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Thirty Two Short Film s about Glenn Gould

Francois Girard

Some films are so good, they remind us what cinema is capable of by reinventing it. This is one of those films. It’s true that director Francois Girard and his co-writer Don McKellar started out with an extraordinary subject – the great eccentric Canadian pianist and composer Glenn Gould – but then again, assorted biopics on Mozart, Liszt and Tchaikovsky have proved less than inspired. Girard’s masterstroke was to take his cue from Gould’s most famous piece, his interpretations of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and to structure the film as 32 fragments, each revealing a different perspective; instead of shoe-horning a man’s life into the shape of the movie, the movie is shaped by the man.
The approach pas off handsomely. We see Gould at various juncures (he died in 1982 at the age of 50), but while they’re loosely in chronological order, these sequences are not really biographical, but tasters of a strangely distant, always compelling personality: dancing, mesmerised by his own playback in a recording studio, listening intently to the chatter and clatter in a roadside cafe, or wittily interviewing himself on his withdrawal form concert performance (in these scenes gould is played by Colm Feore with astonishing grace and intensity). Beyond this, Girard gives us interviews with those who knew him (Gould’s cousin Jessie Grieg; Yehudi Menuhin), excerpts from radio broadcasts, brief excursions into abstraction (the camera lovingly explores the nooks and crannies of Gould’s grand piano), even a segment from Norman McLaren’s animation Spheres, Despite such a formal dexterity, what’s most impressive is the simplicity and clarity of the enterprise – and of course, the music… 32 Short Films, one great movie.

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