Movie Review -- 'Seymour: An Introduction' is a Master Class in Life
Posted by Ryan Sanderson on Friday, April 10, 2015 at 12:00 AM By Ryan Sanderson / April 10, 2015 Comment
Bernstein was a world class pianist for many years before his stage fright inspired him to give up concerts and teach. Today he is seen living alone in a small one bedroom apartment, spending leisurely afternoons with friends and colleagues, and playing on his home piano for no audience at all (save, now, the one sitting in the theater). In a world that idolizes ambition, digital connectivity, and YOLO-esque hedonism, he could not be less hip. The film also couldn’t be less hip. It doesn’t have the showy visual flourishes of an Errol Morris doc or any attention-grabbing narrative gimmicks. It’s comprised mostly of talking heads and long musical interludes. It’s a simple document of a life well-lived. Bernstein is fascinating one on one in small rooms, but you don’t get the impression that he would stand out at a party. He has a boyish sensitivity, his voice never rising above a gentle whisper. He describes a scene from his childhood where his mother found him crying about the beauty of a piece by Schubert. Hawke’s speeches directly to the camera about “authenticity” and “the meaning of it all” can get a little grating. “I think a lot of people spend their lives not trying to play better but trying to gain more things,” he says like a director who knows exactly what he wants said in front of the camera. However, he chose his subject well. Bernstein phrases the sentiment more poetically: “Most people don’t tap the God within.” And you do get a sense that the man isn’t speaking from some misanthropic mass judgment. He genuinely seems more at peace with himself and the world than most people on the street, and he brings that sensitivity and care everywhere he goes. The judgment is notably missing. He never raises his voice when speaking to his students. Sometimes he appears hurt, like when he describes the way his father used to say, “I have two daughters and a pianist,” but he’s never angry. There’s not exactly a story to speak of; just a collection of thoughts and anecdotes structured around the protagonist’s arresting musical performances. In reference to his stage fright, Bernstein tells a story about actress Sarah Bernhardt. A young actress asked for Bernhardt’s autograph and noticed that her hands were trembling. She said, “Madam, I don’t mean to be presumptuous but I see that you’re nervous. Why is it that I never get nervous when I have to act?” Bernhardt’s response: “Oh my poor dear. You will get nervous when you learn how to act.” It’s such a simple, direct parable. The moral: if people knew everything that was possible in life, they would be more nervous about how they spent it. It’s the sweetness and conviction with which it’s delivered that really sell it. Cynics might balk at statements like, “Music and life interact. Through its language we become one with the stars.” The funny thing about quotes is that it matters who said them. What would be horribly pretentious coming from a random stranger is inspiring when spoken by Bernstein, who seems open and knowable from the moment we first see him. When he speaks about the pieces he is playing, his words come alive in the music itself. His thoughts on life resonate the same way. It’s also kind of funny when two of his students argue about occurrences of B flat in outer space.