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

Twin Peaks “Variations on Relations” [1991)

The war is not won by logic alone.

Nor solely by florid creativity.

Weaponized love.

Crowbar.

Hearing “where dead voices gather”.

I believe it came out as “oenophiliac”.

Footprints.

Monograph on cigarette butts.

Woody?

No, not really…

With hints of pencil lead.

My favorite.

Carrots for cigars.

King of flowers.

Anecdotal Guam.

A puzzle box.

Die Büchse.

Symbology and petroglyph.

The moral actions of extremely intelligent military personnel.

To prevent loss of life.

The birth of conscience.

Extreme frankness borne of Boy Scout precision.

And yet tact.

Of course.

Gentlemanly.

Palimpsests in cache.

No erasure.

Sous rature.

Under the paving stones, the beach.

Ian Buchanan comes to the fore.

All Cary Grant through and through.

Dear friends, exhaustion.

I beg of you, patience.

This is my therapy.

To watch.

And write for pleasure.

Thank you.

 

-PD

Les Enfants terribles [1950)

The past is hidden.

My friend.

You must find the magical words.

Which fit like teeth in combs.

A lock clicks with greasy precision.

A marvel of craftsmanship.

Two siblings in love.

A prolonged insult.

From the start it is as a homoerotic phantasm.

But that is the illusion of bent gender.

And genre.

What genre?

No, once again sui generis.

We would expect nothing less from Jean Cocteau.

The history of cinema.

Begins with luminaries.

Trying their hands.

Not yet taboo.

The world has not yet grown up.

Cynically, it could be said Cocteau had enjoyed the green hour a few too many evenings by 1950.

Crepuscule with absinthe.

But the truth is more beautiful.

Play the game…everybody play the game.

Just a Queen lyric haunting the childhood dreams of Paul and Lise.

It sounds like Liz, but looks better in the French.

Americans, take note!

You must love French cinema.

It is not for everyone.

John Milton.

Not for everyone.

Even Shaky William is acquired like marmite.

Or green olives.

Foie gras.

This train is the height of luxury.

Bound for glory.

Such concision of expression from Cocteau.

And such economy of means from director Jean-Pierre Melville.

Don’t worry about mispronouncing.

Here’s a French bloke who named himself after an American author (Herman).

Really!

It was the postwar influence on France.

The death of French cinema.

Slowly, as in a car crash.

Now they worship Tarantino.

Quel dommage!

Mais…what’s the damage?

It is Villon come full-circle.

The ladies of Paris.

And on through Baudelaire’s lady:  Paris.

Man becomes woman.

Voila!

It is a tricky story.

As when Lise is drenched in milk.

Not even for Technicolor Singin’ in the Rain.

Just for the texture.

Not color.

Renée Cosima.

Real name:  Boudin.

Like a sausage cased in a condom.

And Cosima Wagner.

Real name:  Liszt.

And Franz Liszt.

Real name:  Liszt Ferencz.

And Ferenc Fricsay.

Well, you get the point…

Renée with her beautiful, wide jaw.

And Nicole Stéphane trying to perfect her Greek profile.

A clothespin on the bridge of her nose.

[Which I call ghetto acupuncture.  Works great!]

And Édouard Dermit is not bad.

But the real star is Stéphane.

She.

Haggard from the world-weary beginning.

Funny and annoying.

Continuous repartee with Dermit.

All slang and no manners.

She is unlovably lovable until she does the expected.

She was no hero.

All along.

An antiheroine.

And it is anticlimax which we should feel.

When, like a cinder-smeared Gilda, she spits at the world one last time.

You can say they didn’t know.

Any better.

But their dream was more real than our reality.

 

-PD