By Don Simpson | March 8, 2011
Director: Michèle Hozer, Peter Raymont
Starring: Glenn Gould
If my memory serves me correctly, I first became aware of Glenn Gould when I caught a screening of Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, François Girard’s highly impressionistic “bio-pic” from 1993, which features Colm Feore as Gould. Thirty Two Short Films sparked a curiosity inside of me regarding Gould’s strange idiosyncrasies, but I also fell madly in love with Gould’s music. That said, besides purchasing a few Gould albums (yes, on vinyl), my fascination with him never went much further. I continued to have a deep appreciation for his interpretations of Bach, but I never made any attempts to learn about the man attached to those gloved fingers.
Enter directors Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont and their documentary Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould which is saturated with facts (and some folklore) about Gould. I am not sure if this documentary will fulfill the inner most wants and desires of die-hard Gould fans, but it certainly filled a gaping void in my knowledge of music history.
Gould achieved overnight success at the age of 22 (in 1955) with his debut recording on Columbia Records, an incredibly unique interpretation of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”. Gould’s technique, appearance and charm skyrocketed him to stardom, while his eccentricities fostered the myth that he was a tortured soul (a myth that escalated tenfold when Gould quit performing in front of audiences at the age of 31).
Often caricatured as a crazy recluse (along the lines of Syd Barrett), Gould purportedly wore a hat, overcoat and gloves all summer long and transported a rickety old 14” chair and worn-out rug everywhere he performed. At close inspection of his malady diaries, Gould was also an unabashed hypochondriac. Genius Within also does not shy away from his tawdry affairs, such as Gould’s passionate relationship with a married woman, the painter Cornelia Foss (composer Lukas Foss’ wife), and his loving relationship with her children. There is even drug abuse and a premature death (Gould suffered from prescription-drug abuse and died in 1982, at 50 years old, after a stroke). This seems like really juicy material for a classical pianist…
Most likely prompted by his obsessive and controlling demeanor, Gould fully immersed himself into audio recording technology which quickly led to his dismissal of live performances. Gould worked side-by-side with his engineers and editors, practically taking full reign of the production process himself; he was a perfectionist who would carefully manicure single cuts ad nauseum—you might even say Gould was a precursor to Brian Wilson (circa Pet Sounds and Smile). As one of the first people to bring production technology to the forefront of aural recordings, Gould pushed the envelope as a pioneer in recording and editing music.
Hozer and Raymont recount the story of Gould’s life via talking head interviews with collaborators, friends (the few that he had), and former lovers (including Foss and her children), but Gould’s story is catapulted to a higher plane via scores of archival footage. The wealth of archival moving images reflect Gould in so many varying moods during various distinct periods in his life, ranging from footage of his concerts and recording sessions to silly home movies. Some of the highlights of archival footage are: Gould taking a cab ride to the Columbia Records building in Manhattan; Gould noodling at a piano in a Columbia recording studio while staff photographer, Don Hunstein, snaps candid photos of him; an audio clip of Leonard Bernstein, as Gould’s conductor, publicly absolving himself of responsibility for Gould’s unorthodox interpretation of a Brahms concerto.
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould is now available on DVD via Kino International.
Rating : 6.5/10