Editor’s Notes: Seymour: An Introduction & Tap World are out on their respective formats November 3rd.
Seymour: An Introduction (MPI), directed by Ethan Hawke, is a profile of pianist/composer/teacher Seymour Bernstein. The documentary shows Bernstein instructing his students and sharing insights based on his long history as a professional musician. We see him in his native habitat — a cluttered New York City apartment with a piano in one corner, where he has lived for 57 years. His students share the bench with him as they practice Chopin and Schubert. Occasionally, he takes their hands and guides them over the keys to impart a helpful technique.
The movie doesn’t go into extensive biographical background. Its strength is focusing on the man whose wisdom comes from long life experience, common sense, and love of music. Hawke does inform us that Bernstein was in the army during the Korean War and performed in a classical trio for his fellow soldiers. He turned to teaching full time in the 1950s and lived for a time in London. He was once the protege of a wealthy patroness who lavished him with adoration and material gifts in her mansion. He had to overcome stage fright during his years as concert pianist.
Hawke met Bernstein at a dinner party and was inspired to make this film. Bernstein is the antithesis of the monstrous music teacher played by J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. Movies about teachers generally portray them as saints or deeply flawed, but seldom realistically, as shown here. Soft-spoken and tender with his students, Bernstein is a master instructor who never raises his voice, loses patience, or has temper tantrums. Maestro Bernstein shares two valued gifts with his students: his love of music and his ability to explain verbally the transcendent effect of music.
Special features include footage of Seymour Bernstein in concert, and a trailer.
Tap World (Virgil Films) is a cool documentary about dancers devoted to the art of tap and their efforts to influence their communities by instilling a respect for and appreciation of tap dancing. The film features an assortment of dancers from all over the world, some tapping for personal enjoyment, others trying to make a living at it. Tappers in Taipei, Tokyo, Paris, Australia, India and the United States are shown exhibiting their talents.
Tap dancing has its roots in the 19th century minstrel shows but became a fixture of 20th century vaudeville and movies through the performances of such legendary artists as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers. Fred Astaire performed an elaborate tap production number tribute to Robinson in Swing Time (1936) and Shirley Temple matched Robinson step for step in The Little Colonel (1935). Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds did a great tap number in Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and some fancy tapping footwork was featured in the Academy Award-winning Best Picture, The Artist (2011). Dancers Gregory Hines and Savion Glover breathed new life into the art form and made tap appealing to an entire new generation at the turn of the century.
For Tap World, tap dancers of all ages were encouraged to share their individual journey to be considered for inclusion. More than 115 submissions were received from more than a dozen countries. The most compelling were chosen and woven into the film alongside some of the masters of tap. Some of the performers include a New Jersey man who has kept dancing even after losing a leg to bone cancer; a Brazilian tap dancer who mentors underprivileged kids; a young man who escaped his crime-ridden neighborhood and financed his college education by dancing for handouts aboard New York City subways; and a Pennsylvania woman who’s dedicated herself to teaching adult tap dancers.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD release.