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  Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould Bach For Good
Year: 1993
Director: François Girard
Stars: Colm Feore, Don McKellar, Yehudi Menuhin, Carlo Rita, Peter Millard, John Dolan, Bruno Monsaingeon, Michael Kopsa, Len Doncheff, Ian D. Clark, David Clement, Moynan King, Gale Garnett, Katya Ladan
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Glenn Gould was trained in classical piano almost since birth - before it, perhaps, as his mother would play the instrument to him in the womb, so it was natural that he should become a true genius of music, especially as an interpreter of Bach. But there was little else natural about him as his talent bred a deeply eccentric personality, a recluse who paradoxically loved to talk, largely on the telephone and once he reached the age of thirty-two, he gave up performing to concentrate on recording and composing. This film is a portrait of the man.

And it takes the form of, as the title spells out, thirty-two short films, the same number as the Goldberg Variations that Gould was celebrated for playing. Scripted by the director, François Girard, and Don McKellar (who also appears in his guise as an actor here), the films take a variety of forms with Colm Feore taking the role of Gould for dramatic reconstructions and otherwise, some talking heads to furnish us with anecdotes about the man, and other stuff such as stock footage or even a welcome burst of Norman McLaren animation.

All the way through we hear Gould's recordings, not just Bach but other composers as well, including a piece written by himself and an experimental radio documentary he directed. However, if you are expecting to hear the music uninterrupted you may well be let down as frequently Girard has people talking over it; not always, but enough to frustrate. For example, a scene where Feore's Gould listens back to a piece in a recording studio has the producers chatting all over it while Feore spins around waving his arms in time, a presentation that can be offputting.

While the dramatisations can be interesting up to a point, you really get the essence of the man, as far as such an enigma can be explained, from the interviews. Yehudi Menuhin informs us that he couldn't be as dedicated to his craft as Gould was, and in other parts we learn of Gould's obsessions, obsessions with keeping warm (he wore scarf, gloves and overcoat even in summer), his love of animals and nature, and his preoccupation of calling people on the telephone and holding forth on a number of subjects at great length to whoever happened to be on the line.

Then there was his hypochondria that left him addicted to a dangerous amount of prescription drugs, some of which surely must have cancelled each other out. Gould was only fifty when he died in 1982, convinced that numerology had predicted his untimely demise, but as this production shows he didn't waste his life here. If Girard doesn't quite get to the heart of his subject, and the idiosyncratic form may be an aspect of that, then he does arrive at a sense of the man and what it might have been like to spend time in his company. I suppose if you wanted to hear his music it's all there in his recordings and if you're interested in the eccentric personality behind them then these films, some as short as less than a minute, are as good a place as any to be educated.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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