Seymour: An Introduction–Ethan Hawke’s Great Docu of Pianist Prodigy

seymour_an_introduction_1Ethan Hawke’s documentary “Seymour: An Introduction”  is only 81 minute long, but not one second is wasted on conveying the genius of its acclaimed pianist, Seymour Bernstein.

A highlight of the Telluride Film Fest, “Seymour” plays next week at the Toronto Film Fest, where it should attract the reaction of a distributors worthy of releasing this poignant and insight ful docmentary.

A piano prodigy, Bernstein, now in his early 80s,  retired from public performance at the young age of 50, in order to concentrate on his great gift of teaching.

Unlike many geniuses, who are eccentric, selfish and often borderline mad, Bernstein is quiet-spoken, intellectually articulate, and unpretentiously grounded.  He generates the kind of wisdom and charisma that often come with experience–and grand persona.

seymour_an_introduction_2Among the docu’s many riveting themes is Bernstein’s stage fright, an issue that reportedly brought actor-star Ethan Hawke and his subject together.  You would not expect such a vet and accomplisjed artist to suffer from performing live, but studies show that he is not alone; many actors and dancers have professed to have continuous fears, decades ino their careers.

The pianist contemplates on varius dimensions of his art, career phases, and life stages. He goes out of his way to make a clear distinction between careerism or professional success as opposed to genuine achievement and emotional fulfilment.

First-time docu director Hawke, who had previously helmed the so-so indie The Chelsea Hotel, is effective in sharing with the viewers his excitement for Bernstein’s instructional courses.  Unlike other similarly-themed features, Hawke doesn’t try to “do justice” to his subject’s rich life and present a fully biographical portrait in a chronological order.  Hawke seems to subscribe to the notion that, no matter how hard one tries, it’s impossible to do justice to an artist of the caliber of Bernstein–within the limitations of running time and space.

seymour_an_introduction_3Though it gives you enough material, “Seymour: An Introduction” lives up to its title and doesn’t “exhaust'” its subject.  For me a good measure of an effective documentary is whether or not you want to know more about the person and his art.  I certainly felt this way after seeing this docu, and am looking forward to seeing it again, due to its rich text and subtext.

The last revelatory feature I saw about a genius pianist was 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould, the award-winning Canadian film made in 1993, to which “Seymour: An Introduction” serves as a wonderful companion piece.

I have just made a  decision: As soon as I get back from the Toronto Film Fest, I am going to purchse some of Bernstein’s recorded music.