'Itzhak' is a portrait of charismatic, world renowned musician
Music has always been a major part of our interaction with the world. It fills our music halls, our campuses, our workplaces and even our homes. Popular artists like Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar have built personas and entire brands around their names. Even members of famous bands like Harry Styles of One Direction and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 have name recognition.
This is a facet of celebrity that is sorely missed for classical musicians, however. With the exception of the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, it is difficult to think of a contemporary classical musician who is well-known. In the documentary “Itzhak,” a great deal of effort is made to remind listeners that the stories and names behind the strings we so love are often as interesting as the music they produce.
The subject of this feature-length documentary by filmmaker Alison Chernick is Itzhak Perlman, an Israeli-American violin virtuoso whose musical prowess has made him a collaborator with film composer John Williams and a guest of world leaders like Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. World-renowned in his own right, those ignorant to the world of classical music may find him intimidating, given his reputation of being possibly the best living violinist in the world. Perlman has an immediately disarming quality about him though, and as soon as he speaks he comes off equally wise and charming.
As the sole focus of this documentary, Perlman explains how he immigrated from Israel, studied at the prestigious Juilliard School and continues to live with the crippling disease Polio.
Despite the nature of his disease, Perlman never ceases his quips and optimism. Polio has clearly not stopped him from doing what he loves. He is also surrounded by a wonderful network of friends and family, many who are interviewed throughout the length of the doc.
This film would serve as the Holy Grail of insight into the life of Perlman for his devoted fans, and there is plenty packed into it for newcomers to his music as well. A number of Perlman’s performances are recorded and spliced in throughout the documentary, showing the viewers both his personal ruminations and his prowess as a performer.
The only thing lacking from this light-hearted feature is any sort of conflict. While this is not an essential component to the film and certainly does not take away from it, a sense of consequence or suspense would wonderfully break up the structure of interview-performance-interview-performance and make it seem less monotonous at times.
With only a few minor lulls, “Itzhak” manages to compose a film around a single seemingly non-controversial figure. In this sense, his reputation as a legendary violinist seems all the more satisfying given he did not have to step on any toes to earn that lofty title. Its reluctance to engage with any sort of real conflit is somewhat disappointing, but “Itzhak” is a fascinating picture into the life of a man who has lived life to the fullest.
“Itzhak” opened Friday, April 6 at Landmark’s E Street Cinema
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