Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould
A film by François Girard
Colm Feore - Glenn Gould
Picture Format: 16:9
Sound: AC3 Stereo
SONY CLASSICAL DVD 88691912129 [93:33]
Made in 1993, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould is one of those
films which received critical acclaim and awards when it appeared, but has
always remained something of a supplement to the miles of footage actually
made with Glenn Gould himself. There are elements of documentary narrative
in the film, and there are chances you may already have come across the talking
head anecdotes contributed by people like Yehudi Menuhin, Gould’s friend
Margaret Pascu and his cousin Jessie Grieg, as well as characters such as
his housekeeper and piano tuner. These elements provide valuable living links
to the man himself.
While François Girard doesn’t go in for the flights of fancy
Ken Russell revelled in with his films about classical musicians, there is
a great deal of poetry and lyricism in the way he handles line and movement.
He enjoys the quasi-abstractness of screens filled with snow, water, fog.
He makes cunning use of darkness, but is also a fearless observer of facial
expression. Having brainwashed us early on into believing that Colm Feore
is Glenn Gould, we can relax and enjoyably absorb every vignette. There
is plenty of dramatic tension - suspense even, as Gould appears for his final
concert for instance, and his famous piano is covered and wheeled away like
a coffin - the event forgotten in the place where it occurred, its resonances
and controversy spreading in invisible but insidious ways beyond. These are
all quietly stated moments. Solitude and the artist’s compelling strangeness
and brilliance are the overriding impressions.
There are one or two odd moments, but it’s probably only irritable old
classical music reviewers who are likely to be picky about this one. The musicians
playing Gould’s FugalString Quartet Op. 1 apparently do a wonderful
job from memory, but the balance and spot-miked first violin gives a disjointed
feel to the performance at some points of the performance, especially given
there are no microphones in sight. For the rest there’s a section with
spheres moving about which could be lost without too many tears being shed.
Minor clunks are few and far between however and fortunately don’t last
too long, though you do sense and are aware of the clever writing or directing
which uses the inside of the piano to animate a live performance or Gould’s
responses to recordings already made, which sensibly avoiding attempts to
put the actor behind a piano but which you sense could only be taken so far
before we all got wise and stopped believing.
Colm Feore’s following of Gould speech mannerisms and movement is certainly
believable, and even nearly 20 years on the film dates pretty well. There
is of course a cornucopia of Glenn Gould’s playing for the soundtrack,
and while the programme is relatively Bach-heavy there are other recordings
which include composers such as Hindemith and Schoenberg. The only extras
on the DVD are some ‘talent files’ of the director and main actor,
and the trailer. This is not the kind of movie where we would expect loads
of hilarious out-takes or deleted scenes, but one feels a little more effort
might have been made. It is most certainly terrific to have this available
on DVD. All real Glenn Gould fans should have it, and no-one interested in
well-made and easily-digested cultural cinema will find it a disappointment.
Well-made and still resonant even nearly 20 years on.