PLOT A documentary on the world-famous violinist Itzhak Perlman.
PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas, Malverne Cinema and Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington
BOTTOM LINE Semi-illuminating but quite enjoyable, thanks to its subject’s warmth and charm.
“Itzhak,” Alison Chernick’s documentary about the renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, opens with its subject playing the national anthem at the opening of a Mets game. What really leaves an impression, though, is his rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Perlman plays that Tin Pan Alley tune just right, somewhere between beer hall and Carnegie Hall, with little filigrees designed to please the box-seat VIPs and the nosebleed crowd alike.
Any classical musician most people can name — and there aren’t many — has got to have the proverbial common touch, and “Itzhak” shows that Perlman is no exception. In fact, “Itzhak” feels less like a portrait of the artist and more like a home-movie of your lovable grandpa. Utterly devoid of tantrums, perfectionism, gnomic pronouncements or any of the mad behavior we’ve long associated with brilliant musicians, “Itzhak” invites us to spend 90 pleasant minutes with a warm, charming, down-to-earth giant of the classical world. “Mozart in the Jungle,” this ain’t.
“Itzhak” shows us an upbeat, active New Yorker (he turns 73 this year) who covers so much ground in his wheelchair-scooter that it’s a wonder he’s not passing by your window right now. He has dinner with Alan Alda (a fellow polio survivor), flies to Israel for a concert with Zubin Mehta, zips over to Madison Square Garden to back Billy Joel (is that “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? It is!) and so on. Nearly always at his side is his wife, Toby, herself a classically trained violinist, who co-founded the Perlman Music Program and its summer session on Shelter Island.
“Itzhak” is slated to appear on PBS’ “American Masters” series later this year, and like much of that series, this future installment doesn’t dive terribly deep into its subject. (There is, however, some revealing footage of Perlman’s years as a touring child prodigy, or what his wife bluntly calls “the poor-little-crippled-boy kind of thing.”) Mostly, this movie is a chance to hear Perlman ply his wry brand of humor (he’s a good joke-teller) and muse aloud about his extraordinary life. The film ends somewhat as it begins, with Perlman playing a traditional Klezmer tune, and clearly having a grand old time.