Seattle Jewish Film Festival 2019 spotlights ‘Leonard Bernstein: Larger Than Life’

By Dusty Somers - Special to The Seattle Times
March 20, 2019

To watch Leonard Bernstein conduct is to be brought under the spell of his exuberance — the grand sweep of his gestures, the intense rictus of his expression. Georg Wübbolt’s hourlong documentary “Leonard Bernstein: Larger Than Life” opens with a montage of impassioned conducting, and the effect is electrifying.

“Leonard Bernstein: Larger Than Life” will be featured at a centerpiece screening at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival (SJFF) on March 31. Showcasing dozens of films at locations around Seattle and the Eastside, the festival runs from March 23-31 and April 6-7.

Wübbolt’s documentary approaches hagiography with its tiptoeing around the tumultuous aspects of Bernstein’s life, but every piece of archival footage the film employs confirms it: Bernstein was made to be on camera.

“The real lucky coincidence was that my dad and television came along at the same time, because they were perfect for each other,” said Jamie Bernstein, the composer’s oldest of three children, in a recent phone interview.

Jamie will be in attendance at SJFF for a post-screening discussion about her dad and her recent memoir, “Famous Father Girl,” a much more probing look at the man and her complicated relationship with him.

Jamie was too young to experience Bernstein’s most famous works as they were being created — she was only 4 during much of the writing of “West Side Story,” for instance — but the detailed journals she kept for many years helped her reconstruct intimate snapshots of home life: “furiously competitive” games of anagrams with Stephen Sondheim, raucous evenings at the piano with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the production of elaborate home movies with the entire family.

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Jamie Bernstein