A standard-issue talking heads gloss on Glenn Gould, heavy on romantic gossip and light on revelations

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

on September 24, 2010 by Vadim Rizov
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The cult of Glenn Gould, the closest thing the world of 20th century classical music has to a Bob Dylan figure of enduring mythos, gets another addition to the large amount of extant Gouldiana. With plenty of primary material (both of Gould playing and being interviewed) available in numerous specialty documentaries and compilation DVDs, Genius Within offers little new material; the freshest thing it brings to the table are tedious interviews with Cornelia Foss (who had an affair with Gould from 1968-72, which she disclosed in 2007) and her children. Those new to Gould are advised to start elsewhere unless they want a quick primer; hardened addicts, though, may at least discover some new footage. With so much excellent Gould material available, the self-selecting target audience may pass the film by, and the film's not well-made enough to bring in a wide audience; niche commercial prospects are solid but not spectacular.

Proceeding in pretty much linear order, the documentary impersonally but competently assembles archival footage, still photos and new interviews. Gould was not just a pianist but also an audio documentary maker for the CBC for years. He was a sharp interviewee and voluminous writer, and he left behind more than enough audio to narrate the whole story of his life. Added to his voice are technicians, childhood friends, the Foss family and a few biographers: Gould was notoriously private, so it's no one's fault that there's little new trivia to glean here, nor much juice to the interviews.

Still, the ample amount of footage makes for an enjoyable first half: before increasing paranoia set in during the early '70s, Gould, for all his eccentric tics and habits, was a terrifically comfortable presence on camera, a sympathetic, sharply self-deprecating, clear exponent of his own work. Describing his decision to slow down one piece to half Mozart's intended speed as "totally arbitrary" before explaining how it works, chatting candidly with Columbia's head of production or playfully sparring with a studio photographer, he's a fine one-man show.

As the last decade begins, the footage runs out; unwisely, co-directors Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont respond by padding out Cornelia Foss and children's not particularly interesting recollections (moving was hard on the children etc.). Also inadvisable are the increasingly frequent shots of a Gould body double walking alone: the verisimilitude of the fiction is severely undercut by passing Jeeps of the present day and so forth.

Concentrating on Gould's private life does a disservice to the writing he left behind (not discussed in the doc) and underestimates how prophetic his studio recording decisions were. With such a specialty topic, more technical insight wouldn't have gone amiss; an early demonstration of the finger technique Gould trained with is much appreciated, but the film, despite its promise to excavate an inner life, wilts into banality whenever Gould's thorny paranoia and control issues come up. A comprehensive, fair but uninspired greatest hits recap.

Distributor: Lorber Films
Director: Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont
Producers: Michele Hozer, Kelly Jenkins and Peter Raymont
Genre: Documentary/Music
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 109 min
Release date: September 11 NY

 

Tags: Glenn Gould, Peter Raymont, Kelly Jenkins, Michele Hozer
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