Seymour Bernstein and Ethan Hawke in Hawke's "Seymour: An Introduction."

Seymour Bernstein and Ethan Hawke in Hawke's "Seymour: An Introduction." Credit: Sundance Selects / Robin Holland

Seymour Bernstein, when first told that the actor Ethan Hawke wanted to make a movie about him, reportedly responded by asking, "Who's that?" You might say that Bernstein, a pianist, educator and unassuming philosopher about art and music, lives in his own world. He makes one very much want to join him there.

Hawke apparently was taken by Bernstein, who stopped performing decades ago, when they were seated together at dinner, and shared their thoughts about artist's insecurities and the terrors of live performance.

Bernstein's very decided opinions about music, its value to even the nonmusical life (perhaps especially to the nonmusical life) will speak to anyone, but Hawke set out to make a perhaps deliberately unorthodox documentary, one that eschews the conventions of biopic in favor of creating a showcase for ideas, and for Bernstein, who has inspired generations of pianists of both the professional and pedestrian variety. New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, a bit sheepishly, admits he never wanted to practice. Bernstein doesn't let him off the hook.

Nor does he let his students off the hook, or parents who don't make their children practice, or don't appreciate the critical importance of art to education.

Not that "Seymour: An Introduction" is some kind of manifesto. Mostly it's a portrait of a gifted artist who couldn't bear the pressure of being a concert pianist (although when he performed he got rave reviews) and instead chose to inspire others. He did it with his students. He'll do it with movie audiences.

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