Actor-turned-filmmaker Ethan Hawke met concert-pianist-turned-teacher Seymour Bernstein at a dinner party. They hit it off so well that Hawke decided to profile Bernstein in a documentary, Seymour: An Introduction. Leaving aside the nagging question of why Hawke decided to give the doc the same title as J.D. Salinger’s 1959 novella, it’s an idiosyncratic, very personal portrait of an inspiring musical sensibility.
In the spirit of Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre — and in the milieu of such only-in-Manhattan stories as Herb & Dorothy and Bill Cunningham New York — Hawke’s unobtrusive camera observes Bernstein interacting with his master-class piano students in the tiny flat where he has lived for 57 years. They clearly admire their maestro as much as Hawke does, probably because of Bernstein’s utter devotion to the emotional and spiritual dimensions of the music. To listen to him describe how the work of Schumann or Beethoven affects him is to enter the world of the awed devotee, always alert for the “one quiet note played for a secret eavesdropper,” as Bernstein describes one his favorite pieces.
Compared to the over-stimulation of most mass-market films, 84 minutes with Mr. Bernstein is a fresh-air break in a cool, quiet garden high above the noise of the street, a murmuring discourse on life and happiness from a born communicator who caresses the keys. You’ll be glad Hawke invited you to meet him.