NEW YORK — An informative if uninvigorating look at the violinist Itzhak Perlman calls “the first true modern virtuoso player,” Peter Rosen’s God’s Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz will draw only the most ardent classical fans to its niche theatrical run but should please a wider audience after making its way to educational TV.
Benefitting from solid performance footage shot throughout the soloist’s six-decade career, the doc offers first-hand evidence of Heifetz’s technical gifts but does little to explain them to the uninitiated. It’s much better at recounting the breadth of his fame, which extended far beyond the classical cognoscenti: “Heifetz” was at one point a household synonym for musical genius, and Rosen offers everything from ancient newsreels to a casual Muppet Show reference to illustrate that renown.
Rosen’s interviews with former students and colleagues can be dry, but brighten in the second half as the man’s eccentricities come to the fore. Despite being known for stone-faced performances and sternness as a teacher, Heifetz was given to silly old-man humor and unannounced visits to his students’ homes.
Among Heifetz’s many offstage passions (at one point, he converted his Volvo into an enviro-friendly electric car), he was a self-professed “camera fiend” from a young age. As a result, Rosen can draw from a wealth of home movies dating back to the Flapper era; paired with countless portraits and other archival material, the movie offers visuals as evocative as its soundtrack. Occasional use of cheesy split-screen transitions, though, sometimes give the film an amateurish feel belying Rosen’s long filmography.
Missing from most of those home movies is any hint of a family. Only in its last ten minutes or so does the film reveal the loneliness of a man who divorced multiple times and, one interviewee claims, had “zero relationship” with his three children.
Opens: November 11
Production Company: Peter Rosen Productions
Director-director of photography: Peter Rosen
Screenwriter: Sara Lukinson
Producers: Peter Rosen, Sara Lukinson
Executive producers: Carol Colburn Hogel, Lothar Mattner, Bernd Hellthaler
Editors: Josh Waletzky, Peter Rosen
No rating, 87 minutes