Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 1 hours 24 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Seymour Bernstein, Ethan Hawke
Directed by Ethan Hawke (The Hottest State, Chelsea Walls)
Ethan Hawke is best known as the Academy Award nominated actor in recent movies like Boyhood, The Purge, or Before Midnight, but he has been known to put on his director hat occasionally. He directs and appears in his first documentary effort, Seymour: An Introduction (opening today), a simple and very personal examination of a master pianist, composer and mentor, Seymour Bernstein.
The film brushes over Seymour's past and mainly focuses on his present, as well as the philosophies that he has managed to instill in the several other musicians and non-musicians that he has touched throughout his life. At age 87, Seymour is soft-spoken and deeply affectionate, but still brimming with a passion and love of music. He actually abandoned a very successful musical career at age 50, to spend the rest of his years teaching up-and-coming pianists the craft.
Mostly, Seymour: An Introduction is a deep meditation on the artistry and purpose of music in the lives of us of all. Although Seymour is a very kind spirit and is instantly mesmerizing and comforting on camera, the soft and somber tone of the film never builds into anything all that effective. Hawke breezes in and out of the film to heap praise on Seymour, who helped him deal with crippling stage fright at one point in his career. Hawke's love for the man is palpable here, in the tenderness of how he chooses to portray the man and his story.
We hear artsy musicians talk about art and music, and how they loathe those that don't understand or work at "the craft." We see Seymour teaching one-on-one lessons at the piano, instructing in front of large groups in auditoriums, and even choosing the perfect piano for an upcoming performance that he plans to do, specifically for Hawke and his peers. There are mentions of other great pianists like the eccentric Glenn Gould or Seymour's idol himself, Clifford Curzon. We are given a peek into the technical aspects of what makes music the "universal language," but we see how there is much more to it than the notes or the sound. There is a finesse and patience required, and as Seymour says, a direct link between the music and one's soul.
Of course all of this is sweet and touching, but Seymour: An Introduction is mainly a music documentary that is preaching to the choir - or in this case, the orchestra. It is a music film for music lovers, but fails to really gain enough momentum to really move those who don't know how to read sheet music.
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