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THIRTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD (director/writer: François Girard; screenwriter: Don McKellar/Nick McKinney; cinematographer: Alain Dostie; editor: Gaetan Huot; music: ; cast: Colm Feore (Glenn Gould), Derek Keurvorst (Gould’s Father), Katya Lada (Gould’s Mother); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Niv Fichman; Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment; 1993)
One of the great documentaries, or if you will semi-documentaries.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the great documentaries, or if you will semi-documentaries. To tell its biography on Glenn Gould (1932-1982), the eccentric, reclusive, intellectual, iconoclastic, talkative, genius classical pianist from Canada, it uses the signature performance piece of his interpretations of Bach’s Goldberg Variations to structure the film as 32 fragments. Each segment revealing a different perspective of his life, as it enacts key scenes of his life with actors (Colm Feore is terrific as Gould), has those who knew him tell entertaining stories about him, gives us brief excerpts from his experimental radio broadcasts, conducts probing interviews that mostly can’t pin him down on questions of his lifestyle, and, best of all, we listen to his work performed throughout.

Director François Girard (“The Red Violin”) has created a magical and illuminating documentary, as he keeps things mostly in easy to follow chronological order. It brings to life the complex Gould’s compelling personality in its segments. Shooting in this unique but simple way gives the film a clarity that allows us to get fascinating glimpses of the great pianist, even if it’s just in fragments. We hear of the influence of his musical mother in getting him started on his musical career at an early age and the joy of spending time in the family Lake Simcoe cottage and developing there his music talent with mum as teacher for the child prodigy; the perfectionist giving up at the age of 32 performing at live concerts, with his 1964 concert in LA being his last; the cogent comments byacclaimed violinist Yehudi Menuhinthat Gould should learn to make do performing even when conditions aren’t ideal; to his dependence on prescribed drugs for his many ailments that include high blood pressure and depression; and a stimulating segmentof Norman McLaren’s animation Sphere’s.

In 1982, Gould died at the age of 50 in a Toronto hospital after a stroke. He made 60 recordings, and his definitive version of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” was included as one of the samples of earth’s best on both Voyager spacecraft’s in 1987 and 1989 (the thought being that this would impress any alien encountered, if they had any doubt that earthlings are not intelligent and capable of producing great art).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”