Actors: Seymour Bernstein, Ethan Hawke
Director: Ethan Hawke
Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Widescreen, NTSC
Region: Region 1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
DVD Release Date: November 3, 2015
Run Time: 81 minutes
There is a magnificently unexpected moment within Seymour: An Introduction, from which the tagline of the film was born. Filmmaker Ethan Hawke is having a conversation with legendary pianist Seymour Bernstein about the struggles of striving to live life “more beautifully.” Bernstein questions whether Hawke can achieve this through his career in film, a question which leaves the actor tongue-tied. If a life dedicated to the arts is not about commercial or financial success, what is the ultimate goal? These are the questions investigated in Seymour: An Introduction, a film chronicling one man’s decision to leave behind fame and wealth for a modest life teaching his art form as way to “play life more beautifully.”
Hawke’s title (borrowed from the title of a J.D. Salinger novella) is fittingly descriptive, as Seymour: An Introduction works as a wonderful portrait of an artist for those unfamiliar with his work. But it is much more than just a documentary about Seymour Bernstein’s life and career; at the center of the film is a much larger discussion about the struggle for personal gratification within the art form. Despite a fairly typical documentary approach to the material, the depth of discussions about creativity within the film is on-par with the thoughtfully constructed dialogue of Louis Malle’s My Dinner With Andre. Even more effective is the contagious nature of Bernstein’s passion within the discussion. Listening to him speak may not inspire all who watch the film to become musicians, though his connections between humanity and creativity makes valid argument for the artist in all of us.
Amidst these many scenes of thoughtful discussion is a brief biography of the man behind the film’s ideas. This includes many of the expected tropes of biography documentaries, from the historical photographs to various stories of the past. The major difference between this film and many other documentations of an artist’s life is Hawke’s willingness to allow Bernstein to be the primary voice in his own storytelling. At times this can feel like a one-man show, though this is no different than the moments he is alone at the piano. The film is book-ended by a live performance from Bernstein, which was his first in many years after he gave up the pursuit for success in favor of a personally gratifying career as a music teacher. Bernstein’s full concert is also included in the extras of the DVD, along with the film’s trailer.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 6/10