[SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION opens in Akron on Friday April 24th exclusively at the Nightlight Cinema.]
Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.
I worked for NPR (had WCPN accepted my job application), I'd posit
simply that playing the Green Goblin Jr. in a Spider-Man movie goes a
long way to scoring points with the 21st-century's cultural tastemakers,
and Mr. Hawke came up short compared to Franco in that regard. Either
that or NYC editors and opinion leaders, having a mentality not unlike
that of your average high-school Mean Girl (I know Cleveland's editors
and opinion leaders are that way), took Uma Thurman's side in her
breakup with Hawke; after all, which one of them sold more Vanity Fair covers?
Hawke can still redeem himself, of course. If his agent's good, he'll
be cast as "Hawkeman" in that Justice League movie that never quite gets
off the ground. Meanwhile, for those few of
you inclined to grownup stuff, there's SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION.
didn't get it until NPR said so (superhero comics must have rotted my
brain too), but the title is a play on the name of a well-known J.D.
Salinger short story. Okay, whatever; the feature is a slickly produced
documentary on a venerable New Yorker whom Hawke sees as a sort of an
artistic mentor-figure - or at least, what an artistic mentor-figure
would be, in a better world.
Now in his 80s, Seymour
Bernstein was a classical pianist who arose out of a non-musical,
apparently unappreciative family, to become a musician of some renown.
But at age 50 he abruptly played an unannounced farewell gig at a NYC
YMCA, then retreated to a simple life out of the spotlight as a
respected piano teacher (and a composer, mostly of etudes).
Bernstein, the soft-spoken sort of New Yorker who could give New
Yorkers a good name, explains his life choices and philosophy. True, he
partially retired due to crippling stage fright and self-doubt. But he
also fears the corrosive effects of artistic celebrity, creating a
heartbreaking thin line between being creatively brilliant and being an
"There are a examples of extremely talented and extremely selfish, horrible people...There are musicians who are monsters."
I had to write that down. You go, Seymour Bernstein! I've been thinking
that sort of thing for years, but just had to hear it from a respected
arts insider. When it comes to naming names, the worthy Bernstein (and
some impish re-enactments courtesy Hawke) cites Brando, Pollock and, of
all people, tic-ridden pianist Glenn Gould, whose neuroses, Bernstein
thinks, were more akin to affectations Gould used to call attention to
(Even so, I wish he'd chosen another example
of Artists Behaving Badly besides cult-hero Gould, who, like Bernstein,
curiously, also retired from public performance without warning, at his
peak, albeit for different reasons (making one wonder if that wasn't
another calculated bid for attention, the way the abovementioned J.D.
Salinger was accused when he became a recluse (I never became a musician
or performed, so maybe I can just bill myself as the ultimate
"alternative" singer-songwriter. So cool that I quit before I started.
Bring on my millions in royalties! My statue outside the Rock Hall! My
bloody, broken and brutalized groupies! I'll try to be the worst person
possible, if that's what the fans and adoring critics expect.)))
having stepped away from an illustrious career, Bernstein has been
content to live in the same one-bedroom apartment with his Steinway for
more than half a century. Here he taught generations of aspiring young
keyboard maestros with gentle focus, emphasizing the hard work,
dedication and focused concentration it takes to make everything look so
effortless and not doing anybody any harm.
per Ethan Hawke, sums up a good blueprint for life, no matter what
creative expression you're into - although music fans, especially those
leaning towards the 88 keys, and even more so, Franz Schubert, are
probably the best audience for SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION. Hawke
also apparently engineers Bernstein's return to live performance, with
the man's first public recital in 35 years, at Steinway Hall. Which may
be a bit of grandstanding, in a movie that dares to portray an artistic
type as modest in the extreme. But I hope I can forgive that, if Mr.
UPDATE: Following his concert
performance, Seymour Bernstein went beserk over his renewed acclaim, and
binged on crack cocaine, ecstasy and meth. He tweeted racist slurs
against Michiko Uchida (and they weren't even the accurate racist
slurs). He trashed several hotels - not just his rooms; the entire
buildings - from Atlantic City to Las Vegas, married and divorced Nadja
Salerno-Sonnenberg in three hours, nearly killed Itzhak Perlman while
street drag-racing, and crashed the Grammys in a bourbon-fueled haze,
trying to take away Beck's award and giving it to P.D.Q. Bach instead.
When one terrified woman cried out, "Why are you doing this," he roared
back "Because I'm Seymour @#!ing Bernstein, that's why! I've even got my own documentary!"
And burned her to a cinder with his radioactive breath. Okay, just
kidding about all that. But still, it would just prove his point. (3 out
of 4 stars)