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Glenn Gould Hereafter
A Film by Bruno Monsaingeon
Picture Format 16:9; TV system NTSC; Sound Dolby Stereo and 5.0; DVD Format DVD9; will play on NTSC-compatible set-ups only; DVD contains a DVD-ROM section with booklet files in German, Spanish and Japanese

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Gould is one of those men who can repay numerous biographical and documentary approaches. This is hardly the first film on him of course and it assuredly won’t be the last. Something in him fascinates, moves, amuses, tantalises – and maybe also repels. The twin poles of concert performance and recorded artefact are ones that run throughout the latter part of his short life, the two inexorably reaching a state of mutual antagonism. For Gould public performance was a wretched thing so he simply ceased to submit himself to it. Audiences were "a force of evil" and the whole concert environment produced a "lack of imagination." In the studio Gould felt there was a vacuum, a "linearity of time circumvented" in a Gouldianly adroit phrase that never quite manages to pin the butterfly of his perversity.

Bruno Monsaingeon once again looks at his subject – he’s written books and made numerous television documentaries about Gould - but this time from a novel perspective, that of Gouldian disciples or pilgrims; the title of the film is already spiritually suggestive enough. Though the spoken material is entirely in Gould’s own words we hear from a number of women, and one man, to whom Gould has been a sort of musical or spiritual idée fixe. A Russian woman speaks of him in something of the same way that Muscovites welcomed Horowitz in 1986, as a kind of saviour, a deus ex machina; only in Gould’s case he had been long dead before the woman heard his discs, Bach inevitably. A young Englishwoman has a tattoo of some bars of Gould’s string quartet on her lower back. A Japanese woman never received a reply to a letter she sent to him. A copy exists but was never posted to her; it is duly reunited with its putative recipient these many years later and duly translated for her, to her amazed delight.

In all these cases there’s a yearning communion with an almost disembodied self. It’s as if Gould himself, incorporeal, has assumed quasi-divine status for them. This would have doubtless amused Menuhin who famously recorded with Gould and famously clashed here with the all-too-human, all-too-intransigent and all-too-prickly Gould. Inevitably the subject was the old question of recording and performing. Menuhin’s reasonable generosity met with adolescent petulance from Gould, for whom assertion didn’t always mean explication. Perhaps there’s a clue in a throwaway comment he makes elsewhere – that there is too much "cheating" at concerts. Or maybe the prosaic truth is that he was simply bored and drained by the process of concerto and recital giving and sought a combative binary opposition the better to rationalise the futility of it. Blaming the audience absolves oneself, of course.

The schema of the mainly female disciples – though it’s not quite presented as such – adds spine to a documentary that is in any case fascinating enough. Gould is invariably fascinating, whether squaring up to Menuhin or submitting with cavalier boredom to a press photographer. There are numerous shots of Gould in performance, many rare and private, whether with Russell Oberlin in Bach, with Menuhin in Schoenberg or with orchestral colleagues such as conductor Paul Sherman. An actor enacts Gould’s half-forlorn Canadian railway journey as we hear another declaim Gould’s own words. We are in a sense both taken in and taken out of Gould. The charm and the glamour "didn’t last long" and the dreadful life, of which he spoke with such asperity, was the phantom life, the one he might have lived, had not the all-night sessions, the early morning telephone calls, the Gouldian hermetic, consumed him.

With Monsaingeon’s own testimonial – he also plays violin in a segment from Gould’s string quartet a work he plainly admires highly for its lyricism - and the presentation of archival material this becomes a curiously compelling half-portrait of a chimerical presence. If Gould is more alive now than ever, as Monsaingeon avers, then we can thank the recordings. But he also lives on through interviews and through words and this latest documentary brings his paradoxical self to life once more.

Jonathan Woolf



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