Genius Within – The Inner Life of Glenn Gould [Directors’ Cut] (2011)

by | Feb 7, 2011 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Genius Within – The Inner Life of Glenn Gould [Directors’ Cut] (2011)

Documentary Directors: Michele Hozer & Peter Raymont
Studio: Lorber Films LF-DVD-71 [3/1/11]
Video: 16:9 color and B&W
Audio: English DD 5.1
Music: Glenn Gould recordings
Extras: Deleted scenes, Extra interviews
Length: 113 minutes
Rating: *****

There must be more documentary films on Canadian genius pianist Glenn Gould than on any rock or movie personality.  We just had a fine production in 2009 from a director who had already filmed some other documentaries on Gould. That one was a sort of impressionistic view of Gould, while this one is a more comprehensive portrait of the artist that goes into some aspects of his life ignored in earlier documentaries, such as his relationships with women. One was left the impression from other films that Gould had none, but this one clearly corrects that impression. In fact he had a 4 ½-year relationship with Cornelia Foss, who separated from her husband noted composer Lucas Foss, but later returned to him due to Gould’s eccentricities. Critic Kenneth Turan even compared Gould to such iconic figures as Jim Morrison and James Dean. It has been nearly three decades since Gould’s passing in 1982, and his music and life continue to interest audiences around the world – probably more than any other personality in classical music. Witness the recent Zenph re-creation of his watershed 1955 recording (the first of two he did years apart) of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

As the title suggests, the documentary focuses on the many elements of Gould’s genius. And it wasn’t limited to finding an entirely new and compelling way to perform Bach’s keyboard works. It goes into his production of radio documentaries for the CBC – some of which are now available on CD for the first time. (He liked to overlap voices on the two channels similar to a pair of fugue subjects in Bach’s music.)  He even did one on singer Petula Clark (“Downtown”) and he let loose some of his more than two dozen “alter egos” (not all in the music world) for a series of satirical CBC telecasts. (The character parodies were once issued on Laserdisc but are not available on DVD.) We learn little details about his ugly Rube Goldbergish chair that he always traveled with, and about his special rug (which was new to me). He nearly always wore gloves, didn’t shake hands with people (in fact didn’t like to be touched at all), and tended to be up all night rather than during the day. Not new but more to the point than other films was Gould’s reliance on a case full of pills and nostrums (he was a hypochondriac). He secured different prescriptions from a variety of doctors and was unconcerned about the remedies possibly fighting one another.  Towards the end of his life they included anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications which had negative effects on his already super-eccentric personality. His notes show that at times he took his blood pressure every half hour. A psychiatrist considers Gould – in common with many historical figures – to have been on the autism spectrum.  He had told a friend he would live until age 50; he was right.

Some of the stills and film footage have not been seen before in earlier documentaries on Gould. It does appear the filmmakers used a Gould look-alike wondering the streets and lakeside for some shots, but there is evidently quite a bit of footage shot of him at recording sessions and elsewhere from the point he made his historic Goldbergs recording at Columbia Records in NYC.  These filmmakers didn’t go to the length of buying an identical big car to the one Gould drove – for long shots along the Canadian highways – as Director Monsaingeon had done for Glenn Gould – Hereafter.  Gould was interested in recording techniques and equipment (and even experimented in over-dubbing), and a home recording clip included on the soundtrack shows that when not recording in a professional studio environment, Gould sang to himself even more loudly and continuously than on his commercial recordings, if you can believe that. His unusual retirement from live concert performances and touring to focus on recording is discussed. He felt public concerts were a “force of evil.”

There are several talking heads reflecting on Gould and his life, including a couple of his few close friends, girlfriends (including soprano Roxolana Roslak, with whom he recorded an LP), Cornelia Foss and her two children, recording engineers, and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy. This Directors’ Cut includes some footage not in the theatrical version, plus there are more interviews and some deleted scenes in the extras. The documentary is also available in a Blu-ray version, but the image quality of most of the standard DVD is very high quality.

— John Sunier

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