You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Itzhak’

An affectionate documentary portrait of the world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Alison Chernick
Itzhak Perlman, Toby Perlman, Alan Alda, Amnon Weinstein, Stefan Valcuha, Billy Joel, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman, Evgeny Kissin, the Klezmatics. (English, Hebrew dialogue.)

1 hour 23 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6186232/reference

Good music and good company make “Itzhak” a pleasure, though those seeking a methodical career overview should look elsewhere than this genial personality sketch of the world-famous violinist. Alison Chernick’s documentary captures the Manhattan-dwelling subject at home and on tour around the globe, hobnobbing with classical colleagues as well as the likes of close friend Alan Alda and former POTUS Obama. It’s a portrait custom-made for public television (and duly co-produced by PBS’ American Masters), though one that would also appeal to a select audience in limited theatrical exposure.

Itzhak Perlman was born in 1945 Tel Aviv to Polish émigré parents who were non-musical, though they quickly sussed their prodigy son’s talent. Others did not, if only because they thought he couldn’t get far on the leg braces that polio forced on him at age 4 — never mind that the violin is not customarily played with one’s feet. Nonetheless, at 13 he was both enrolled at Juilliard and making his first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (duly reprised here).

We get just glimpses of his meteoric subsequent rise in archival performance and interview clips. Instead, Chernick’s main focus is on the subject’s everyday life as he enters his eighth decade — even if this particular “everyday life” might entail eating Chinese takeout with other living classical-music legends, accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom, jetting to Jerusalem (for another prize), backing up Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden or playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” to open a Mets game. Admittedly, there are also less exalted moments, when we see him rehearsing with an orchestra or in the recording studio, teaching music students (at Juilliard and the Perlman Program summer camp) and negotiating wintertime NYC sidewalks in his wheelchair-scooter.

Perlman is a garrulous personality who seems comfortable in almost any setting. Yet he appears to take a conversational back seat around wife Toby, who’s also a violinist (though “not a particularly exciting one” by comparison, she admits) and a perfect soul mate in seemingly every additional respect. Their busy, curious, affectionately meddling dynamic sets the general tone here, making much of “Itzhak” play like an invitation to spend the weekend with a family of acquaintances who just happen to include one international celebrity (plus their occasional celebrity pals, like dinner guest Alda). It’s intimate enough that we grasp how important Jewish identity, culture and ritual is in their lives, and casual enough that such matters never require formal “talking head” explanation. There’s also time to dwell on the fascinations of the violin as physical object, whether visiting an instrument dealer in Tel Aviv or having Perlman’s favored Stradivarius looked over by a repairer before a tour.

The strains of Bach, Vivaldi, Schubert, Strauss, et al., weave through the film, albeit in a fashion more incidental than focused — this is not the kind of documentary in which Perlman would be drilled about his approaches or attitudes toward individual composers. Instead, it’s the kind where he might reasonably enough be last seen playing with nontraditional klezmer band the Klezmatics, a circumstance for which by then no explanation is required.

Chernick has primarily dealt with visual artists (Jeff Koons, Matthew Barney, Steve McQueen) in her documentaries but seems quite at home exploring this different creative milieu. Helen Yum’s editing weaves a seemingly free-form progress into a briskly entertaining package, while the several cinematographers credited lean toward warm earth tones reminiscent of certain Woody Allen movies, or the fine wood grain of a violin itself.

Film Review: 'Itzhak'

Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival (True Stories), Jan. 9, 2018. (Also in Hamptons, Doc NYC festivals.) Running time: 83 MIN.

Production: (Docu) A Voyeur Films and American Masters Pictures production. (International sales: Roco Films, Sausalito, California.) Producer: Alison Chernick. Executive producers: Michael Kantor, Penny Lieberman.

Crew: Director: Alison Chernick. Camera (color, HD): Daniel Kedem, Christopher Gallo, Mikko Timonen, Chris Dapkins. Editor: Helen Yum.

With: Itzhak Perlman, Toby Perlman, Alan Alda, Amnon Weinstein, Stefan Valcuha, Billy Joel, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman, Evgeny Kissin, the Klezmatics. (English, Hebrew dialogue.)

More Film

  • Game of Thrones Season 8 Production

    'Game of Thrones,' Netflix VFX Among Those to Be Featured in SIGGRAPH Production Talks

    VFX pros behind the final season of “Game of Thrones,” the blockbuster film “Avengers: Endgame,” Pixar’s upcoming “Toy Story 4,” last year’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Netflix series, including “Stranger Things,” and more will give SIGGRAPH 2019 attendees a behind-the-scenes look at their work during the conference’s Production Sessions. There will even be a [...]

  • Lionsgate Planning 'Hunger Games' Prequel Movie

    Lionsgate Planning 'Hunger Games' Prequel Movie

    Lionsgate has begun working on a “Hunger Games” prequel movie, based on a forthcoming novel from writer Suzanne Collins. “As the proud home of the ‘Hunger Games’ movies, we can hardly wait for Suzanne’s next book to be published. We’ve been communicating with her during the writing process and we look forward to continuing to [...]

  • Siberia Keanu Reeves

    Saban Films Turns 5: How the Indie Studio Grew While Rivals Faltered

    Saban Films doesn’t make the most noise. It doesn’t have the splashiest premieres or parties. But the indie film label just quietly did what many of its early rival failed to pull off. It celebrated its fifth anniversary at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. “We stuck to our plan,” Saban Films founder Bill Bromiley told [...]

  • Emanuel

    Film Review: 'Emanuel'

    Mass shootings continue to be a shameful stain on contemporary American history. They strike at such a frequent rate that the way they occupy news cycles before losing the public’s short-spanned attention has become appallingly routine. With his somber documentary “Emanuel,” released by Fathom Events in theaters for two nights only (June 17 and 19), [...]

  • Men in Black International

    Box Office: 'Men in Black: International,' 'Shaft' Add to Summer Sequel Slump

    As “Men in Black: International” and “Shaft” join the growing list of under-performing sequels this summer — an ignominious group that includes “Dark Phoenix” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” — worries of franchise fatigue are beginning to simmer in Hollywood. “Franchises that don’t up the ante or bring anything new into the fold are [...]

  • Song Ge

    Beijing Culture's Song Ge Urges Mainstream Directors to Toe Government Line

    The publicity-shy chief of Beijing Culture, which has backed such Chinese mega-hits as “Wolf Warrior II” and “The Wandering Earth,” openly urged film directors Monday to stick to material pleasing to the Chinese state, for the sake of their investors. “If you’re shooting an art house or smaller budget films, it’s no problem — say [...]

  • Iran presentation at Shanghai film festival

    Shanghai: China-Iran Heading Towards Co-Production Treaty

    “China has signed co-production agreements with 22 countries. Similar agreements between Iran and China are in the works, and will be signed by the end of this year,” said Miao Xiaotian, GM of the China Film Co-Production Corporation on Monday. Miao was speaking at the Shanghai International Film Festival, which is hosting a six-title Focus Iran section [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content