Itzhak

I wish documentarian Alison Chernick would’ve done a bit more with this piece. The subject is Itzhak Perlman, the greatest living violinist. So much time is spent showing him shopping, cooking, or playing (well, we won’t complain about the later); you just wish she would’ve delved more into his life and childhood.  I mean, this is a kid that came to the United States, and neither he or his mom spoke any English. That doesn’t mean you don’t sit there with a smile as he tells jokes, or talks about some inspirations. It just meanders a bit more than it should.

I enjoyed watching him mentor kids at Juilliard — a school that initially turned him down. It’s interesting to learn about The Perlman Music Program.

It was fun to see him giving advice to Billy Joel on how a song of his they’re playing together (We Didn’t Start the Fire) at Madison Square Garden should go. My wife leaned in and said jokingly, “You wonder if Billy Joel is regretting inviting Itzhak to perform with him.”

Listening to him chat with long-time friend Alan Alda was a bit boring, until we find out Alda was a polio sufferer, too. He had much better treatment, and it’s sad as we watch Itzhak try to navigate his electric wheelchair in the snow and other places.

It warms your heart seeing President Obama give him the Medal of Freedom, and tell a funny anecdote about his favorite sound.

And you’ll adore listening to his wife Toby, who has been with him over 50 years. She talks about their courtship, and it’s adorable watching them cook together in the kitchen. It’s also a perfect match because she’s a music lover that exposed him to many artists he had never heard (she even tells him he’s playing an E-sharp incorrectly in the green room).   

Yet while I’m watching these things, which are certainly interesting, I yearned for more. I thought of a documentary about another Jewish man with polio that did pretty well in the music business — Doc Pomus, who wrote many big hits for Elvis, The Drifters, and others. He talked more about overcoming the ravages of polio. In this documentary, the most we get about that is Itzhak dealing with airport security that doesn’t understand why he can’t take his shoes off with the metal braces around his legs.

We get to see a 13-year-old Perlman appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, and that’s a treat. But I wanted him to talk more about being Jewish. Afterall, we see his wife trying to figure out if a jar of pickles is Kosher, and talk about the haunting violin piece from Schindler’s List…but tell us more about his parents, who survived the Holocaust.

This feels like the type of documentary you’d see on PBS. But you learn a few interesting things, and it’s always nice to be in the company of such a talented musician and mensch.

3 ½ stars out of 5.