Genius artists are supposedly insufferable. Not Itzhak

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Roxy Theatre
Opens April 21
3 out of 5

Far and away the most celebrated contemporary violinist, there’s practically no honour that hasn’t been bestowed on Itzhak Perlman: Grammys, Emmys, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, you name it. He has performed music by every major composer and does his best to pass his considerable gifts to new generations.

But Perlman is not above fun: the man loves his New York Mets, collaborates with pop musicians (look up his intro to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”) and digs a good, traditional kosher meal.

There’s nothing particularly controversial about Itzhak, nor there is much of a storyline or conflict of any kind — just a series of snippets of Perlman’s live in Manhattan and on the road. Yet director Alison Chernick assembles these bits and pieces skillfully enough that we get a good look at the virtuoso’s life.

Born in Tel Aviv before the city became the capital of Israel, Perlman lost most of the mobility in his legs after a bout with polio. It didn’t faze him: despite several rejections, Perlman eventually made it to Julliard. Never mind his disability, Perlman cannot stay still — which is why he spends most of his time in a scooter, even during concerts where he’s the star.

The good-natured Perlman is depicted by the documentary as the embodiment of the mensch. His teaching approach is less about technique and more about what music makes you feel. This unabashedly positive portrait makes me a bit wary: Perlman must have a dark side — everyone does. I mean, the guy is even nice to the TSA agents who stop him before every flight because of all the metal supporting his legs.

The film’s other shortcoming is the rather pat answers to the question “what makes Itzhak tick”. To say he “loves music” and his parents were “demanding” feels a bit on the safe side.

That said, if you want an 82-minute package of good music, fun anecdotes and compelling archival footage, you could do a lot worse than Itzhak.