Review: GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLEN GOULD
GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLEN GOULD
Going into this documentary directed by Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont my knowledge of Glen Gould was limited to the fact that an earlier documentary, THIRTY-TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLEN GOULD(1993), had inspired a classic episode of THE SIMPSONS(1996’sTWENTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT SPRINGFIELD). Therefore the story of Glen Gould’s life as one of Canada’s most celebrated classical pianists was all new to me. Gould’s life and career was not one that most people would expect of such an artist.
Born in 1932, Glen Gould showed a talent for music at a very early age. A Toronto childhood friend tells of many nights in which Gould would stay at the piano almost till dawn. He had developed the habit of singing along while tapping out the compositions. Soon he would be performing public concerts and playing over the airwaves of Canadian radio. The recording industry soon wanted him on their classical label, The filmmakers have included some promotional footage from the early 50’s of Gould’s arrival in NYC and encounter with a colorful cabbie(“Piano player, eh? Longhair or boogie-woogie?”). We get to see Gould embark on a series of concerts that would eventually take him to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in 1957. There Gould was a sensation(according to an on-camera eyewitness) and his concert stay was extended. The TV footage of Gould around this time presents a very unique performer. Besides his singing and long unkempt hair, he preferred to use an old wooden folding chair his father modified so he was only 13 inches off the ground and made him hunch over the keyboard. An interview at his beach home shows Gould in his usual casual attire of a flat cap, large overcoat, long, flowing scarf, and gloves that he kept on all year round. We then are told of a minor scandal in the classical music world when Leonard Bernstein spoke before one of their NY concerts and told the audience that he did not agree with some of Gould’s interpretation of Brahms. While in NYC Gould became friends of another pianist and his wife. We learn of the romance between Gould and the wife later thru interviews with her and her children. The filmmakers also include some very funny footage of Gould cavorting on a beach in the Bahamas with bikini-clad dancer.
At the height of his popularity Gould stopped playing public concerts in 1964. In a curious career move he began producing documentaries for Canadian radio. His subjects ranged from the residents of the upper north of the country to pop star Petula Clark(Ms. Clark discusses this on camera). Gould’s editor talks of the warm relationship between the two and how Gould looked into legally making him his brother. Many more recordings and televisions specials followed until Gould was felled by a massive stroke and passed away in 1982 just weeks after his fiftieth birthday.
The film is told in a leisurely, straight forwarded fashion. The talking head interviews are split up with old film and TV interviews and footage of a look alike actor roaming the lonely streets. I found the images of Gould at the piano very compelling, but I didn’t quite get at the source of his passion. I’m sure there’s an involving film to be made of this conflicted genius’s story, but this telling didn’t absorb me. The editing and camera are excellent and kudos for going without a narrator. Add a star if you’re a big classical piano fan.