No one should tell you too much in advance about this utterly remarkable film, director Ethan Hawke’s first documentary. As the title indicates, Seymour: An Introduction puts us in close proximity to Seymour Bernstein, the eightysomething classical pianist who left the concert stage when he was 50 to teach and write his own music. Lucky for us, Hawke ran into Bernstein at a Manhattan party where they talked about art, stage fright and the seduction of fame. Hawke thought we should hear from Bernstein as well.
To which we owe him a great debt. It turns out that Bernstein is as eloquent with words as he is with interpreting Schubert, Chopin and Beethoven on piano. Hawke’s movie isn’t a biopic, though we do learn about Seymour’s army service in Korea (the archival footage of his concerts for soldiers is deeply affecting) and his issues with a father who didn’t have much regard for his son’s gifts. Mostly, we watch Bernstein play for himself and his students, as well as prep for a rare concert arranged by Hawke. The twice Oscar-nominated actor appears onscreen only briefly. Hawke knows where the spotlight belongs. Believe me, the 81 minutes spent in Bernstein’s funny, touching and vital presence is something you don’t want to miss.