Docs about Music

film 4 of 4

Glenn Gould: Hereafter

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

I wonder—as Ray Manzarek is to Jim Morrison, so Bruno Monsaingeon to Glenn Gould? That’s probably overstating it, but you start to suspect.  Could it be? I think that we now probably have too many movies about this guy. I’m worrying that his cinematic or documentary ubiquity might contribute to our bypassing other individuals or institutions that are worth discovering.

To their credit, the producers of this one try some new things. New interview material—notably that straining, contrived, overly performed part where some poor guy pretends to be running things while the writer-director performs some familiar—and doubtless heartfelt—recollections and reflections. A new conceit, or a different angle: we get the Italian lady, and the Japanese lady, and the Russian lady, and the English girl, and that guy with the editing suite, and stories about how GG changed all of their lives. The thing is, apart from the sweet and plausible account of how that music stirred the Russian lady back to health and life, and apart from that very striking string quartet tattoo that the girl got on her lower back, none of that works at all. Three of these episodes are frivoulous to the point of non-existence, a real waste of budget money, providing nothing new at all.

So what’s good? There may be too many Glenn Gould films, but no matter how or how often you look at it, that was some life! And this footage, any old footage is so powerful. The Gould/Menuhin debate, for instance. Life to those shadows, and the dead as eternally present. Amazing. Speaking of that debate, all this footage makes me think that the legend may have some basic GG things wrong, as presumptuous as it is for me to say it. Everyone always keeps coming back to the abandonment of the concert stage, the subsequent or attendant withdrawal into the recording studio. GG can certainly articulate his many, usual reasons. But look at the guy! Wasn’t it all basically because he was so very awkward, such a cluster of neuroses and even mild/moderate personality disorders, so psychically muddled and terrified? He found a superb set of explanations for the fact that public life was too hard for him. None of them quite admitted the core. You know the story, don’t you? He eventually couldn’t bring himself to shake hands with people! And since all this was so palpably, so diagnostically evident, isn’t it moving and beautiful to see how hard he tried, and how generously he pushed through his paralyses to keep sharing and giving?

The result is that though there may be too many GG films, GG himself should remain in our hearts and our minds. He’s so important! There are lots of ways. His life contains considerable academic interest. Did you see him disturb that Music Type by his perverse reading of the Mozart variations? Good! Modernism, revisionism, skepticism and constant searching. There is some moral interest as well, some wonderfully accessible Sunday School or Youth Conference instruction. Look what a person can accomplish! And doesn’t this help us to better relate to and appreciate those among us who ail? He’s crazy, and he’s ridiculous too. But he’s a genius, and even more, a genius with something to say. It’s obvious which part is more important.

But it’s even more profound than that, and the final insights are spiritual. Keep watching him, keep listening. Look how the music really helps him through it all, how by its exquisite tones, as well as by his thunderously flawless technique, the tics and quirks (except maybe that perverse singing) diminish or even disappear. It may even be that the Cries and Whispers fade away. That sublime CBC excerpt contains all of what I’m trying to get at. Here’s this ill-made hunchbacked fellow, seemingly making it up as he slumps at that organ, and then stands up and ambles over. But here, and generally, you see and especially feel a transformation taking place. His speaking and finally his thought is as beautiful as his music. And notice the subject. What did Ingmar Bergman’s associate say, back there in that mordant autobiography?  “I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in Bach.” The cantata performance is lovely— these old video images and TV camera movements have a special delicacy, instability and indexical—really them, really performing!—authenticity. But did you notice? It’s not just the performance that was lovely. Not just the thoughts that introduced it, or the words that carried the thought. Look at him. He’s beautiful! There’s a lesson if there ever was one.