Seymour: An Introduction | Ethan Hawke | NYFF 2014
Ethan Hawke jumps into the world of documentary filmmaking with Seymour: An Introduction, a sublime feature about a supremely talented but forgotten pianist by the name of Seymour Bernstein. You see, Bernstein had experienced a great deal of acclaim as a pianist during the first part of his life, but walked away from his performing career without any notice in 1977 (at age 50) to instead focus on teaching piano, sharing his talents in a way that he found more private and rewarding.
The chance of a documentary being made by the almost forgotten pianist was as unlikely as they come. However, a chance meeting between Hawke and Bernstein at a dinner party sparked it all. They formed a bond that night, and Hawke was inspired to show the world the special person that made a great impression on him that night.
A documentary being made about a man who walked away from a career in the spotlight of an art is ironic as they come, but that’s part of the charm. Enough time has passed since then, and Seymour is perfectly content with the course that his life took. Hawke is truly inspired by Seymour, and it shows in his delightful portrayal of the man, a loving portrait that hits all the right notes.
We see the modest Upper West Side apartment that he’s spent nearly his whole life living in, as well as a look into the private lessons that he teaches. Hawke talks to current and former students of his, all of which have been touched by Seymour in some fashion. The documentary is presented in a smooth and elegant manner, one that totally emulates the calming presence that Seymour demonstrates. It’s a delightful joy to watch unfold, one that moves at the perfect speed.
Credit to Hawke who does a mighty fine job behind the lens, putting the loveable Seymour in front of it and letting his charm work its way ten times around you. Hawke does make appearances throughout it, but only to discuss life as a performer, letting his guard down a bit, showing the calming effect that Seymour’s presence has on him.
The loving embrace that Seymour receives in this documentary is long overdue, as this is a man who should have been adored and appreciated for many years. But Hawke has righted that wrong, and introduced him to a great deal of people who will undoubtedly fall for his charm as well. Seymour Bernstein is an unlikely movie star, but that’s what makes this wonderful documentary such a pleasant surprise. It’s an inspiring tale that gently touches your heart. You’ll walk away from the film totally inspired by a man that was a total stranger to you and hour and a half ago. That’s just the power Seymour has on you.