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

SNL Season 1 Episode 24 [1976)

Good God…I made it to the end!

Of Season 1…

Why?

Why do we have this completist urge?

I could proffer myself as a communications historian.

A sociologist.

The anthropology of television.

But really the truth is that I needed something to watch…to take my mind off things.

And so it’s been a good ride.  Season 1 in the bag.

And it ends on a high note.

Kris Kristofferson.

I had seen him in a dismal picture called Chelsea Walls.

Good God…Ethan Hawke really bungled that offering.

And so for the longest time I thought Kristofferson was merely a hack “character actor”.

I knew his history.

Brownsville boy…Rhodes Scholar.

I’d even heard some of his music.

Always struck me as third-rate outlaw country.

But this episode of Saturday Night Lives changes my opinion of him forever.

The show starts with a song/skit.

Kristofferson sings “Help Me Make It Through the Night”.

As Chevy Chase fumbles with the ribbon in the hair of his lover, Kris just keeps on singing right through.

I’ve rarely heard a more soulful rendition of a song.

Later, Kristofferson sings “I’ve Got a Life of My Own”.

It is a revelation!

Looking for a way to lose these lonesome blues now that Neil Young quit Spotify?

Well, look no further than ol’ Kris.

The band…(not The Band, but close)…  Kris’ band here.  So good!!!

“I’ve Got a Life of My Own” is a glory cry.  I may not have a great life, but I have a life.

I have a beard and long hair.  Or I have a mustache and a buzz cut.

Life ain’t glamorous down on the Rio Grande border.  Nor in San Antonio.

Doug Sahm is dead.

But Kris lives on.

What a great injection of American music here.  You think you don’t like country music?

Give this chap a try.  And when I say he was a Rhodes Scholar, I am dead serious.

This, of course, gives him an intellect to pair with his easiness at being on stage (from his performing career).

What I mean to say is that Kris Kristofferson is a better host than just about anybody on the first season of Saturday Night Live.

You need him to be a gynecologist opposite Jane Curtin?  No problem.

Need him to be John Belushi’s foil in “Samurai General Practitioner”?  Done!

[That skit, by the way, is the comedic highlight of the show.  Belushi was beginning to approach godlike stature with his samurai character.]

Rita Coolidge is generally stiff on her one solo number (“Hula Hoop”), but having Kristofferson’s band makes the song persuasive.  And the closing surprise is indescribably cute (thanks to Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman).

Chevy Chase is great as always as Gerald Ford.

And Dan Aykroyd was starting to come along by this point as Jimmy Carter.

Though Garrett Morris only gets a few spots, he’s awesome as Jesse Owens and Andrew Young.

Don Pardo (the announcer of the show) gets a more “visible” role in this episode by way of the Samuel Beckett spoof “Waiting for Pardo”.  It is a masterpiece!  [And it makes me wonder whether Kristofferson was allowed to do some writing…perhaps this skit?]

Immanuel Kant, watchmaker.  Spinoza luggage.  All of the Price Is Right interjections by Pardo are for products ostensibly produced by famous philosophers.  Pretty witty stuff!

So there you have it…

I highly recommend this episode!

 

-PD