Reviewed by Guy Picot
A portrait of musical virtuosity seamlessly enclosed in warmth, humor, and above all, love.
Greenwich Entertainment will release Itzhak theatrically in New York On March 9th and in Los Angeles On March 16th with a national rollout to follow
Itzhak Perlman has been America’s favorite violinist since he appeared, aged 13, on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. The journey from child prodigy to elder statesman is chronicled lovingly in this film by Alison Chernick.
Mixing archive footage with more candid contemporary material about his life and work today, Itzhak paints a portrait of a man who has achieved the American dream, and is now giving back.
As an Israeli born polio-sufferer, his chances of worldwide success were slim, but his prodigious talent earned him a place at Julliard where it was challenged and nurtured. His physical limitations (he uses a mobility scooter and plays sitting down) are not dwelt upon but must be an enormous obstacle to overcome when life consists of airports, hotels and concert halls.
He played the solo in the Schindler’s List soundtrack, and happily provides accompaniment for Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, while still maintaining a full classical touring schedule. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by Barrack Obama in 2015, but it his work at the Long Island school, founded by his wife, Toby, that he seems to consider his greatest accomplishment.
The film follows him as he goes about his life in New York, as well as on tour and recording, inter-cut with earlier interviews and performances.
In his adolescent interviews he speaks no English, but he could now pass for a native New Yorker, complete with an obsession with baseball (we see him in team strip, playing the national anthem before a game)
It all adds up to a full and fascinating profile of someone who came to this country with nothing but a dream for a better life, and the talent and drive to create it. He is now the proud owner of reputedly the best violin in the world, a Stradivarius previously owned by Yehudi Menuhin. Along the way, one is reminded about education cuts, particularly in the arts, as well as the enormous contribution that Jewish people have made to what is known as American culture.
Although not overtly political in its intention, Itzhak seems very timely; the Maestro’s is a story to celebrate, not least because he was encouraged and supported by a welcoming country that appreciated what he had to offer.
From Schubert to Strauss, Bach to Brahms, Mozart to…Billy Joel, Itzhak Perlman’s violin playing transcends mere performance to evoke the celebrations and struggles of real life; “praying with the violin,” says renowned Tel Aviv violin maker Amnon Weinstein. Alison Chernick’s enchanting documentary looks beyond the sublime musician to see the polio survivor whose parents emigrated from Poland to Israel, and the young man who struggled to be taken seriously as a music student when schools saw only his disability. Itzhak himself is funny, irreverent and self-deprecating, and here his life story unspools in conversations with masterful musicians, family and friends, and most endearingly his devoted wife of 50 years, Toby. Itzhak and Toby’s lives are dedicated to their large, loving, Jewish family in NYC and their continual support of young musicians.
TRT: 82 Minutes
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