Yes, Itzhak Perlman Plays, but the Highlight of the Doc “Itzhak” Is How Much He Talks


The makers of the irresistible character-study doc Itzhak capture Itzhak Perlman’s characteristic warmth and bravado through short, anecdote-centric scenes that make the Israeli American violinist sound like a big-hearted raconteur who’s just dying to tell you everything about himself.

Director Alison Chernick wisely suggests that it’s something in Perlman’s bubbly, imperious personality — rather than some singular biographical event, like the musician’s childhood struggles with polio — behind his rise to becoming the rock star of the classical music world. She lets him talk: Come for the soulful musical clips, stay for the great dad jokes about “Jewish Google” and “garbage pail soup.” And she employs pre-existing video and audio footage of Perlman performing to illustrate his abstract, even rambling theories about how he has grown as an artist by answering his Juilliard School students’ questions, or of what one admirer truly means when he compliments Perlman for “praying with the violin.”

Think of Itzhak as a revealing scrapbook of Perlman’s favorite stories. Here he is on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1958, interpreting the Allegretto Non Troppo from Mendelsohhn’s joyful 64th opus. Here he is in the modern day, fielding questions from his students after they listen to a recording of Perlman playing Johannes Brahms’s triumphal seventeenth piece in his Hungarian Dances cycle. And here’s Perlman at home, drinking red wine and kibitzing with professional ham Alan Alda about the ineffable nature of creative genius, just moments before Chernick throws on a clip of a younger Perlman joyfully shredding Johann Sebastian Bach’s raucous second violin partita solo for a packed Israeli concert hall in 1974.

Directed by Alison Chernick
Greenwich Entertaimnent
Opens March 9, Quad Cinema and Landmark 57