Itzhak Perlman remains renowned for his one-of-a-kind artistry as a violin virtuoso. However, did you know that this lively, entertaining and brilliant musician sports a fierce sense of humor?
In the Hampton’s International Film Festival opening night film Itzhak by Alison Chernick, Perlman appears to be perennially busy. The master violinist conducts and teaches. A whirlwind performer he continues to tour and perform concerts world-wide. Behind all this activity, he records and wins Grammys and Emmys. No less remarkable, he has won the Genesis Prize and the National Medal of Freedom.
To add to his accomplishments he and his wife Toby have founded The Perlman Music Program. Thus, not only a violin virtuoso, he has become a virtuoso at overcoming life’s obstacles with joie de vivre. Alison Chernick beautifully captures Perlman’s approach toward living and loving life. And her film reveals Perlman doing what he does best, shining happiness wherever he goes.
Chernick’s documentary Itzhak on the life, times, and musicianship of Itzhak Perlman refreshes, inspires, enlightens. Happily, in the film Itzhak performs brilliantly for us. We get to experience clips of Perlman in practice sessions and concerts, and Chernick provides video snippets of Perlman early on as a child prodigy in his break through performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Moreover, she spools clips of his various concert tours with celebrities and notables. Amazingly, the film reveals Perlman’s vast repertoire playing a rich musical mosaic of classic violin concertos by Mozart, Bach, et. al. and contemporary music.
Finally, we even get to see/hear his rendition of the iconic theme from Schindler’s List written by John Williams. This haunting piece Perlman says remains his most requested work. As he plays it magnificently, one thinks of the lives lost during the Holocaust. Importantly, that theme retains the symbolism of poignant life and suffering. As Perlman soulfully plays, the violin weeps tragedy. Consequently, his performance resonates life and soothes painful remembrances.
Because the documentarian peels back the layers on Perlman’s personal life, we discover his humanity behind the myth. Concisely, her cinema verite approach elucidates what drives Perlman’s continued evolution into greatness. When she follows Perlman to a Stradivarius maker in Europe that he patronizes, discovery happens. The artisan reveals what he found in a violin. Interestingly, the personal remnant discloses a bit of history about the Holocaust, and why many played violins during that time.
Chernick shadows Perlman to various New York City venues. There, we enjoy watching him tool around the streets of New York on his mobile wheelchair/scooter, and the director fills in the backstory of Perlman contracting polio at four-years-old. Though he recovered and created a normal life for himself, Chernick does include shots of his sometime problems with mobility. Overall, however, these clips retain humor and his scootering about town looks like great fun.
Furthermore, Chernick allows us the the opportunity to understand Perlman’s relationship with his wife Toby, who is a violinist and who can be critical of Perlman’s performances. A homely portrait of Itzhak shows him cooking, joking, and entertaining. In a humorous segment when Alan Alda’s visits, their conversation is both natural yet enlightening. While Chernick’s camera records, the celebrities remain unperturbed and forget they are being filmed.
Avoiding repetition or a linear chronicle, the filmmaker cuts into Itzhak’s early life with archived black and white photos. However, she does this after she acquaints us with Perlman’s artistic genius and allows us to hear his playing. Furthermore, moments from his past include informative bits about his parents.
Also, they highlight his practice schedule and his life in Israel before he came to the U.S. Finally, they provide us with a profound understanding of how Perlman morphed as a violinist. When he was accepted at Julliard barely speaking English, he mastered the program, and today he continues to teach there.
Inevitably, Perlman came to the attention of Ed Sullivan in 1958, who invited him on his show. Needless to say, he stunned Sullivan’s audience. Whether the audience admired his ability to facilely play or the fact that the youngster had contracted polio at four and recovered despite the hardship, his performance fascinated them. After the Sullivan program doors opened. Indeed, Itzhak never looked back. As he toured in concerts worldwide, he established milestones with his prodigious performance and recording career.
Perlman’s life with Toby remains a mystery of love and joy. Both are forthcoming about their relationship. Above all they share their love of music, ideas, culture, and family life. A few of their five children appear in the film. Incrementally, the documentarian interviews Toby throughout. With humor, enthusiasm and many smiles, Toby shares where they met and fell in love. Importantly, her story about how she won Itzhak from other women through persistence charms us.
Itzhak, the documentary about one of the finest violinists on the planet enthralls and delights. Notably, Chernick succeeds in portraying greatness side by side with the every day wonder of how this man makes his own way through the world. Thus, she proves that with his violin Itzhak Perlman carved out a path which no one can exactly follow. In particular Perlman is a maverick, a dreamer whose imagination materialized reality. Circumspectly, Chernick’s documentary studies how he accomplished this, and it inspires and uplifts us to endeavor in our own way to do the same.
To conclude this enjoyable documentary may be found on American Masters. It opens at DOC NYC 16 November.