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As the title suggests, this dramatised documentary about the eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould is broken up into thirty-two short films (mirroring the thirty-two part structure of Bach's 'Goldberg Variations', the recording that Gould made famous), each giving us an insight into some aspect of Gould's life and career. Out of respect for the music lead actor Colm Feore is never seen playing the piano, merely reacting to Gould's own recordings, which are extensively featured Written by
Michael Brooke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The structure of the film is based on the structure of the piece that Glenn Gould is most famous for playing, Johann Sebastian Bach's "Goldberg Variations", which are 32 short pieces of music that are usually played together. See more »
My mother tells me that by five years old I had decided definitively to become a concert pianist. I think she had decided some time earlier. The story goes that while I was in the womb she played the piano continuously to give me a head start, and evidently it paid off. My mother was my first teacher, and I've never doubted her methods. After all, she introduced me to Bach.
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Let me preface this review by saying: the music of Bach permeates my existence. Over the years, I've listened to nearly every recording there is, repeatedly. That said, I had trouble watching this movie. The first time I tried, I quit after five minutes. Last evening, I made it all the way through. While at times moving, the film disturbs.
For one, it does not do visual justice to the music. Bach's compositions are not about waving hands in the air, geometry animations, or men walking off into infinity. They're complex literary statements. This variety of music is akin to the best silent cinema; it says volumes, but without words. Like pantomime, it tells a nuanced story, weaving multiple plot lines together into an evocative fabric. Few of the 32 vignettes approached that ideal. Could it be that some of Bach's greatest admirers fail to grasp the deeper meaning within the music?
In addition, Gould's personal faults grate on the nerves. It's clear he wasn't an ideal specimen. He mistook music for life. Music is a condiment, a catalyst perhaps. It frames life, drawing attention to worthy matters. It spices and enlivens life, making it savory. But it is not life. His mind was filled with picture frames, but no pictures. He fell in love with music in the same way that parrots sometimes mistakenly bond with their human owners. They are not parrots, and music is not a woman. One wonders how Bach might greet Gould in heaven: "So, the bachelor thinks he understands the man with two wives and twenty children? Let's see what kind of music you'll play after we give you a well-rounded life."
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