If you don’t already know and love violinist Itzhak Perlman, you will after watching “Itzhak.”
There are, after all, so many reasons to love him. His triumph over polio. His philanthropy. His incomparable artistry. His love for his wife and baseball. His religious and cultural sincerity.
In addition to all the awards and honorary degrees he’s already received, he should get a prize just for being a good, well-rounded citizen of the world.
That’s the takeaway from Alison Chernick’s touching new documentary. More than a simple portrait of a gifted classical musician, the film is an ode to a cultural giant, one whose work and fame defy all categorization.
It would have been easy to linger in the concert hall, where Perlman’s reputation is legendary, or on his violin. Chernick, though, spends only a few minutes there, taking viewers on a quick visit to his luthier and affording heavenly glimpses of rehearsals and performances with Martha Argerich, Yvgeny Kissin, Mischa Maisky, and others.
Meanwhile, we also see Perlman working up a concert with Billy Joel, sharing a meal with actor Alan Alda, playing the National Anthem at a Mets game, and, as a 13-year-old, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, delivering a decisive blow to disability stereotypes. There’s no ranking here. All of it is important, and all of it matters to him. He’s the original boundary-breaker.
Classical insiders in particular will appreciate the overview of Perlman’s youth, his memories of the Meadowmount School of Music, the many sweet references to him as “sugarplum” by renowned violin pedagogue Dorothy DeLay, and early footage of Perlman as a rising star.
But there’s plenty here for all types. For the family-values advocate, there’s intimate footage of Perlman with his children and grandchildren. For the hopeless romantic, sage wisdom and fond memories from Toby, his wife of 50 years, who fell in love early and deeply, and never looked back. We even get a sense of how hard it is to navigate the world in a wheelchair.
One significant portion of the film will resonate especially with Clevelanders. All who attended any portion of the “Violins of Hope” project will appreciate Perlman’s visit to violin-maker Amnon Weinstein and Perlman’s playing of a violin recovered from the Holocaust, cruelly defaced inside with a swastika.
Still, there are many great musicians in the world, and most of them don’t earn medals from presidents or regularly visit heads of state. What sets Perlman apart, as the film shows, is his philanthropy and tireless work as an educator, through the Perlman Music Program. That’s what pushes Perlman over the edge, from a gifted artist to a worthy film subject and a model human.
Rated: not rated. Starring: Itzhak Perlman. Director: Alison Chernick. Running time: 80 minutes. Theater: Flicks.