While the title is deceiving, “Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould” is a thirtysomething, impressionistic approach to the life and times of the iconoclastic classical pianist. An assured melange of dramatic re-creation, archival material and interviews, it is a uniquely entertaining venture. One need not know Gould’s artistry or be atuned to the music to respond to the material. It has definite upscale appeal, and ancillary prospects are decidedly upbeat.
Director/co-writer Francois Girard is neither particularly interested in fashioning a Hollywood-style bio nor in conducting clinical dissection. His take on Gould is rather like a tone poem, and is unquestionably reverential. He comes up with intriguing and unusual ways of cozying up to genius.
Apart from the requisite biographical details, the so-called short films run the gamut. There are a couple of Gould’s non-musical ventures for radio and a segment of his film collaboration with animator Norman MacLaren.
There’s also dramatic reconstruction of key events in his life, including his last live performance. Woven into an already rich tapestry are a handful of recollections, often bland, from real-life colleagues and friends.
The personal qualities that made Gould unique and a seminal force are never fully defined. But that proves a satisfying tact; any conclusion about the driven, chronically unwell artist who died at 50 undoubtedly would have been glib and banal.
Girard and co-writer Don McKellar affect an organic mixture of fact, drama and points in between that, if not stamped Canadian, at least reflects an artistic format at which the country’s filmmakers excel. The blurring of real and reconstructed elements is seamless, heightened by pristine visuals and naturalistic performances.
Though arguably a one-man show for actor Colin Feore, an army of performers provide memorable turns, particularly Gale Garnett and David Hughes. But it is Feore at the front and center, creating music and orchestrating lives with the same facility with which he commands orchestras. A memorable dramatic bridge segues from a series of overheard conversations in a diner to his offbeat method of conveying images of the north in a radio doc.
“Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould” is music for the heart of adventurous filmgoers. Definitely in a high class of its own, it is one of the few pictures to capture the nature of the artist and his craft.