, September 2009
There are many films and DVDs of the quirky Canadian genius pianist that are available, and seven of them were made by the director of this magnificent film, Bruno Monsaingeon. He was a good friend of Gould for 30 years and is also a working musician, a violinist who appears in a performance of part of Gould’s own String Quartet in the film. When asked by both Idéale Audience and Rhombus Media to make another film retrospective on Gould, Monaingeon hesitated, feeling that everything seemed to have been said already. Later, he conceded, and agreed to make a film concentrating on Gould’s genius by zeroing in on his present relationship with the music-listening public, so many years after his death. Hence the film’s title. One young man reports that he never believed there was a hereafter until he heard Glenn Gould play Bach.
Monsaingeon came up with a structure based on three main ideas: First, Gould telling his own story on voiceovers, and some of the themes of his writings. Second, taking material from the huge volume of correspondence he has received over the years from people extraordinarily affected by Gould’s performances and writings. He organized some of these into mini-portraits of five ordinary people who play themselves. For example, one is an Italian lady who interrogates the lifelike bronze statue of Gould in his overcoat and mittens sitting on a bench outside the Glenn Gould Studio in downtown Toronto. Another is a Russian lady who was roused from her sickbed by a radio broadcast of Gould playing some of Bach’s W[ell-]T[empered] C[lavier] and now runs a bureau propagating Gould’s ideas. The rapt closeups of faces of a Russian audience listening to a Gould recording on a little boombox on the edge of the stage is very moving. The third idea used in the film is material from various archives—audio, film and literary—which are used in the narrative thread of the film. Monsaingeon even found tapes which Gould had recorded himself in his home practicing, and rushes shot in the studio in 1981 when Gould was recording The Goldberg Variations for the second time.
Many B&W still photos of Gould are integrated beautifully into the film footage, which includes many shots of his Lincoln Continental—which he called “Longfellow”—tooling along the shores of Lake Superior with gorgeous autumn colors, and Gould’s voice on the soundtrack discoursing about his life, music and lots of other things. (Actually Gould’s own Lincoln was gone, but Monsaingeon found another one exactly like it to use for the film.) One of the several eccentric ideas explored by Gould on the soundtrack is his saying he never understood the emphasis in our culture on freedom—that he would welcome being a prisoner if he could dictate the decor of his cell and its climate. In a disputation of articles which mentioned his suitcase full of medications and vitamins with which he traveled, he protests that was completely untrue—it was only a briefcase.
There are family photos and pictures of him as a child with his beloved dog, and he tells of being distracted in the middle of a piano concerto performance as a teenager by noticing the white dog hairs all over his dark suit and picking them off when he wasn’t playing. He also describes his first fishing experience as a child when he caught a perch, considered it from the fish’s perspective and then wanted to throw it back, but the others wouldn’t let him. When he was older and had a motorboat on the lake, he would harass fishermen by making big wakes with it.
The film opens a new view of the magic of Gould’s personality, ideas and performances that is completely different from all the other films on the pianist, and how he continues to affect so many lives 17 years after his passing. The Blu-ray transfer looks terrific on the new HD color footage, and even the archive B&W footage has more detail than seen before. The 5.0 DTS surround makes a superb accompaniment to the images. The note booklet has an essay by Monsaingeon and a complete list of all the music excerpts heard during the film, although I would have also appreciated a quick visual title on the screen for each of them.