Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould
2009 NR 113 minutes
Classical music as a genre is not real popular. This is a shame because it is such great music and can be much more satisfying and emotionally fulfilling than any other. It just takes a bit of ‘music appreciation’ for you to truly enjoy it. Classical music used to be a mainstay of FM radio. Shows hows old I am, that I remember that. Now the important bandwidth that used to be dedicated to Classical music stations is being devoured by the greedy radio industry and used for all sports stations and the like. Who says corporate radio doesn’t have a soul? It’s just very black.
Whew! Rant off.
Glen Gould is in the dictionary. His picture is right beside the words ‘misunderstood’ genius. But not for nothing did Gould cultivate that persona. He knew that controversy sells and he himself being controversial would sell. He certainly will never be pigeonholed into the ‘just another pianist’ category.
What the film brings out is that Gould probably began to believe in his quirks to the point where he couldn’t operate any other way. It derailed his performing career and didn’t do much for his life.
Much of the footage in this documentary is drawn from old interviews. It’s black and white stuff for the most part and stiff in the way that visual medium were back in those days, the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Men wore ties. Women wore hats. Everything was most civilized. But even through that veneer, Gould’s quirkiness came through loud and clear. Gould wore thick coats, scarfs and always gloves, even in the hottest weather. Gould hums and almost sings while performing.
Gould had to have his favorite chair and rug to play. They were transported to shows like a modern day guitarist would his prized Strats and Gibsons, only this was a ratty old broken down folding chair and a frayed, disgusting rug.
Tortured genius is box office gold but the only problem is that Gould began to believe it, live it, and let it rule his life. The feeling you get from the film is one of overwhelming sadness.
But the playing! Good god could the man play. Even with the archaic by today’s standards recording techniques (they used TAPE Recorders?) the virtuosity and skill and just plain nerve of his technique comes shining through, loud, clear and shimmering in its beauty. He was such a master and treated the instrument with an insanely different approach that is unnerving to watch but beautiful to listen to.
Directors Michèle Hozer (Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (2004) ) and Peter Raymont (A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman (documentary) (2007) ) pretty much stay out the way of the material and that is good.
There is a scene in the film where Gould and an uncredited technician work on editing one of the radio shows that Gould produced when he stopped touring. In the short sequence the driven perfectionism of Gould comes across clearly. The technician is beyond patient and contributes greatly to the finished product. In a perfect world I would have given my left one to be that guy.
If you would like to explore Gould’s music I would recommend starting here:
The Rant D’Jour is about oxymorons and the morons who love them.
Oxymoron’s. I love them. Sometimes they are meant to be serious and that’s what makes them all the more…more