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Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (2010)

June 17, 2010

7/10 Portraits of the Artist

A fascinating movie about a guy I didn’t even know existed.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould is a documentary about the extraordinary and private life of – you guessed it – classical pianist Glenn Gould who rose to overnight fame in the ’50s, changed the way people thought of Bach forever and eventually became a victim of his own gift by the time he died at all-too-young age of 50.

Like I said, I’d never heard of the guy until this week. I don’t know if I’m the only one in that boat or what, but the reason for my ignorance probably has something to do with my thinking that I’m one cultured sonofabitch ’cause I know that Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” is the tune they jam out at every college graduation, I liked Amadeus a lot, and…well, that’s about it.

Yeah, I never really listen to classical music, not that I have anything against it and I’m sure I’d get a lot more work done if I was more prone to choose Bach over Beck while typing these reviews, but what can I say, it’s just not my thing. Then again, it ain’t exactly easy for me to say “No!” to a free movie ticket, so in I went with open ears and an open mind and eventually found myself far more engaged that I thought I would be about a subject I could ordinarily care less about.

The nutshell bio on Glenn Gould is that he was born in ’32, started playing the piano like it was his job at the ripe age of 10, played his first show in New York at 23, got a recording contract the next day, put out his first record in ’55, no one had ever heard anything like it before and it blew their knickers clean off. So he did the touring thing for another eight years, more knickers were lost, then he realized that he hated entertaining folks in public, gave it up entirely to pursue other musical paths by his lonesome in Toronto for the next two decades, and that’s when things get interesting.

The beauty of Gould – regardless of whether or not you’ve heard of him – is that it is truly something else to watch someone who is so naturally talented at something, music or otherwise, that their brilliance comes effortlessly. I remember taking drum lessons in college and marvelling at my teacher as he played things I could hardly wrap my head around like it was second nature, like the instrumet was an extension of his body, and it’s that same sense of wonder that made Gould so famous and such a captivating musician to watch. Even for someone like me who knows jack crap about the piano, it’s wild to watch him just fall into an utter trance and get lost in the complexities of the music he’s playing.

But that’s not even the interesting part. Even to his closest friends – of which there were few – Gould was a living mystery of sorts who never really let anyone in, whose only true connection in life lied with his music and only seemed to distance himself more with age. Whether it be Tom Hanks or Lindsay Lohan, I’ve always been fascinated by the ways in people respond to fame and it’s almost heartbreaking to watch Gould’s persona and connection to the outside world gradually deteriorate as the art ends up consuming the artist. It’s not a VH1 True Hollywood Story, it’s just a guy trying to balance his life and his talents as everything else falls to wayside despite his best efforts to salvage it all, and it’s borderline tragic yet entirely consuming.

But I’m not gonna lie, up until Gould decides to quit touring, I was dozing off like a pro during this movie. Could be the side effects of my new 8 to 4 work schedule, but I found myself prying my eyes open like Alex DeLarge a couple times and I don’t think I’ve slept through a movie since I saw Phenomenon in theaters, and that was the night after sitting on a plane from Japan for twelve hours. So, yeah, might not be engaging right off the bat and it was at a steady 6 for a stretch there, but bring a coffee, it’s worth sticking with.

Nonetheless, Genius Within isn’t for everyone. The pacing’s not so hot, it’s an awfully “high brow” experience, and even though I can appreciate Gould and his abilities as a pianist, I’m still far from being a convert. It doesn’t come out for another couple months, but, hey, with an open mind and the right attitude, you just might totally dig it. Gould was an amazing talent who led one interesting life and he’s a guy you should know about, Bach fan or not.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2010 3:56 pm

    Congrats on your well-deserved Best Movie Reviewer LAMMY!

  2. June 17, 2010 7:45 pm


  3. June 17, 2010 9:14 pm

    Didn’t know about this one. Very cool. And yes, congrats on the Lammy. Hope you have a mantle.

    • June 17, 2010 9:30 pm

      Haha, thanks, man. I will hypothetically polish that thing with a diaper on a daily basis.

  4. Darren permalink
    June 18, 2010 4:30 am

    Congrats on the LAMMY. And he was strangely hunky, not really what I was expecting from his pieces (though how many classical music performances sing “Hunk!”?).

    • June 18, 2010 7:58 am

      Thanks, man! Yeah, a lot of the interviews focused on how weird he was, but I thought he was actually pretty cool for all his eccentricities and he had a pretty suave look about it him to boot. Interesting fellow, can definitely see the “hunky”.

  5. Aimée V. permalink
    September 7, 2011 1:00 pm

    If you’d like to watch another great movie about Gould, try and find “32 short films about Glenn Gould”, by Canadian François Girard (who directed “The Red Violin” and “Silk”). It’s a biopic unlike any other, it’s several short films telling his life, going back and forth in time, it’s very contemplative yet compelling. It has memorable moments about the work Gould was doing at a local radio station and his passion for the human voice, where he found another kind of music. But I guess it’s really not that easy to find… If you get the chance, go for it!

    • September 18, 2011 4:14 pm

      I keep seeing that on Netflix Instant and I really need to watch it already. Such a fascinating life, one that I’m tragically unfamiliar with but would love to know more about. Thanks for the recommendation, will definitely give it a shot one of these days!

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