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ITZHAK (2017) review

April 5, 2018


produced by: Alison Chernick
directed by: Alison Chernick
rated: not rated
runtime: 80 min.
U.S. release date: April 6-12, 2018 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)


“They called it wrong. They really called it wrong.”


Documentaries have begun to have a hierarchy in the last few years, spurred in part by their sheer abundance. To give them at least two categories, I would say that there are major and minor documentaries, separated by the “importance” of their subject. Just because a film like “Itzhak” is what I would call a minor documentary doesn’t mean that it’s any less of a film.

There’s just a rush to make documentaries about everyone and everything these days, allowing many of them to just be minor documentaries. It’s not that they don’t have anything to say, it’s that you perhaps reach a point where the ones that chronicle a person’s life or a specific event in a specific place just become what I would call minor.

“Itzhak” is the very best of what minor documentaries have to offer. It’s brilliantly paced and ebullient, like the titular violinist—Itzhak Perlman—frantically bowing “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Though Perlman is perhaps best known for his contributions to the “Schindler’s List” score, he was something of a rock and roll violinist in the late 80s as well thanks to his performance at the Statue of Liberty’s 100th Anniversary ceremony in 1986.

Like all documentaries, you go either go micro or macro with the subject’s life, and this doc goes micro all the way. It mostly revolves around Perlman’s life today, with some reminiscences of the past sprinkled about. It’s linear, but definitely interested in the highlights, playing like his greatest hits. But I imagine that’s the way it goes when you get to know your subject. You let them guide the story for you in the editing room, and the decision to keep the focus small ultimately helps the film.

Although it does mimic a “greatest hits” style compilation of stories about Perlman’s life and upbringing, it does still pack a few surprises. There’s a revelation in the film, for me at least, involving Perlman and a famous Billy Joel tune that I’ll leave you to discover on your own, but it both surprised and delighted me to find out this urban legend was true.

Alison Chernick is a director who knows a thing or two about chronicling artists and their art, as she did with her first feature film, “No Restraint,” a doc about artist Matthew Barney making a film with his longtime partner Björk. Since then she’s made docs with many luminaries, tied together by their eccentricities of choice: Julian Schnabel, Steve McQueen, Pedro Almodovar, Francis Ford Coppola, Rick Rubin, and more.

Here, she’s on the ground with Perlman, and she made the choice to let his natural charisma set the pace. It’s not a choice that will resonate with everyone, and many will likely mourn its lack of depth, but it’s a major minor documentary in every way.



RATING: ***1/2

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