Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (Lorber Films, NR)

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould is a conventional documentary whose excellence lies in the extensive research and quantity of archival materials they incorporate into the film.

 
The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould was one of those artists who transcended his field; even if you care nothing for Bach or the piano, you probably know his name. He was a superb, if sometimes controversial, musician who enjoyed rock star status among his fans. This status was only reinforced by his many eccentricities, including his propensity for humming along with his own music as he played and habit of bundling up for the Canadian winter even in the Florida summer. Gould’s matinee-idol good looks didn’t hurt either, and his decision to retire from concert performances at the height of his fame at age 31 only intensified his cult following. The final icing on the cake, so to speak, was Gould’s unexpected death in 1982 at the age of 50.
Given Gould’s solid fan base, it’s somewhat surprising that until recently the only full-length film based on his story was Francois Girard’s 1993 Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, which lies somewhere between biography and fiction in its deliberately fragmented presentation of Gould’s life and work. Maybe the Gould legend intimidated people, or maybe Girard’s treatment was so definitive that it frightened other filmmakers from even attempting to capture the spirit of Gould on film.
Whatever their motivations, Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont went in the opposite direction of Girard. Their Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould is a conventional documentary whose excellence lies in the extensive research and quantity of archival materials they incorporate into the film. They present the broad range of Gould’s accomplishments, which go far beyond playing the piano. Gould was a prolific documentary producer for the CBC and a deep thinker who was always willing to expound his philosophical ideas on many subjects.
Hozer and Raymont include many interviews with those who knew Gould well, producing a well-rounded picture of a man who was admittedly an eccentric and a hypochondriac but not entirely a loner; he formed both strong friendships and intimate attachments. Rumors of a relationship between Gould and Cornelia Foss, wife of the composer and conductor Lukas Foss, have been flying around for years. Genius Within establishes the reality of that relationship through interviews with Cornelia Foss and her now-grown children who recall Gould fondly. The issue is handled tastefully, leading to the conclusion that life can be strange and doesn’t always fit into neat compartments such as those provided by monogamous marriages.
The title is a bit of a misnomer, because the filmmakers don’t look too deeply into Gould’s psychology or motivations, preferring instead to concentrate on his accomplishments and the impressions he made on others. In particular they shy away from any discussion of whether Gould had Aspberger’s Syndrome or some other autism spectrum disorder—a question that has been raised frequently about him. After watching this film you should have a heightened appreciation for the man and his many accomplishments, and perhaps that’s the most we can expect from a film about such an intensely private person. | Sarah Boslaugh

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