“When I hear that playing, it's like breathing. It's like being alive.”
That's Toby Perlman, the wife of Itzhak Perlman, describing the music of her husband in the documentary “Itzhak.” Director Alison Chernick profiles the violin virtuoso, through his performance, of course, but she also reveals a personality as expressive as his musicianship.
We are introduced to the film's subject not in a concert hall, but at Citi Field in Queens, New York, where the violinist, wearing a Mets jersey, is getting ready to perform the national anthem. Perlman is an amiable raconteur; he gets excited ordering pickles over the phone, and, on a visit to Tel Aviv, he jokes that Chernick should look up street names on what he calls Jewish Google: “If you could Jew-gle,” he wisecracks, “that would be nice.”
The passion for storytelling comes through Perlman's instrument, even if he's just playing exercises to try out a new violin (Jewish-made). “It plays Jewish automatically,” he says.
Born in Israel in 1945, Perlman was a child prodigy, but the polio that struck at a young age impeded his family's ambition to send him to New York's prestigious Juilliard School. Still, when he was just 13, Perlman got his first big break, making an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” (Perlman's wife suspects that the offer was made partially out of pity for “the poor crippled boy.”)
A shelf full of Grammys and Emmys shows how far Perlman has come, but neither accolades nor disability seems to have left him jaded. “Itzhak” captures more than just notes on a scale. It reveals a vibrant spirit behind the music.