Seymour Bernstein at 88 is such a loveable man, and so talented an interpreter of classical music, it is easy to fall in love with him. But that's not why Ethan Hawke was so inspired at meeting him at a dinner party, so much that he knew he wanted to spend more time with Seymour documenting him. Hawke's movie Seymour: An Introduction captures Seymour's wisdom and generosity. It should be mandatory viewing for anyone in the arts, in fact, everyone alive. Seymour's gift as a teacher of piano is to supply ample instruction, carrying over into life itself, advocating integration and balance. He believes, "Whatever talent you have is the essence of who you are." Hawke's goal was to show young people, how a passion for an art form can inform the art form and life; in this anti-Whiplash, Seymour helps Hawke with his stage fright, ironic because after stellar reviews on the concert circuit himself, as a young man, he gave up performing because the pre-performance anxiety was unmanageable. So it was a special treat when he sat at the piano performing for invited dinner guests at last fall's New York Film Festival.
Presenting their unlikely collaboration, Seymour and Ethan are a great comedy duo, finishing one another's sentences. Bernstein interrupts Hawke who takes it with a knowing grin. Unlike other actors of his generation, Hawke is not cocky. Knowing he has a lot to learn, he seeks out these savants. He sat at Gregory Corso's deathbed and recited the beat poet's "Marriage." The poem had been part of his movie Reality Bites, and Hawke made it emblematic of Gen X. In the recent Boyhood, his Oscar nominated performance as ex-husband and dad was sensitive, smart, and humble. In interviews he notes that when he gets favorable reviews, it is usually because critics have a positive relationship with the character he's playing, even if it is a villain; he's doing what they want. He was not praised for his Macbeth at Lincoln Center last year, which for me was a brave and solid performance. It says a lot about Ethan Hawke that he could appreciate Seymour Bernstein, keep learning, and venture into what is for him the uncharted genre of documentary filmmaking to make this beautiful film about an artist whose work you may not otherwise know.
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