Genius Within: The Inner Life Of Glenn Gould

Genius Within: The Inner Life Of Glenn Gould


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In the season of wonder, there is a moment when originality breaks through the ceiling and explodes into the unknown. At such a time Glenn Gould was born.

It is easy to fall victim of cliché, accepting the genius package, with its funny wrapping and rainbow string. Glenn was different. He played piano with an intensity that demanded attention. His obsession with the music was as intellectual as it was technical. A Canadian on the world stage, the New York critics called him “a small town boy.” He loved animals and children and his parents’ house on Lake Taco. When he was young he had a girlfriend. They never married.

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“Was he romantic?” she is asked.

Long pause.

“Sort of,” she says.

Between 1968 and 1972, he lived in Toronto with the wife of an American composer and her two children. Eventually she went back to her husband. The teenagers missed him. Ten years later, at the age of 50, he died.

“My motto is: Behind Every Silver Lining Is A Cloud.”

He was a hypochondriac, took anti-depressants and a cocktail of drugs that eventually changed him. He became reclusive and paranoid. They said, even during his most prolific period, when recording in the studio, that he was a control freak, not with people, but with his work.

He wore mittens when playing. He wore an overcoat in summer. He scripted his life, created a persona. He wrote the questions and answers to interviews. He was never mad. He hated audiences and fame and celebrity. “Anything pretentious made him ill.” He became renowned for cancelling concerts. He cancelled tours as well because he couldn’t face them and at the age of 31 stopped public performances altogether.

Glenn looked like Ethan Hawke. He didn’t want to be part of any group and refused to hang out with the in crowd. “If you threw stones at him, he would break,” a friend said. He embraced loneliness and damaged his health perfecting his art. He fitted no category and obeyed no rules. In 1957, on his first tour of Russia, they sold 1100 standing tickets to hear him play in Leningrad.

With so much material to choose from directors Peter Raymont and Michele Hozer could have drowned in indecision. Instead, they have made a pristine biographical film about a brilliantly difficult man whose eccentricity might have spoiled the feast, rather than exposing a semblance of truth behind his contradictions.

With astonishing clarity the filmmakers dissect a life that never stayed still and never sold out. Conventionally structured and beautifully edited, this is a work that would have pleased Glenn. It even has Petula Clark. And he fancied her.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2010
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Portrait of the pianist as an unusual man.
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Director: Peter Raymont, Michèle Hozer

Year: 2009

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: Canada


EIFF 2010

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