Friday, November 12, 2010

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

I just returned from a showing at the Portland Museum of Art of Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont's film: "GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD."

Though I've been obsessed with Mr. Gould since childhood (he was one of my earliest inspirations for attempting a career in music), the film opens up areas I had not previously known about him. Through numerous interviews with his first girlfriend, his best friend, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lukas and Cornelia Foss (and both their children), clips of Leonard Bernstein (including his now rather hilarious pre-performance speech before they performed the Brahms D minor Concerto - about their enormous differences on the work), the film is rich in both talk and music.

The biggest revelation to me was the affair between Gould and Mrs. Foss which lasted several years, and for which she left her husband, moving herself and the children to Montreal, and the slow disintegration of that relationship as Gould's eccentricities became more and more pronounced. It was touching and poignant in a way that almost seemed invasive.

I'd almost forgotten how devastatingly handsome was Gould in his youth, like a 50's movie star, really. There is, naturally, a good deal centered around his early years and the beginning of his performing career, with some wonderful clips of his tour of the Soviet Union.

There are also some generous clips of Gould's own movies, including one particularly hilarious short with Gould appearing on the beach, coat, gloves, the works, sitting in a director's chair, then having some gorgeous black woman in a bikini doing an exotic combination that recalled the Watusi and the Girl from Imponema, the last shot of which finds Gould pants legs rolled up and sort of half "directing" her and dancing a bit in the ocean himself. (The audience went into hysterics - and it was truly funny stuff!)

The film deals openly (and fairly in depth) about Gould's departure from the concert stage at only 31 years of age, and his drug addictions, hypocondria, and difficulties in his relationships, never in a gossipy manner, but with a rather matter-of-fact honesty that does not in the least diminish one's respect for Gould's genius.

At just under two hours, this is one of the most satisfying documentary portraits of a 20th century classical musician I believe I've ever seen - and yet, upon the closing credits, I found I wanted even more. The audience reacted loudly throughout (several people even clapping along with Petula Clark during her rendition of "Downtown."

If this is showing anywhere near you, I urge you to see this. It's a beautiful peaen to one of the most iconic performers of the last century, done with extraordinary care, and not just a little love for its subject. Highly

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Anonymous Leslie Barcza said...

Thanks for the passionate review. I re-read a review i had seen in Toronto from 2009 (when the film premiered at TIFF, and i made the choice to pass this up). It seems clear, when i compare your review with theirs, that the Toronto reviews are really less about the film and more about the imaginary film they want to see. So this film doesn't really explain what makes Gould tick (does anyone really know the answer to that? and come to think of it is such a question answerable?) or what is the nature of genius.

And so what... The film does seem to illuminate other subtler areas of the man. I will watch for it, or in the end maybe see it on video.

November 13, 2010 at 5:53 PM  
Blogger Will said...

I am not a fan of the piano. I dislike its monochromatic, percussive clangor particularly as a solo instrument unrelieved by any other sound. I especially dislike baroque music written for the rich sound world of the harpsichord played on a piano.

But then there was Glenn Gould. I heard him play some Bach on the piano one day over the radio and realized that I actually loved it. It made sense to me the way he played it -- even the piano made sense. Nobody could have been more surprised than I.

November 13, 2010 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger Sharky said...

Leslie - too many film critics (and critics generally) impose their own criteria as to what they believe a film (or other work) should be. I've found films lauded to the skies that I yawned over, failing to see what the fuss was about, and other things critically panned, that I found to be real works of art. We'll probably never fully know what made Gould tick - though it was indeed probed a bit in this film.

Will - I am a bit of a piano obsessive - it was my first love and remains one of my main squeeze mistresses! Gould is at the top of the heap for a lot of the piano literature (not all, his Beethoven for instance is not among my faves) but Bach? Oh, baby - now we're talkin'!

November 13, 2010 at 9:16 PM  
Blogger Lucy said...

Thanks for the review! I'd been debating whether to give it a try... count me as successfully swayed.

P.S. Found your blog via Andrew Richards'.

November 14, 2010 at 12:19 AM  
Blogger Sharky said...

Thanks, Lucy! Andrew rocks! Yes, wait no longer and check out this film - it really is enlightening and touching - most worthwhile!

November 14, 2010 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger William said...

Read your review this morning (Tuesday). Checked the local listings and went to the first matinee this afternoon (I'm in Atlanta). Enjoyed the film very much. Loved the Columbia recording studio publicity footage. And the photographs of Bernstein and Gould together! Such charisma. Also liked the shot at the friend's wedding with Gould in the background over the groom's shoulder in the doorway. It was great that the filmmakers got so many friends/associates/lovers to share on camera. Thanks for bringing the film to my attention.

November 16, 2010 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger Sharky said...

Thank YOU, William! So glad you got to see and enjoy this film. I really found it special and look forward to watching it again. Many wonderful insights into this amazing, yet troubled artist!

November 18, 2010 at 3:45 AM  
Blogger Sharky said...

Thank YOU, William! So glad you got to see and enjoy this film. I really found it special and look forward to watching it again. Many wonderful insights into this amazing, yet troubled artist!

November 18, 2010 at 3:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of Glenn Gould during his lifetime; however I watched the documentary (twice) the other day on my local PBS station. Since then, I haven't been able to think about anything but this man & his music! His music moved my heart. I hope that his music can be acquired on DVD.

December 30, 2010 at 4:39 AM  

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