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Itzhak Perlman has suggested that Google specialize their service by catering to different demographics. Well, at least one. When Perlman is in Tel Aviv, where he was born, for a performance, he points out to the camera that the streets are named for notable citizens. And if you’re not familiar with who they are, you can just “Jewgle” them.
He might have started tech’s next big thing.
Clearly, Perlman’s also quite the jokester. In Itzhak, director Alison Chernick (a woman!) captures the acclaimed violinist’s infectious grin and frequent laugh as he makes light of seemingly every situation. The smile is especially prominent when he’s talking about music. Take, for instance, when he’s teaching a class and rhetorically asks why two musicians can play the same notes, yet one sounds beautiful and the other is just OK. He says that it’s inexplicable. But, he adds, “it’s nice that there’s things you can’t explain.”
Perlman talks about music a lot in his everyday life, whether in the classroom or on a stage or at home with his wife, Toby Perlman, who is also a classically trained violinist. (She proposed to him after watching him perform at the age of 17.) He believes that society isn’t complete without the arts and that people choose an instrument based on “the sound in their head.” And whereas traditional training involves competition, the couple believe that it’s better for learners to develop independent thought and focus on their own style rather than worry about beating others to first chair.
Watching the Perlmans interact is a lovely thing. The fondness and respect that they have for each other after many years together is obvious; they truly seem like wonderful people, with both of them understanding what a marvel Itzhak is yet never coming across as conceited, just appreciative of transportive music. And boy, is the music here transportive, even if you’re not a fan of classical. (For those people, he does a jaunty “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and accompanies Billy Joel.)
Naturally, Chernick devotes the bulk of the doc to Perlman’s performances and frames them with a biography-lite. Refreshingly, she stays away from the typical newbie-to-superstar timeline, instead jumping around in her presentation of interviews, concerts, and personal recollections from him and those close to him. There are no patience-testing talking heads.
Not much is made of the polio that left him using crutches or a scooter to get around. After a particularly heavy snowfall in New York City, he has some trouble making it to a venue, with one person in his party carrying a shovel to clear walkways. But when he was starting out as a child, he said that teachers were reluctant to admit he had any talent because of his disability. It’s an ugly lesson that he took to heart and reversed in his dealings with his students and other musicians: “Judge me by what I do, but don’t judge me by what I can’t do.”
Itzhak opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.