Seymour: An Introduction [2014)

Big gigantic balls.

It took Ethan Hawke.

Whom I formerly mistook for a hack.

To not even dabble in détournement.

But rather.

Straight-up.

Call it.

Seymour:  An Introduction

After Salinger.

But let me dispel all uncertainly early on.

This film, directed by Ethan Hawke, is a masterpiece.

The premise seemed interesting.

On Netflix.

“This should,” I thought, “be an easy one to jettison after a few painful minutes of shabby mise-en-scène…[after ignoring it on my ‘list’ for quite some time]”

And though there is no Liszt (ha!), Ethan Hawke tells one of the most touching stories I’ve ever seen.

Yes, that is the correct verbiage.

In the synesthesia of cinema.

It is the story of Seymour Bernstein (and not, as the title might lead one to believe, that of Seymour Glass).

Seymour did not become the supernova which his fellow Bernstein (Leonard) became.

No, Seymour Bernstein stepped away from the stage early.

As in, curtailed his career.

As a performer.

A pianist.

[but always a son–a man]

And so what makes Ethan Hawke’s film particularly special for me is the synergy created from two colliding ideas of great power:  music and anxiety.

Ah, to perform…

It’s hard (really, very fucking hard) for me to recall the good times which make me sad.

Those would be my four short years as a professional music performer.

[three of which coincided with a parallel mini-career as a studio (recording) musician]

Why did I step away?

To paraphrase Bogart in The Big Sleep, I must rank pretty high on insubordination.

I’m a rebel.

And though I pray that I never follow in the darker footsteps of Phil Spector, I was very much in what one would term popular or pop music.

But it wasn’t from a lack of training.

My bachelor’s degree, from an esteemed institution, is almost exclusively due to courses in Western classical music.

Though I am but an amateur pianist compared to Mr. Bernstein, I have a deep appreciation for what he is doing all throughout this film.

As a trained music theorist (my specialization).

And a trained composer (the activity to which I dedicated the bulk of my undergraduate hours).

But there is something more.

Seymour:  An Introduction is very much about hard work.

About craft.

What I’m doing right now.

What you are reading.

It is my craft.

Now.

Music has flown…like a fleeting bird.

And I have had to transpose my urge to create from “EveryGoodBoyDoesFine” by way of copious vicissitudes to “PleaseExcuseMyDearAuntSally” and other far-afield mnemonic devices.

Yes, dear friends…I identify with Ethan Hawke’s struggle.

And it is painful to watch him.

But he has redeemed himself with this film.

Through great doubt we travel…

What the fuck am I doing in business school?

Does my acting mean anything whatsoever to ME anymore?

To weave it, my problems were/are different than those of Mr. Hawke.

He is standing on the stage…[places, everyone]…on the X where I wish I was.

Directing a film.

You need a producer.

An “executive” producer.

You need a law firm.

Legal counsel.

[for all those archival clips you want to interpolate]

Yes…there is a long list of credited individuals at the culmination of Seymour:  An Introduction.

It doesn’t just say “Ethan Hawke”.

Those are the realities of film.

Godard has illustrated it as a process of check-writing.

$50 here.  [more like]  $3,000 here.

And again.  And again.

But it is obvious this was a project of love for Ethan Hawke.

And it worked.

Mr. Bernstein is 89 and still (apparently) teaches at NYU.

And what a gifted soul!

Ah…

This documentary reminded me of so many beautiful, important things!

It all moves too fast…

The pictures with Nadia Boulanger…

But Korea sticks.

At the front lines.

As jaw-dropping as Messiaen in his prison camp.

But let me speak to the choir now…

Friends of Deutsche Grammophon et al..

It’s important.

That extra dot.

To point out.

No pun intended.

A service.

PRACTICE in front of your audience (Warhol advised).

Dear Messrs,

[and scholarly, epicurean (?) womenfolk]

We have, in these minutes, footage of the great Glenn Gould.

We learn the chair.

How low.

Carry out folded.

Like a shabby parcel of manuscripts.

But Mr. Bernstein gives us the cinderblocks.

And while it is scary (Glenn Gould) in its proficiency.

The ear of God.

We get an even greater surprise.

Yes, most startling.

Clifford Curzon.

And the passion of a boy from Islington.

Precision.

Snap!

Unfurling arpeggios effortlessly.

While the baritone fingers surface the melody.

Just breathing above the water’s surface.

Curzon.

Those glasses.

We fall in love.

1977.

Year after I was born.

By 17 days.

Seymour Bernstein’s eight-year career was over.

As a public performer.

Debuting with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (!) a Brazilian piano concerto in world premiere (the 2nd by Villa-Lobos).

1969-1977

Double my career 🙂

[in more ways than one, I’m sure]

But as an astute student in the film observes, it was many thousands of hours (of practice and other dedicatory acts) to get to that point.

Mr. Bernstein didn’t sit down with the CSO and sightread the Villa-Lobos concerto.

It wasn’t his first time playing.

And so it comes back to work.

And anxiety.

& music.

Seymour Bernstein:  God bless you for knowing the quadrivium.

That MUSIC was one of the four higher liberal arts.

For the ancient Greeks.

Along with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

What isn’t mentioned is that in which I am currently dabbling.

[dabbling my ass off]

The trivium.

Those “lower” three of the liberal arts.

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

And the liberal arts…in opposition to the practical arts.

[the latter being such as medicine…or architecture]

{Footnotes to be provided when hell freezes over}

And so I heartily recommend you watch this documentary.

Appreciate the importance of music.

See Abraham ready to sacrifice Isaac.

[he will laugh!]

Because God gives back.

Even though Mr. Bernstein doesn’t believe.

It makes no difference to me.

I am but human.

And I have a right.

To believe.

In God.

In music.

He just disappeared.

One last concert.

At the YMCA.

Knowing when to end.

When the notes fade.

And if on a good piano,

they almost seem to swell first.

As if by magic…

-PD

Senso [1954)

How does love turn into hate?

Does it ever work the other way around?

Hate into love?

Because the natural course seems to be love into hate.

Vulnerability into hurt.

Hurt into resentment.

And somewhere along the continuum, God forbid, revenge.

Senso, despite its extravagant period costumes and generous budget, is still a product of neorealism.

Sure…it’s hard for most of us to relate to a Countess.

That’s why I can’t read Tolstoy.  I can’t read Fitzgerald.  Not even out of curiosity or hatred.

I can only read Dostoyevsky.  I have only ever related to the outlaw.

Of outlaw literature.

But cinema does a funny thing.

We may not be able to really “get into” Il Trovatore or Der Freischütz, but occasionally a talented auteur can make us appreciate the truly foreign:  a higher social class.

In this case, it is the highest.

The nobility.

In English we might (but probably won’t) know it as the Third Italian War of Independence.  How confusing.  That would seem to entail a July 4th (for us Americans) three times a year (assuming there wasn’t a fourth war).

In plain terms, it was Austria vs. Italy (rather like a soccer match).

Football.  Footie.  FTSE.  Yes…

All rather humdrum after the smoke has wafted away.

Idiots, they call us.

Those who fight.

Some join an army.  Very brave.

Others expose themselves needlessly.  What might be termed “impulsive” or again “thoughtlessness”.

What does this?

In both cases, pride (generally speaking).

Sure, a professional soldier makes a decent living (as long as he or she is living), but said soldier is a chess piece of one type or another…always manipulated from above…lacking autonomy.

And yet, perhaps, no price is too high to pay people who are willing to die to defend their country.

But we must define country.

Defending those who cannot (for one reason or another) defend themselves is indeed honorable.

Defending the abstract structures and mechanisms of a state, perhaps less so…

And yet, a pride can infuse the defense of all of this (either separately or collectively).

And then there is the rebel.

Perhaps the rebel will never again find his army in the first world.

In terms of class warfare, then, the United States is a frozen conflict zone.

Just like Abkhazia or some other little-talked-about blip on the map.

Is there a class war?

Should there be a class war?

Shouldn’t wars of all kinds have been evolved out of existence long ago?

Yes?

No…the rebel shan’t find his army in America.

The battlefield has changed.

And as bathos is my witness, “love is a battlefield”!

Discourse on Benatar.

Cannot contain the dodo on his perch.

But never does Luchino Visconti stoop to such poor taste.

No.

Fever pitch, yes.

But poor taste, never.

Because he is telling Spengler’s story.

And he is still telling WWII.

There can be no avoiding that.  Nine years later.

It must be couched in allegory.

And I, like Baudelaire, am nourished by my own misery.

All of this I owe to Walter Benjamin.

Avoid the jalapeno pronunciation.  ~ath do us part.

Alida Valli gets to show more of her breadth here than in the criminally underrated Paradine Case (no pun intended).

Pennies and “the” will be eliminated from the verbal money supply.

Farley Granger is more of a maniac than in Rope (the Hitchcock closest to my snob heart).

Most importantly, Visconti sets the mood with Bruckner’s 7th Symphony.

And now Carlo Maria Giulini’s recording for Deutsche Grammophon makes more sense.

Senso in what sense?

Direction?

Love leaves you with a worthless compass.

The sun begins to revolve around the Earth.

What a perilous pleasure.

That we hope for forever until our end of days.

No matter the hurt…always more.

For the romantic.

 

-PD

Madame de… [1953)

The last romantic.

Staggering into the 20th century.

We would like to think it was Brahms, but no…1897.

It is perhaps more like Rachmaninov.

You will get the better recordings with that spelling.

Deutsche Grammophon.

Staggering into the 20th century with a morose remembrance.

Born in 1873.  Died in 1943.

How disorienting.

To be 41 when WWI started.

We don’t know with which powers we are fooling.

And so the only way to watch Max Ophüls’ masterpiece Madame de… is to imagine.

It takes imagination to be unhappy.

The great generals are actually incapable of unhappiness.

Up early every morning.

Drinking raw eggs.

Running 10 miles.

And so the last romantic in this film is none other than the Italian director (but here an actor) Vittorio De Sica.

And the cynic who melts is Danielle Darrieux.

I will say quite plainly, sometimes boring films are the best.

It is counterintuitive, but I will provide one theory as to their efficacy.

The boring film takes a long time to “play out”.

It is an older style of filmmaking–an older style of storytelling.

They say Frederick the Great didn’t think much of Shakespeare.

In some ways I don’t blame him.

Freddie.

But don’t get me wrong:  much art of the past lacks the pizzazz we are used to as humans in the 21st century.

And so if you give this film a chance, you might just wind up as a resurrected being.

I’m being awfully cryptic.  As always.

I don’t want to spoil it.

This is merely a letter from the heart.  Tear it up and let it snow in the breeze.

Little pieces of paper from the train window.

Letter never sent.  R.E.M.

 

-PD