It’s films like this one that make me the most self-conscious about my own reviews. I know almost nothing about classical music, aside from an arts course I took in high school, and high school is now a ways behind me, so that class could be all but invalidated by now. Other reviewers, however, know a lot more than I do, and have said quite a bit more about Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould than I could ever hope to, and thus I’m left with an unsettling enigma of; what can I say about this film that hasn’t already been said? The only option left to me, then, is to say what I can, as if anyone who may come across this review knows nothing about the film in question, or Gould himself, just like I did. I think this would be how the average moviegoer would enter this film, so I’ll speak to the average moviegoer rather than get myself caught up trying to speak to contemporaries.
First off, if someone does decide to read this before watching the film, it’d be best to know just who Glenn Gould is. Glenn Gould was a concert pianist, and probably the best regarded such of the 20th century, and so this film deals with his life, his music, and his impact on the relevant world at large. If you’re like me, and your attention span for generally non-interesting films has shrunken considerably, fear not: not only is Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould almost always interesting, the title describes the film quite literally; the film is comprised of 32 short segments, and aside from the topic of Gould they are pretty much unconnected, so it’s basically like watching a feature film comprised entirely of commercials. The limit of your attention span is a non-issue with this film, as even the segments you may find boring and uninteresting are rarely longer than five minutes or so. The segments themselves are as varied as they possibly can be; they range from straight interviews with Gould’s peers, to re-creations of moments and times in Gould’s life, to abstract animation set to Gould’s music, and just about any other representation you can think of to get into Gould’s head and mindset and approach to music. Some standouts, for varying reasons, include “CD318”, a performance by Gould seen entirely from within the piano itself, “Forty-Five Seconds and a Chair”, which like the title of the film is exactly that, “Gould Meets Gould”, in which Gould appears to be interviewing himself, “Variation in c minor”, which consists of nothing but a visual of an audio playback of one of Gould’s pieces, “Gould Meets McLaren”, an animation piece set to Gould’s music, a la Fantasia, and “Diary of One Day”, a performance by Gould seen entirely through X-ray. One last standout is the excellent performance by Colm Feore as Gould during various parts of his life. I’m a fan of Colm Feore, and quite frankly, it was weird seeing him with hair for once, but he does a fantastic job here. So did the editors, while I’m at it; the film is very nearly perfectly arranged and structured, much like an orchestral piece.
For what it’s worth, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I was going to. The various shorts, especially those with Gould’s music playing over the film, really helped me get in the mood to appreciate the music itself, which I found very exceptional. I may not know much about classical music, but I’m still a fan of music in general, and this was extremely pleasing to the ears. It helped a lot, of course, that the film, excellently made as it was, was pleasing to the eyes as well; always variant, with a lot of moving camera shots to evoke that weightless sensation that music seems to give. I love pleasant surprises like this, and I can attest to its placement on the list; it really is a unique picture, and a darn good one at that. This may very well be one to seek out, depending on how you feel about classical music, but it is certainly one to find the time to see at one point or another before you die.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10