Friday, September 10, 2010

Michèle Hozer & Peter Raymont's GENIUS WITHIN: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

TrustMovies came to live in New York City in the fall of 1962 -- in time to miss attending the earlier spring concert by pianist Glenn Gould of Brahms First Piano Concerto, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Not too long after this singular event -- immediately before which Mr. Bernstein disavowed Gould's interpretation of the concerto, and soon after which the New York Times critic Harold Schonberg lit into both Gould and Bernstein -- the rest of the world became similarly deprived, as the musician, considered by many to be the world's greatest living classical pianist, elected to stop performing live and would henceforth allow his piano-playing to reach its audience only via recording. All this (and a whole lot more) is documented in the new work from Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont, two filmmakers that have done a superlative job of putting together the story of the late Mr. Gould -- his history, talent/gift, family, friends, lovers, craziness and music -- that should send its viewers right back to the musician's famed recordings.

Hozer (above, left) and Raymont (above, right) have broken no particularly new ground (a la Todd Haynes' invented and inventive look at Bob Dylan in I'm Not There), but they have given us a wonderfully encompassing view of a man who, in the minds of many, is to classical music (especially Bach) something akin to what Guttenberg was to The Bible. And they have done this in a manner that should entertain and create new converts to Gould (myself, for instance), as well as, I think, those who are already familiar (and in love) with the man's brand of music.  They might also send some of us back to François Girard's odd work, 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, a movie I roundly despised upon first viewing it some 17 years ago.  Now that I have learned much more about Gould from this film, I suspect I might better appreciate Girard's work.

"A totally unknown person who seemed to come out of nowhere," remarks someone early in the movie regarding Gould and his debut recording. We soon find out about this "nowhere," which includes the fact that the Canadian musician could read music before he ever learned to read words.  An untidy man, he was one of those who still managed to always find what he was looking for, and whose technique and the clarity that goes with it came from a fellow named Guerrero, who tapped on the fingers of his students to help individuate the digits.

Regarding romance, we hear from old girlfriend, Fran Barrault ("He was romantic," yes, but probably "too difficult to live with"), as well as from later love Cornelia Foss (wife of pianist, composer and friend Lukas Foss), who tells us about the first time she heard Gould's recording of the Goldberg Variations, and how it seemed to her that the pianist had taken apart the piece and put it back together in his own way.  For all the time spent on exploring Gould's "love" life, the movie manages to seem less like gossip and more like a legitimate exploration of who this musician fully was. After a time you can begin to understand -- and empathize with -- Gould, not simply for cancelling entire tours, but eventually refusing to give live concerts at all. (The character played by Albert Dupontel in Avenue Montaigne may remind you of the Gould we see here.)

A hypochondriac who didn't like shaking hands with anyone, Gould is perceived, inside and out, by the filmmakers better than have been many other individuals explored by documentarians. The musician's understanding of the importance of marketing comes through well, though he also says that he detests audiences -- not as individuals but as a "mass." Was he a control freak?  Absolutely -- and often for good reason.  "Eccentricities overshadowed his personality," notes Cornelia Foss, and during the time we spend with the Foss family, all of them indicate a genuine fondness for Gould, even if the children were finally happy to be back with their father, once Cornelia brought the affair to its end.

A later love (and collaborator) offers a surprising anecdote about how the popular TV Show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman figured into the musician's life, and even Petula Clark, a performer Gould very much admired, makes an entrance here. What comes through most strongly, however, is how forward thinking (and acting) was the musician regarding the technology of recordings. Of the funeral ceremony (Gould had reached only the age of 50) someone remarks, "It was as though the King had died."  This documentary will probably leave you feeling very much in tune with that sentiment -- even though the King certainly had his problems.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (106 minutes) opens today, Friday, September 10, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Quad Cinema.  Further playdates around the country -- with cities and theaters -- can be found here (click and then scroll down).

No comments: