Seymour: An Introduction
While Ethan Hawke is certainly more well-known for acting work in films from Dead Poets Society to the recent, brilliant Boyhood, in Seymour: An Introduction, he steps behind the camerafor a documentary about pianist Seymour Bernstein as he discusses a career and a life overtaken by music.
Bernstein isn’t terribly well-known today, though for a time was one of the most well-respected and critically acclaimed concert pianists in the United States. Taught by Sir Clifford Curzon, he was patronized early on by a wealthy philanthropist and went on to play around the world to critical acclaim. During that time, he increasingly found himself crippled by nerves and self-doubt, and at 50, without fanfare, he declared he would play no more concerts. He moved into teaching, and many of his students, past and present, are featured in the film. But the film is not a strict biography of Bernstein.
There are conversations about the creation of art, and the curse and privilege of the creative mind. At the periphery of the film is Hawke, who admits that he has been in a period of self-doubt recently regarding his own career and art. The film seems to be an exercise for Hawke in dealing with his own issues.
The tortured world of the classical musician has always made for compelling biographical films, but what separates this story is that Bernstein is a man who has removed himself from that world instead of wallowing in it. His musings are those of a confident 85 year old, who has lived and seen many things, and chose to step away for his own well-being. The topics are often philosophical, but the conversational dialogue and the casual settings makes it extremely accessible and relatable.
I do wish Hawke delved somewhat deeper, in some respects, though. They scratched the surface of many subjects, from religion to solitude to Bernstein’s relationship with his father, but it could benefit from an extra 15 to 20 minutes of more personal detail. (Cameron Bryant)
Wednesday, September 10th, 7:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Thursday, September 11th, 4:45pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, September 13th, 9:30am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2