Outside of material gain and increased social status, why do artists create? It is this question that Ethan Hawke poses to the subject of his wonderful documentary, Seymour: An Introduction. Seymour Bernstein is an acclaimed classical pianist who has given his life to his art. At one point one of the most successful concert pianists in the world, Seymour gave up the performance life, instead focusing on bettering his craft and teaching his gift to others. Now, well into his eighties, Bernstein still lives alone in the one-bedroom apartment he's resided in for over fifty years. He shuns using his ivory tickling abilities to obtain wealth, and prefers to live a solitary life, spending his spare time with his true love: music. It's easy to see why Hawke has chosen this man to be the answer to his burning question. Who better to speak on the integrity of the artist than someone who happily turned away the celebrity life to instead pursue artistic perfection?
Converse to the stereotype of the mad obsessive, Bernstein is about as charming as a man can be. He expresses love through music, and watching him impart his wisdom upon his students is something of a revelation -- he's no Terence Fletcher of Whiplash repute. Even after mere seconds of coaching, his students improve. I haven't an ear for classical piano in the critical sense, but the marked growth is instant, and clear as day.
Throughout the film we are introduced to a variety of people who have had their lives touched by Seymour Bernstein - from students to fellow musicians, to mystics and philosophers - and each one holds nothing but reverence for the man who could have had it all, but chose not to. And how could they not have such love? Seymour is such an engaging personality, filled to the brim with kindness, his soft-spoken demeanor underlined with a quick wit and a loving smile. Even when he is not speaking about music, his wisdom brightens every word. He the perfect subject for a film. Seymour is someone I never knew I wanted to meet, but now that I've spent some time listening to him, I already feel a little bit smarter; a little bit more in tune with myself.
I left the theater feeling inspired to live my life more like Seymour. To stop worrying about what I can obtain, but rather what I can accomplish. To approach everything with both a strong work ethic and a grand capacity for love. Watching Seymour: An Introduction is like receiving a motivational speech from someone who is not just the best at what they do, but also the best person they can possible be. Seymour Bernstein has clearly reached his nirvana, and in watching this film, I can't help but to be renewed in my determination to reach my own. How many films can you say that about?
Seymour: An Introduction opens in Philly area theaters today.