Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993)


Not to be confused with that famous scene in Big.
Not to be confused with that famous scene in Big.

Genre: Music Docudrama (Canada)

Starring: Colm Feore (Bon Cop, Bad CopThe Chronicles of Riddick)

Directed By: François Girard (The Red ViolinSilk)

Overview: This artistic look at Canadian pianist, radio personality and writer, Glenn Gould, is more a look into his eccentricities than his famous life.

Glenn Herbert Gould was a famous concert pianist - particularly for his interpretation of Bach, he was a radio personality for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), he was a rattler of musical traditions, an accomplished writer, an eccentric, and one of the most Canadian Canadians we Canadians have. This film is essentially a biopic of his life, from his youth to his death and all the piano, radio, writing, interviews and eccentricities in between, but I'm happy to say that Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould is far more about art and music and style than it is about documenting a man's life.
Were it not for the help of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Book, I would not have known why the short film format was chosen. The sheer wit would have been lost to me: "a mimicking of Bach's 'Goldberg variations' ". Not only witty, but unique, these thirty-two short films aspect doesn't make the movie disjointed or pretentious. Rather, the overall theme of the film becomes far more dynamic, more artistic - dare I go as far as avant-garde? - than an average biopic, especially with so many different styles between each film. One 'short film about Glenn Gould' has Glenn standing in the vast expanse of flat winter talking about travelling North, "It's always been an ambition of mine... to spend at least one winter north of the Arctic Circle. Anyone can go there in the summer when the sun is up, but l want to go there when the sun is down.  l really do, and so help me I'm going to do it one of these times." Another film is close-up images of pills, voiced over by descriptions of their effects and side-effects. Another shows the insides of Glenn's piano, the steel sinews struck by padded hammers as we listen to his perfect music. Another film features the eccentric man detaining a maid in a hotel room as he plays for her his new album on the record player. She sits there nervously until it is complete, as he is quite obviously passionately entranced by the sound. These are the artistic moments that makes the film uniquely different from stories detailing a life.
"In the fall of 1977, the US government sent two ships, Voyagers 1 and 2, into space, where they are eventually destined to reach the edge of our galaxy. In the hope that someone, somewhere, would intercept these craft, a variety of messages were placed on board, that would be capable of communicating the existence of an intelligent creature, living on a planet called Earth... Among these was included a short prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach, as performed by Glenn Gould."
And he was nuts about telephone conversations - it seemed to be one of his favourite pastimes
And he was nuts about telephone conversations - it seemed to be one of his favourite pastimes

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 84% (Staccato Yet Sublime)
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Club Aftertaste:
This is what the book, the Club is about for me. Not in any way a film I would pick up on my own, this film was a pleasant surprise that sat outside my comfort zone. Rote mainstream biopics like the tedious Ray or even the mighty Walk The Line can in no way compare with the style and grace that is Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, and for as much as Canadian viewers may notice how 'tragically Can-con' it is, it's certainly a worthy export from our cold little land of the Great White North.
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It makes me wish I'd known more about Gould years ago, and that may be the highest praise I can give a film like this. That, and it could have gone longer without me noticing. Fascinating stuff. You're right about this being what the List is all about. I'd have never watched this otherwise.

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