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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 <email@example.com>
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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I realize that this is a well made film, and many people, Gould fans or not, enjoyed it very much. But on the chance that someone out there is on the same wavelength as me, I'll tell you why I didn't like it.
The film paints the picture of a self-absorbed, eccentric oddball... a bit arrogant and presumptuous (like when he grabs a lowly chambermaid and makes her listen to one of his records as a sort of reward for her day's work). The Glenn Gould character always speaks in a supercilious New England tone of voice (think Frazier but without the jokes). He says phrases like "never the twain shall meet". If you're like me, you might have a healthy mistrust of people who say "twain" unless they're talking about Huck Finn. Maybe you can guess the problem: unless you're already convinced that Glenn Gould is god's gift to Carnegie Hall, the film offers no motivation to like him.
This could have been EASILY remedied by showing a performance to earn the audience's respect. It could have been an archival clip, or even a semi-convincing pantomime by the actor playing Gould if done convincingly would have made me take the character more seriously. But we never get that. So the result is a whole bunch of people telling us how great he is, including the Diva himself. It gets irritating.
I feel like the real Glenn Gould was cheated. Here is a film, purportedly in honor of a great musician, which never shows him being a musician. Instead we get a lot of ponderous scenes of (the actor playing) Glenn as he walks across frozen lakes, or sits in a chair unmoving with an intense expression on his face, or waving his arms dramatically in the air while listening to the playback of one of his recordings. People around him are made to look like simpletons for not being on the same supernatural level as Gould. They chatter about coffee or gardening while the maestro slips further away into a lofty dreamworld that we mortals cannot dare understand. The entire film thus takes a very condescending air, telling us that Gould was a misunderstood genius yet not offering to show us what exactly was genius about him.
I read that the actor playing Glenn chose not to be shown playing the piano out of respect for Mr. Gould. Could someone please explain that to me? It's OK to act like someone being a goofy oddball dancing to invisible pianos in his head, but it's somehow disrespectful to portray him actually playing one?
I was not familiar with Glenn Gould before I watched this, and 90 minutes later I'm still completely clueless. Even worse, I'm not particularly inclined to learn more. I believe this film is great for people who are already fans of Gould, or perhaps casual fans of classical music as a whole. Me, I'm a hardcore classical music fan who never happened to hear Glenn Gould (there are so many amazing musicians out there, it happens).
If I were to list the best musical documentaries & biopics I've seen, they would be "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" about the unsung studio musicians who made it happen, "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" a hilarious and heartfelt documentary about a bunch of aging rockers who never say die, and of course the masterpiece "Amadeus" which, like this film, shows the maestro as an arrogant oddball, but it shows powerful musical performances which instantly earn our respect and interest. Really, just one lousy performance would've made all the difference, but alas I can't say this movie impressed me.
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