather than impersonating.

    When it comes to pretending to play a musical instrument, it only bothers me if I know what it looks like when somebody actually plays this instrument.

    Maybe I spent too much time in rehearsal rooms, studios and clubs. Maybe you have the same problem. Maybe you should get a life and maybe I should do the same!

  • Comment number 4.

    As a bassist and a film critic, yes it does extremely annoy me too. But what i find sometimes worse is when a scene is set in a dingy club or even a big venue (they sometimes have worse sound), that as soon as the band start playing, it sounds like Mutt Lange is at the mixing desk and it is the most slickly produced song you've ever heard, let alone a supposed "live version". Completely unlike any live gig i have ever attended, or played for that matter.

    The most recent and notable offender is Bandslam, at the big concert finale. Couldn't they at have overdubbed it with a live version instead of it sounding like someone slapped an Ipod into the PA system and pressed play?

  • Comment number 5.

    I know exactly how you feel, as someone competent with computers it really annoys me to see the ridiculous use of them in film and tv; detective shows (notable exception of the wire) often being the worst offenders. This is a little different as it isn't a problem with the 'far-future' minority report style that's very detached from the reality, so perhaps film-makers should get actors to play made up instruments so that no one could say they are playing them wrongly.

  • Comment number 6.

    Gary Oldman in Immortal Beloved is actually playing the Beethoven pieces, although he got critiqued at the time for being a "good mimer".

  • Comment number 7.

    "I'm not a musician, I'm a bassist". Oh dear ... do I start dropping names like Mingus, Holland, Vitouš, Wooten, or Manring ..?

    I'm also a bassist (electric) and it bothers me too. There's always something off about the timing when people are miming on an instrument they don't play. On the cello and other classical strings, for example, notes don't "speak" immediately. There's a small but consistent lag that is an essential part of "classical" timing, where the musicians play behind the beat. Compare this to Jazz timing, which is ahead of the beat, and Rock timing, which tends to be on the beat. When the mimer gets this wrong, or is inconsistent, that's at least part of what gets my goat, even before we get to fingerings.

    (I learned this from Tony Levin, a veteran bassist who has worked in all three fields and has written about this here: )

  • Comment number 8.

    It does annoy me, and I think it's partly because they're are so many actors out there who CAN play instruments that I tend to think that if it's such an important part of the story, why not choose an actor that can do it. It's just bad casting.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm a serious swimmer (hence the pseudonym) and I cannot watch anyone pretending to swim on film, or on TV for that matter, without getting really annoyed.

    I guess we all have our little pet obsessions. It's just that some of us can let go.

    I wish I could. Watching Baywatch would have been so much more enjoyable.

  • Comment number 10.

    If it's a serious film then the sight of a non musical actor faking it can come across as comical. The furrowed brow and the flailing fingers combined with obvious cutaways is unintentionally hilarious. If it's a comedy, so what?, it adds to the humour.

    I remember being surprised when I heard that the actors in Spinal Tap were accomplished musicians, but it didn't add or subtract from the over all effect.

  • Comment number 11.

    I don't really care. It doesn't bother me, there are more important things in the world to worry about than worrying about an actor pretending to play an instrument. That’s why they are called actors, they get paid huge amounts of money to pretend to be people who can do things.

  • Comment number 12.

    It all comes down to your willing suspension of disbelief and I think that any time something in a film doesn't ring true be playing a musical instrument, eating (or not), performing a surgical procedure, making love, or fighting a mythical being, if an actor (however good) does something (however subtle) that strikes you the wrong way you will have a hard time suspending your disbelief. Having worked in the Theatre it is usually something in the background of a film that sets me off like Jason Isaacs in Armegeddon with his papier machier space shuttle or the crew of the ship in The Hunt for Red October diligently watching all their little flashing lights. As for music actors seem to get away with the piano far better than they do with string instruments.

  • Comment number 13.

    Is it not much worse when a singer or rock star trys to act.

  • Comment number 14.

    Maybe we've hit the nail on the head - musicians are the ones who get annoyed when they see someone not really playing their instruments when they're supposed to onscreen. I get really annoyed unless it's done to comedy effect, but then they could just play badly and that would be the comedy of it. I think if it's done really well - i.e. the sincing of the pretend playing and the instrument track - then it's particularly effective - for instance the film Hilary and Jackie. Again we go back to the subject of wether musician biog films are any good really don't we e.g. I thought The Doors was quite a good film, but I have a personal dislike of Walk the Line because the actors don't look and sound anything like the people they're portraying, so you might as well get all the passed down popular tales of Johnny Cash - that have probably been exagerated from the real occurrences - and get the cast of High School Musical to portray them.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think what's more annoying is when a character goes into a pub, orders a drink, utters an ultimatum of some sort to the other guy, and promptly leaves the bar just as the drink is about to be put in front of him. One thing I've always admired about Tarantino is that his characters EAT! Witness Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction ("This IS a tasty burger"), or the wonderful Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds devouring strudel. For that reason I always come armed with a share-bag packet of Minstrels and a mountain-sized carton of popcorn whenever QT has a new release!

  • Comment number 16.

    If Jamie Foxx was a convincing cellist, would it really elevate the film above the standard Oscar-baiting biopic?

    P.S. You're guitar playing is amazing

  • Comment number 17.

    On a slight tangent, what [b]really[/b] gets my goat is when there is some sort of gig situation and the 'band' (and there only ever is one band...) come on to a rapturous applause from a full house and play [b] ONE solitary song [/b], then [i]leave[/i]!

    Oh and another thing - I saw 'Dirty Dancing' for the first time ever a few weeks ago and... well... it IS supposed to be a period peice isn't it? In which case, can someone explain to me why, during the ending finale, everyone starts grooving away to a completely anachronistic 80's pop track?

  • Comment number 18.

    Some singers and pop stars turn out to be fine actors and some are very effective simply being themselves. David Bowie comes to mind. I'd rather watch Billy Ray Cyrus act than listen to him sing.

  • Comment number 19.

    As a drummer I feel like I share your implied phobia, percussion being particularly noticeable if mimed, but I also think the symptoms are more prominent when the film is as bland as The Soloist. The trouble is that a vast majority of biopics (musical or not) are so formulaic in structure, that when someone is pretending to play an instrument it only adds to the overall frustration of the viewing experience. Call me cynical, but I can't help feeling that films such as The Soloist are made purely because they're a surefire ticket to an Oscar, pandering to the large numbers of easily emotionally manipulated, unadventurous moviegoers around the globe. The true story it's based on is pretty extraordinary, but when told in such a boring way, and with such a predictable cast, it's about as exciting as opening a utility bill.

    The musical biopic is a genre I've tended to avoid for the aforementioned reasons. The only one I can think of which I actually really liked was the excellent Control.

  • Comment number 20.

    Music is supposed to be heard rather than seen, so it is more important to have a quality soundtrack than have somebody convincingly move their fingers in time. In fact, if you are watching a recorded performance of real musicians, the syncing is rarely accurate so if you watch closely it looks wrong (because it is wrong). So what? Just go with it. I would rather have the real soundtrack of the real musician any day.

    From what I remember, Adrien Brody did an OK job in The Pianist, or maybe I just tuned it out. I think partly they achieved it by playing the shots of Brody in slow motion to the soundtrack. Obviously that wasn't him playing Chopin's Ballade in G minor to the Nazi captain who discovers him. If that had really been Mr Brody performing and I was playing the captain I might have departed from the script and shot him on the spot.
    It was more important we believed that the Nazi was moved by the music sufficiently to let him go than it was important for us to believe it was really young Adrien's fingers flying up and down the ivories.

    Having said that, I don't like watching actors trying to conduct, because they seem to be hopeless at it. Surely anybody can learn to beat out 3/4 or 4/4 time with much less effort than it takes to learn an instrument.

    I still think you are wrong about it being a mistake to dub Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose". Nobody can sing like Piaf; certainly not anyone who is not a singer, and could a singer have done as good an acting job as Cotillard? I have only seen clips of Lady Sings the Blues but Diana Ross doesn't sound much like Billie Holiday; how could she? Maybe the voices of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash were not quite so iconic as those of mesdames Holiday and Piaf. Because Charles and Cash were also instrumentalists and, to an extent, physical performers, our attention is not focused the whole time on just their voices as in the case of the aforementioned divas. Perhaps it was easier for Foxx and Phoenix to carry it off. Does it really matter that it was not Audrey Hepburn singing in My Fair Lady?

  • Comment number 21.

    It bothers me very much; even music videos can be badly edited by someone who can't tell what parts of the drums are being played. Anton Corbijn's 'Control' was a great relief because all of the actors learned how to play the Joy Division songs. I know that's not the hardest musical feet to accomplish but they do it rather well, plus it's the thought that counts.

  • Comment number 22.

    Bravo - I have always hated it when people pretend to play musical instruments in films. It is a particular problem with string instruments, especially the cello – think Hilary and Jackie or The Living Daylights. There are two reasons why I think it is a massive problem. Playing a musical instrument is such a physical activity that pretending to play removes any sense of that physicality and leaves one with the same problems that plagued the digital spiderman or it can be like a shot with bad lip-syncing. Also, where musical performance is an integral part of the film’s narrative, as in a biopic, pretending to play simply feels like a bad performance and so undoubtedly clouds everything else.

  • Comment number 23.

    Playing an instrument is more than just learning to play the notes, it's about connecting with the instrument and the music. Musical expression, or lack of, is the key reason why I feel many acting performances fail. One of my favourite performances, however, is Michael J Fox in 'Back to the Future' with Johnny B Good because he looks connected to the music, and for that reason I couldn't care less about his fingering.

  • Comment number 24.

    Mark, you are spot on with this - it drives me mad. An actor pretending (badly) to play an instrument is one of those things that just drags me out of a scene and reminds me that I'm watching a film.

    An example I can think of is Russell Crowe 'playing' the violin in Master and Commander. His performance in that film is excellent and so much effort on his part goes into making you believe that he IS Captain Jack Aubrey; but then he picks up a violin and you're instantly reminded that you're watching Russell Crowe and, hey, they're not at sea, it's just a studio. It's such a shame.

    A notable exception to this is Michael J Fox in Back to the Future who apparently is merely pretending to play Johnny B Goode, but is so good that you wouldn't know. Either do it properly or not at all.

  • Comment number 25.

    Yes it does bother me because i play guitar myself and know instintivley when ever such scenes appear on film that i know its fake, thus taking some of the enjoyment out. To the comment above mine, Back to the Future would be my choice also for worst "guitar playing" on screen and the best in recent memory would be Walk the Line, authenticity proves best.

  • Comment number 26.

    Spinal Tap's a great one t bring up as I do believe they are actually the one's playing the songs.

    Yes it does annoy me too. One thing I've noticed is I've seen mime artists miming the guitar, and they'll move their 'fretting hand' in the wrong direction - that is, away from them to go up and towards them when they go down - they must know this is wrong, and I suppose are just pandering to what people who don't have a clue about the instrument expect?

    Ditto to the point about live bands sounding fantastically produced in films. Ok a film like Bandslam is aimed at kids so it's not a big deal really, but I do hate in a film when a singer steps up to do her bit audition and suddenly she is blessed with the ability to multi-track her own vocals live.

  • Comment number 27.

    It doesn't matter if they're playing or not - The Piano is still boring

  • Comment number 28.

    who's driving the boat?, who's singing the backing vocals?

    watch any top of the pops from the eighties/nineties and all the bands mime incredably badly to their own tracks, often with unplugged instraments, i think it would annoy me more to have an actor playing an obviously average piece of music on screen than him/her miming to a piece that actually feels like it could have been played by a musical genius. And with films like the Soloist it is important that there isnt a "meg ryan as a helicopter pilot" moment.

  • Comment number 29.

    I was having a full-scale Kermodeian rant on this very subject just the other day - I play several instruments and I find it very distracting when the 'musicians' onscreen are clearly not producing the sound that we are hearing. For me it's as distracting as watching a dubbed film, or a bad bit of sound effects where the footsteps are out oif sync with the onscreen footfalls.

    If the story is good enough, I can see past it - personally I really enjoy The Rutles despite the appalling miming, because the rest of the comic recreation carries me beyond that concern. But if I'm already a bit disengaged from the film for whatever reason, faux-musicianship really gets my goat.

  • Comment number 30.

    There is an eye wateringly horrible scene in the film Killing Zoe (which isn't too great anyway) where the... bad guy? (i cant remember the actor or characters name) plays a trumpet/saxophone/clarinet (cant remember which instrument either). He is swinging his head and body around left and right and doing god only nows what with the instrument yet what you hear is a straight from the studio, clean recording of the instrument being played. Also an example of a very amateur or shabby piece of filming in general if you ask me.

  • Comment number 31.

    Tend to agree with you Mark but it doesn't enrage me as such. The first instance that comes to mind is Michael J Fox's woeful guitar work in Back to the Future at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance - I think he's from the Jamie Foxx school of kind of knowing what he's doing but falling very short when it comes to the crunch!

  • Comment number 32.


    I didnt care whether Holly Hunter was playing the piano in, um, The Piano
    because the music was such a monotonous dirge and mostly just wanted it to stop.

    My favorite part of the Muppet Show was watching the drummer and saxophonist. Don't tell me they weren't really playing.

    you've got to love this, haven't you?

  • Comment number 33.

    I'm a guitarist and yes, it bothers me a lot as well. I think mostly because it just looks like they haven't even tried to make the effort to make it look convincing, and as someone else has pointed out, there are plenty of actors who can play instruments, so for the casting people to not take that into account is pretty bad.

    Re: Back to the Future, I had read that Michael J Fox CAN play the guitar, and indeed did do so for that scene, but that the vocals are by someone else. It at least looks convincing enough to me for me to be unsure, unlike some other performances.

    And knowing that the people in the film have taken the time to learn and play their instruments, does make me enjoy it more - like in Control, for example.

  • Comment number 34.

    Ah but you have to make sure that it's not the fault of the actor but of the editor and director... these guys mess around with the footage amd can completely change what the actor intended to portray.

    For example -

    Editor says: hmm we don't have a good shot of Jamie Fox's face as he plays music for this scene...I know lets pick a shot from another take, splice it in and dub it...

    Director says: OK, why not? Wow, it looks totally seamless!

  • Comment number 35.


    Cheers for the comment re The Piano :)

    Yes, I love the Animal v. Buddy Rich skit. Don't think the good doctor would though - (a) it's not skiffle and (b) it's 'un-cinematic' (i.e. TV) :P

  • Comment number 36.

    I think it is more down to your area of knowledge than anything else. If you know something about playing an instrument you are more likely to notice the mistakes made, if you are a trained in sword fighting you will notice how the hero couldn't fight his way of out a paper bag but it looks good for dramatic effect etc.

    Being on film sets it is quite funny watching how bad people generally are at doing things. A recent experience on a film had lots of extras using long bows but had little training at all and couldn't hit a barn door and it turned out that a lot of people who were trained archers were doing completely different things like holding up bits of wood. When someone asked why they were told it had nothing to do with ability, the casting people just went on looks.

  • Comment number 37.

    Other than wanting to get up out of my seat, climb through the cinema screen into the picture, and personally throttle the actor whilst shouting "you worthless *expletive*!".... no, it doesn't affect me at all.

    I didn't even play a musical instrument of my own until 6 months ago... too much in the shadow of my musical prodigy pianist brother for anyone to consider handing me a violin... yet it has ALWAYS got my goat that actors are clearly holding their hands in the wrong positions. I guess it only affects those of us who know what it SHOULD look like.

  • Comment number 38.


    The trouble for me is that it unsettles me in a way. You can watch an actor push a button or play a computer in a film but they aren't really interacting with the object the object is reacting to their actions, an example is that you press a button on a computer, computer does something, you press it again and it will do it again.. etc..

    When you play an instruments you are interacting with it bending and shaping the sound playing off what you hear almost dancing or having a conversation, you get feedback from the instrument the sound,note, pitch, how you're touching the strings, how you're moving the bow its speed its pressure its giving you feedback in touch and sound constantly. The viewer is getting most of this, as well as the players emotional feedback in their face, how they move and stand you can see if they are angry, sad, happy and really the only way for an actor to get this right i.e not act, is to play the actual peace and have it move them, have it interact with them. If you act it just can't give the same visual and audio feedback, and as a viewer this can unsettle you while you watch, you know something is off but you just don't know why. We do it all the time when talking to people you can tell when they are upset or angry its the same when you play music.

    So for me when someone is acting with an instrument it always feels slightly wrong because the torrent of feedback you would normal see is off slightly or just totally wrong.

    But you know you can't really expect all good actors to be great musicians.

  • Comment number 39.

    From the trailer I have seen of The Soloist the smell of cheese would be so overpowering my eyes would not be able to see any music being played through the fumes.

    In general terms of music I think it is the quality of the sound production matching the actors miming and the environment the instrument is played in. Thus, the playing of the instrument can look authentic or dreadful.

  • Comment number 40.

    as a non musician but a film fan...

    'walk the line' is a very average film which belongs on channel 5 on an afternoon time

    it should have been grimey

  • Comment number 41.

    Yes, actors feigning instrument playing irks me...but nowhere near the level that 'unsuitable actors feigning highly complex jobs' does.

    ie. Meg Ryan, helicopter pilot (Courage Under Fire)

    Madonna, World class Fencing instructor (Die Another Day)

    Denise Richards, nuclear physicist (The World is Not Enough)

  • Comment number 42.

    I find it a strange thing that though this movie seems to bare more than a passing similarity to Kasi Lemmons's film The Caveman's Valentine (which starred Samuel L. Jackson), I haven't heard one bring up said similarity. I think that is probably because no one saw Caveman's....which should have been a clear hint to the makers of this film, that it was to be a fruitless endeavor. But, perhaps, I am wrong. Maybe the viewing public (and the academy) are truly swayed by the stamp of "based on a true story". I hope not, but this won't be the first time (or the worst time) that "the viewing public" has disappointed me.

  • Comment number 43.

    also, in response to your question, YES, it's distracting. I am particularly annoyed by accordion-miming, since I dated a professional accordion player for years and also picked the instrument up a bit myself. it's not the easiest instrument in the world, but the people who pretend to play it often don't even try to bellow correctly. you can't play notes if the machine has no air! the whole ruse falls flat if the actor is smiling and "playing" a closed accordion.

  • Comment number 44.

    Sorry about the pun, but you've really 'struck a chord' with me on this one. I'm a classically trained violinist, and competently play a range of other instruments from saxophone through to banjo. It really drives me nuts every time I see someone pretending to play an instrument on screen - I even remember as an impressionable child being frustrated at the dreadful miming on Top of the Pops! It's probably because we know what to look for - I'm sure pilots, for example, are equally frustrated at flying scenes.

    One thing you forgot to mention was the marvelous performance of wittertainments friend, Kevin Spacey, as Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea - one of the few movies that I've bothered to buy a copy of.

  • Comment number 45.


    never EVER get over your irrational obsessions.


  • Comment number 46.

    I also thought of Kevin Spacey in Beyond the Sea, however, I have no idea if he accurately portrayed Bobby Darin, for me it was simply a fascinating performance. I also thought of Dennis Quaid in Great Balls of Fire. I have heard people speak favourable of Walk the Line which I haven't seen. Doesn't it come down to the overall emotional impact of the film. An actor who is absolutely convincing as a musician will not elevate a crap film and this "based on a true story" is trying to capitalize on past successes in the genre but falls far short. To all those musicians who are bothered by bad miming I say we should all be bothered by bad mime.

  • Comment number 47.

    Dear Mark,

    It is incredibly annoying to watch actors pretending to play musical instruments in films. I think that this problem can also be tied in with the issue of language in Hollywood films. As a language student, I find it infuriating to see actors putting on stereotypical accents which border on being offensive and to see foreign language films dubbed for the sake of the lazy audience. In each case a lot of credibility is lost. Why can't we see films in their true language and see true musicianship on the screen?

    All best.

  • Comment number 48.

    I share your frustration good doctor! Glad to know i'm not alone.

    One of the best examples of actors genuinely playing is in 24 Hour Party People - although most of it is accurately mimed to original tracks, the scene where New Order are rehersing an early version of Blue Monday & John Simm, Ralf Little et al are actually playing is absolutley awesome.

    The Portugese folk David Bowie covers in Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou are also brilliant & played live.

    One of the worst music moments is actually a cameo from a real band - in Clueless the Mighty Mighty Bosstones mime 2 songs quite accurately but the gig finishes with vocalist Dickie Barrett doing THEE worst attempt at a stage dive I have ever seen!

  • Comment number 49.

    This made me laugh. Yes, it bothers the heck out of me! I find it completely distracting. Your arguments are logically sound - and yet it makes little odds.

  • Comment number 50.

    It seems to me that actors pretend to play stringed instruments more often than any other type, and as a violinist who comes from a family of string players, I find this particularly excruciating. There are so many facets to the technique required to play a stringed instrument well (vibrato, bowing, holding the instrument correctly) that it is obvious when someone doesn't know what they're doing. It is especially frustrating when the actor is supposed to be producing the kind of sound one would expect from a talented and classically-trained artist. I'm sure it's not just my musical background that provokes this response - one only has to see an orchestra or soloist play to realise how hopeless it is to try and fake it. Of course, like you said, it doesn't help that the neck of a cello or violin is close to the face and therefore difficult to keep out of shot. With a piano, for example, I imagine it would be easier to cut in shots of a professional or otherwise mask the actor's inability to play.

    The worst offenders I can remember are Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany 'playing' violin and cello in Master and Commander, mostly because it seemed to me that the scene was completely unnecessary and spoiled the rest of a perfectly servicable film.

  • Comment number 51.

    Dear doctor,
    For me, having people pretending to play instruments on the big/small screen does detract from the experience - I can't quite explain why, but in my mind it's similar to when you see bands and artists having to mime to playback on music shows such as Top Of The Tops (and hence why I took a lot of enjoyment from Muse's recent little gag on Italian TV when they swapped instrumental duties as a dig at this kind of thing - if you want to get bands to perform on your programme, let them perform!) although this is slightly detracting from the main issue. If you want to get someone to play the role of a musician, find someone who can actually play it? This has just reminded me of the misfortune I had a few months back of watching Camp Rock with some friends at university - not perhaps the best argument for the retention of the student loan, but anyway! - and being put through some of the worst miming I've seen on any film. I myself am a musician of sorts, and thus the multitude of scenes involving unplugged electrical guitars that magically summon forth sonic energy, invisible drum-kits and generally incorrect finger/chord positions was very nearly too much to take. That said, had they actually been playing the instruments, it would have done very little to prevent me from almost gnawing my own leg off á la the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council (see The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, chapter 7).

    It's a similar issue I have with people playing the roles of characters from other nationalities, e.g. Clive Owen in Derailed - if you want someone to play an American role, what's so difficult about finding an American actor? It's hardly as if there's a dearth of good American actors who could have done a similar, if not indeed better job of it. Even when you have someone playing the role of someone of another nationality very well, or putting on a convincing accent, it still irks me because it all feels very unnecessary. I could go on, but simply put, having someone play the role of another nationality badly, i.e. terrible accent, is just as detracting an experience as watching someone pretend to play an instrument - it removes the sense of authenticity that would aid the enjoyment of being able to immerse yourself into the alternative reality being presented to you. Is this me simply being obsessively irrational too, or am I not alone in this?

    Great blog as ever DrK - never stop being irrational!

  • Comment number 52.

    Apologies for stating the obvious but surely good Doctor, the reason you get so frustrated with it, is that you yourself are a musician. I dont play any instrument and really do not find it even slightly irritating.

  • Comment number 53.

    to be honest its not a huge problem for me, even as a musician. it's not nearly as distracting to me as when a character lights a single match which magically fills the entire room with a warm glow. maybe i'm overreacting but it seems as though it happens all the time in movies.

  • Comment number 54.

    Just as Eric Idle's performance as Dirk McQuickly was dubbed in the Rutles, so was a certain other group's in the Documentary "The Beatles at Shea Stadium".

    What bothers me when I see people impersonate the Beatles in tribute bands - some of which are very good and even look and sound like them and obviously are playing their own instruments - is that the 'Paul McCartney' character usually turns out to be clearly right handed! :-(
    The whole look of the band on stage is then wrong. At least the Rutles got that right.

    As far as whether you can give a convincing performance using your own voice if you are trying to impersonate a very famous singer, I think these guys proved that you can't!

    Just as your eyes tell you "hey, he's not really performing", my ears tell me "that sounds nothing like who it's meant to be"

  • Comment number 55.

    I'd imagine that it's exactly the same for surgeons: they watch a surgery scene and are constantly thinking "what does that man think he's trying to do with those forceps?". Professional poker players were probably going berserk during Casino Royale thinking "the bets are all wrong, only an idiot would fold with those cards".

    Musically, the only one that always gets me is the piano keyboard because surely everyone knows the high notes are on the right and the low notes are on the left, and the harder you hit it the louder it comes out (except, apparently, for harpsichords which aren't touch sensitive).

    I'm sure Maryam D'Abo did learn some 'cello for The Living Daylights.

  • Comment number 56.

    Even worse is when they cut to the real hands of a muscian playing the instrument and then cut back to the ecstatic expression of the actor's face

  • Comment number 57.

    I absolutely agree. One film that always comes to mind is Woody Allen's The Sweet and Lowdown, which I thought was brilliant...almost achieving the greatness of Purple Rose of Cairo, but it was completely ruined by Sean Penn's inability to look as if he was capable of playing jazz guitar. I find this very strange because Allen is himself a musician and I would think that he cares about these issues in film. Maybe it was just a one off mistake...but no...I was watching Melinda & Melinda the other day and it happened again, when Chloe Sevigny was meant to be playing a beautiful piece of classical music on the piano. Sometimes I think Woody Allen (despite making a film every year!) is quite lazy.

  • Comment number 58.

    What about those bloody aliens in the Star Wars Cantina band, surely the least they could do was learn to mime in time! And anyway, it always intrigued me as to how music hadn't progressed to at least something as radical as Ornette Coleman's Primetime by the time they were capable of building a death star!

  • Comment number 59.

    It's the same with sport as well as music. Any scenes of sporting action are always cringingly poor. Even in one of the few decent football-based film - Escape to Victory - emergency keeper Sylvester Stalone keeps asking where to stand for a corner . . . and is told to do entirely the wrong thing. And this from a team with the great Bobby Moore in it!

  • Comment number 60.

    I get it too. However, there's a great bit in Harold and Maude in which Maude sings and plays a song to Harold on the piano. As a pianist myself, I was suddenly pulled out of the film and started wondering if actress who plays Maude could actually play or not.

    Brilliantly, Maude then stands up, still singing, and the piano is revealed to be a player-piano, and she was miming along to it with her fingers. A great, creative little gag that plays directly off the viewer's expectations.

  • Comment number 61.

    i didn't believe for a second adrien brody could play chopsticks or even beverly hills cop in "the pianist" ... that dude couldn't play an instrument or mime it even, if ray charles slapped a tuba across his face and green-screened the camera with george lucas's jar jar binks in thx-certified remasterment.

    am i drunk too, dr kermode?



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