Not-So-Sweet 'Hereafter' for Gould

The life and music of the legendary Glenn Gould deserves a great film treatment. Unfortunately,
The life and music of the legendary Glenn Gould deserves a great film treatment. Unfortunately, "Hereafter" isn't it. (By Don Huntstein)
By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 8, 2006

Somebody should rescue Glenn Gould from his idolaters.

In 1992, Sony Classical took stock of the pianist's wonderful film and video work -- hours and hours of it, on which he labored for the last quarter-century of his life, especially after he stopped playing concerts in 1964 -- and released it in a flashy, diced-up mash of images, complete with soppy connective narrative. The perpetrator of this mess was one Bruno Monsaingeon, a French violinist and filmmaker who had worked with Gould on his last and grandest video project, the 1981 film of Bach's "Goldberg Variations," which was (surprise!) the only one of Gould's meticulously structured creations to emerge complete and unscathed from the process.

Now Monsaingeon is back with a new film, titled "Glenn Gould: Hereafter." Some of the material in it is exhilarating, but, as with the Sony collection, the presentation is both execrable and egoistic. Indeed, at times it seems as though "Hereafter" should be retitled "Bruno Monsaingeon: The Glenn Gould Years" as we are treated to clips of Monsaingeon giving lectures on Gould in Moscow, answering an interviewer's questions about Gould in Canada, and playing first violin in a performance of Gould's early String Quartet. His is the only semi-authoritative outside voice in the film; he doesn't really have anything to say (unless you count the observation that Gould played music "from within" as revelatory), and he says it in a ponderous manner.

The other subjects are all Gould cultists of one sort or another, including a Russian woman who found relief for her chronic depression in his playing and a pianist who had a musical fragment from the String Quartet tattooed on her body. They seem like nice folks but ultimately remind me more than a little of those people who consecrate their lives to the memory of other ill-fated stars, such as James Dean or Nick Drake.

Fortunately, some Gould gets through -- fragments taken from the early CBC documentaries "Glenn Gould on the Record" and "Glenn Gould off the Record" (both of which date from the 1950s) through outtakes from the "Goldberg Variations" sessions a little more than a year before he died in 1982. There are selections from the four "Conversations With Humphrey Burton," a mid-'60s series produced by the BBC that represents Gould at his most inventive, engaging and downright funny (humor is generally in short supply here). Less successful is Monsaingeon's device of having an actor read Gould's words in a voice that sounds nothing at all like him, making for a curious sort of cognitive dissonance when "Hereafter" cuts back to the man himself.

What we desperately need is a scholarly and respectful edition of Gould's film work, this prophetic mating of sound and vision that grows more legendary with the passing years. That would mean giving us all of the Burton interviews (which have never been released on videotape or DVD) as well as the many television programs Gould recorded for the CBC, his tongue-in-cheek tour of his native Toronto (part of a series of documentaries about major cities made by John McGreevy in the late 1970s) and surviving concert footage from the early part of his career.

As things stand now, it is a bitter irony that Glenn Gould, one of the most original and articulate of musicians, is still not permitted to speak for himself.

Hereafter is available on DVD from Idéale Audience, Rhombus Media.

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