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Sunday, January 27, 2013

GENIUS WITHIN: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (2009)

Some wonderful stock footage (much of it previously unavailable) and fresh, candid interviews with intimates help make this recent documentary of the great, eccentric Canadian pianist stand out from the usual puff bio. (And only one ‘bloviator’ among the Talking Heads.) Right from the start, when Gould made his famous 1955 recording of the Bach Goldberg Variations, the advertising gurus at old Columbia Records knew what they had in him, and turned their strikingly photogenic find into the next young rebel figure. The first on a classical music scene just tapping in to a new generation of LP buyers. (Contact sheets from the recording session ‘fixed’ Gould as an ecstatic/iconic figure as firmly as Pop-portraits of ‘Che’ Guevara or posters of The Doors’ Jim Morrison.) To some extent, Gould’s personal perversities fed off this early success, as hungry publicity hounds highlighted his unusual playing position and his rejection of live concert hall performances. More crucially, loyal friends and a few carefully chosen/cultivated critics enabled troublesome habits. The studio control freak became the working model for life outside the studio, as well. Even his interviews became fully scripted. Of course, none of it would have meant anything without awesome piano chops, and who knows how much of his gift was fed by his eccentricities? The big surprise of the film is what a regular romantic life he led under the radar; the big missing element is any mention of what looks like an extremely well-handled (productive?) case of Asperger’s. (Did his estate block the filmmakers from even bringing up the term?)

DOUBLE-BILL: Fran├žois Girard’s arty take on the Gould legend, THIRTY-TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD/’93 (with Colm Feore playing the pianist) comes close to getting in touch with the man. And is certainly better than Girard’s stinkeroo art-house hit, THE RED VIOLIN/’98.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The film gives a lot of space to a famous difference of opinion between piano soloist Gould & conductor Leonard Bernstein on the Brahms First Piano Concerto. Lenny couldn’t let the good folks of Carnegie Hall think the lethargic tempos were his idea, so he stops to give ‘credit’ to Gould. Yet, two decades on, recording the piece with Krystian Zimerman, Lenny’s timings have grown remarkably close to those old indefensible tempi. 25:48; 13:45; 13:47 with Gould. 24:39; 16:28 (!); 12:59 with Zimerman. Here’s timings for the classic Artur Rubinstein/Fritz Reiner recording of 1954 - 21:32; 13:15; 11:19. Ah, much better.

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