ITZHAK Film Review—Permission to Dream


“Art is a reflection of the artist”.

This stands as the operating principle in Itzak, an intimate portrait of one of the worlds living and borderless treasures—violinist Itzhak Perlman.

From the opening of the Alison Chernick’s quietly powerful and eminently moving film, we immerse in all things Itzak Perlman. We witness the world renowned violinist playing the national anthem at Citi Field before a ballgame, practicing Tchaikovsky with fellow musicians at home, sharing a meal with the musicians in which he introduces the dishes with pleasure, in a home filled with pictures of family and friends, at lunch during which he lets us in on an excellent joke about Pushkin, and then sharing what led him to the violin in the first place - the sound in his head at an early age which Jascha Heifetz’s violin encouraged from the other side of a radio. At once we know that music, although playing a crucial role in his existence, is but one aspect woven together with the multitudinous variations, which make up his extraordinary life.


With Alan Alda sharing a joke

The magnetic north in his life is the infinitely loveable Toby, his wife. She disarms with a smile to knock the dust off of any bookshelf, a laser sharp intelligence and intuition, and an enlightening and vigorous sense of humor. We feel them egging each other on into living out the best versions of themselves. With a beautiful shot of the two of them holding a violin together, we immediately know that the music is being played by their togetherness. “When I hear that sound, when I hear that playing, it’s breathing. It’s being alive.” Toby says about his music. When they met at a music camp in their late teens, she heard him playing Ravel’s Tzigane and she was henceforth so smitten that she asked him to marry her on the spot.

In one scene, Chernick follows Itzhak to Amnon Weinstein’s instrument shop in Tel Aviv where Izthak is given a preview of a few violins. When he puts an instrument to his chin and draws his bow, we know that music is his house to be lived in, to be played with, to be tested, to be pried and tried — and to be loved with abandon and not from any distance. Chernik shows us right away that the music IS him. The theme returns in a rondo fashion, as he prompts us to consider how the violin is put together and how its sound is determined in part by who previously played it.


In another scene, he plays Bruch’s heart rending Violin Concerto 1. Again, we are summarily transported back to Itzhak’s beginnings in Israel. His parents put his music at the center of their lives, taking up whatever was necessary to keep his violin practice moving. The still photographs in this section are remarkable —portraying his early life and the ample goodwill that his mother and father exuded in the service of his music. These images also show him as a young man in leg braces. He was surrounded by people who only saw his disability, rather than his raw talent. His first teacher in New York City, Dorothy Delay, saw things the other way around. She ended up informing his approach to performance by encouraging his own musical voice, rather than objectifying his approach to playing the violin – an insight that gave him permission to clarify his own concept of sound making.

Chernik uses montage to great effect – giving us a glimpse into Itzhak’s versatility, virtuosity, curiosity, tenderness, angels and devils. The cross section of music in itself allows us to witness this wide net of perspectives – from the fourth Bach Sonata in C minor with the magnanimous and majestic Martha Argerich, to the heartbreaking Schindler’s List Theme, and some live playing with Billy Joel in a rock arena. This reviewer-- a fellow musician thinks his playing of the Bach Partita #2 in D minor, in Israel in 1974, totally transports. We contemplate the questions that are just out of reach. His face alone— while dialoguing with the music he is playing—is filled with such a painful and light giving smile.

Elvin Jones, when asked what it was like to play with John Coltrane, responded that “you had to be willing to die for a motherfucker”. Mr. Perlman seems to take this in the opposite direction – that to live, and to live fully, and perhaps violently awake to your own potentials to adapt—is as brave a commitment to the music as one can make.

Itzak Shares His Thoughts on Music

After listening to two versions of a violin concerto, Itzhak wonders, what in the end, do we love about one masterful performance over another? The question goes unanswered. A small slice of feeling which informs why we love a piece of music lies beyond our ability to dissect or understand. This unknowing, as said by Itzhak, is essential.

In making this truly magisterial documentary about him, Chernick has filled in many pieces of his life that in turn allow us to enjoy his music on a deeper and more informed level. But this last tincture of mystery as to why his music inexorably moves us so deeply proves elusive. Chernick fortunately leaves us with the valuable feeling of transcendence, as we can’t quite get this sensation into words.

Trusting in his sound is enough.

Itzak will certainly resonate deeply with any serious student of music. The audience for this film, however, is much larger. Anyone who celebrates the human spirit is well advised to shortlist Itzak as a worthy stop in even the busiest schedules.

Itzak will first be released in New York on March 9th, and in Los Angeles on March 16th, with a national rollout to follow.

For more information visit the ITZAK Film Facebook page.

All images courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment.

About the Author -- Composer and Musician David Cieri:

"David Cieri is a master composer and a true artist. Fearless on the piano, a combination of virtuosity, sensitivity and curiosity, he is constantly discovering new ways to express complex emotions through music that has served as the backbone of our films."

--Ken Burns

"This is real music, not trapped by boxes, definitions and genres, but creating its own style. Cieri delivers beautiful moods…honest, imaginative, fearless."

--John Zorn

Composer and Musician David Cieri

David Cieri is a Composer and Musician. Cieri’s film-scoring work includes Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War (Florentine Films, 2017), The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (Florentine Films, 2014), The Address (Florentine Films, 2014), Prohibition (with Wynton Marsalis, Florentine Films, 2011), Baseball: The Tenth Inning (Florentine Films, 2010), and Emmy-winning National Parks (Florentine Films, 2008), Barak Goodman’s Emmy-nominated The Emperor of All Maladies (Ark Media, 2015), and “The Heart of the Matter,” a short directed by George Lucas for The Academy of Arts and Sciences (2014). His original score for Raymond De Felitta's Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story was longlisted for an Oscar nomination in 2013. His recently completed scoring project, Oklahoma City, premiered at The Sundance Film Festival in 2017. Cieri has just completed a score for the two time Pulitzer Prize winning Lynn Nottage for her project, This is Reading. Most recently, he has released a recording on Ropeadope Records with Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa entitled White Dust, which was released September 1, 2017. The follow up record with Yusef Komunyakaa, Dark Furniture, will be released in June 2018 and a compilation of original score compositions for Ken Burns’ Florentine Films – Notes From The Underscore - will be released by Ropeadope Records on December 1st, 2017.

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