Thursday, 24 September 2009

TIFF Dispatch: Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

"His life was a performance."

Here are some of the things I know about Glenn Gould:
  • He was an only child.
  • His mother had had several miscarriages before he came along.
  • He could read music before he could read words. 
  • When playing on the piano as a small boy, he would press a single key down and wait for the sound to fade away completely; not, as would a typical small boy, bash away at the keys making a godawful racket.
  • He quit the professional concert circuit in 1964 at age 32, calling audiences "a force of evil."
  • He made several experimental radio documentaries with CBC producer Lorne Tulk, including the quite excellent "Idea of North."
  • He had the habit of wearing heavy winter clothes even in the middle of summer, sang along as he played (a habit that drove audio engineers bonkers), and communicated with friends primarily through the telephone.
  • He was a hypochondriac.
  • He bequeathed his estate to the Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society.
  • He is buried in Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetary.
I could go on, but suffice to say that I already knew quite a bit about Glenn Gould, largely from many fine documentaries, an exhibit at the Museum of Civilization and Francois Girard's Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould.. What more is there to know?
  • He had a girlfriend. In fact, he was involved in a rather complicated international love triangle with  painter Cornelia Foss.
This and many more previously unknown facts we learn about Canada's most famous musicians in the the most-excellent Genius Within: The Private Life of Glenn Gould.

That I chose to see another film about Gould 25 years after his death speaks not only to my appreciation for his incredible talent (Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is exquisitely torturous to play) but to my fascination with his approach to electronic communications. Had Glenn Gould not existed, it would have been necessary for Marshall McLuhan to invent him.

Genius Within compiles never-before-heard studio recordings from his 1955 Goldberg Variations sessions for Columbia, recordings from his immensely successful tour of Eastern Europe and insights from Gould's surviving friends, including Foss herself. As one friend remarks, music is a means artists use to connect to the world. And Gould's entire life was a performance. Sadly, though, as he progressed into his later years, Gould fell victim to playing the Gould persona more often than his (or anyone else's) music. Though it makes an argument for Gould as ultimately a sad and lonely man, it is as beautifully constructed and as beautiful to experience as any of the music he left behind. Highly recommended.

NEXT UP: The Damned United

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