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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Canadian Film Review: Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (2009)


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Director: Michele Hozer, Peter Raymont

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould is a comprehensive biography of Glenn Gould, the celebrated Canadian pianist who, like many a genius before him, died tragically early. In putting the film together, directors Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont make use of archival interview and performance footage of Gould, interviews with people who knew him well, and footage from home movies. They give a satisfactorily clear picture of Gould though it should be noted that despite its title, the film really can't penetrate into the inner life of the musician.

Genius Within is about two things: Glenn Gould the musician and Glenn Gould the man. In exploring his development and growth as a musician, Hozer and Raymont go back to the beginning of Gould's life, when he was born to late-in-life parents who doted on him and nurtured his gifts as a child prodigy. As he grew as an artist he became well known not only for his technical proficiency and control, but also for his often unique interpretations of classics which earned him both admiration and, on occasion, criticism. The film touches briefly on an incident from 1962 when Leonard Bernstein introduced a performance of Gould's by telling that audience that he took no responsibility for what they were about to hear. Things like that didn't discourage Gould, however; he continued to do things in his own way which is of course why he's legacy continues to be so lasting.

In his personal life Gould was well known for his eccentricities and his extremely private nature made him a somewhat mysterious figure. Hozer and Raymont include interviews with close friends as well as a former girlfriend of Gould's and her children, who provide a slight glimpse into his private life. The girlfriend is Cornelia Foss who left her husband for Gould in 1967 and brought her two children along and then yo-yoed for a while between the two men before finally reconciling with her husband in 1972, a situation which her now grown children confess was very confusing and, I would guess, a bit traumatic (especially given Gould's growing paranoia and mental health issues) but, hey, that was the '70s, I guess.

Although Hozer and Raymont devote a lot of time to examining as many aspect of Gould's life as possible, they never quite realize their ambition of creating a film that cracks the mystery of Gould the man. It would be a nearly impossible feat, of course, given that Gould has been dead for almost 30 years and that even while he was alive he kept so many people at arm's length and had difficulty relating to people on an interpersonal level. We never really get at "the inner life" of the subject in that we never truly learn what made Gould tick, how he saw himself as opposed to how he was viewed by those around him. Genius Within is nevertheless a fascinating documentary in all other respects; it just never gets as deep as the title suggests it will.

1 comment:

Bradley said...

How do I get hold of the writer Norma Desmond?