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All sorts of interesting things have shown up over the past few days.
Regarding 32 Short Films, I think it is, first of all, an outstanding
film as a film. The use of the short stories and the combination
of interviews with dramatization all make for a highly original work which,
I think, captures the spirit of Gould. I have some problems with
it. In one scene we see him playing "air piano" while we hear (and
is he listening to) one of his own performances. What I think is
being conveyed here is that Gould could feel the music in his fingers as
the famous vacuum cleaner story illustrated, as did the time that he rehearsed
a concerto in Israel on a practice keyboard. But the film makes him
look like a teenager playing air guitar to his favourite band. Also,
I haven't read any evidence to suggest that he was as superstitious about
dates and numbers as the film suggests, or that he played the stock market
in quite the way that is suggested, although he was good at keeping track
of his investments. Good scenes include the one in the diner in Northern
Ontario where we see illustrated his polyphasic capacity, even though this
has to be illustrated as if it was one of Gould's polyphonic radio documentaries.
The scenes about his prescription drug use are terrifying, as are the excerpts
from his notebooks where he has almost hourly recordings of his blood pressure.
And, of course, the music is wonderful. One hopes that the movie
and the soundtrack did persuade viewers/listeners to become more interested
To my mind, the best overall book on Gould remains Payzant's Glenn
Gould: Music and Mind. It is short on biographical details
(Gould was still alive when it was written) but it explains his ideas on
music and technology quite well and in a coherent way. Gould reviewed
it in The Globe and Mail. Ostwald's book is the best personal memoir/biography,
but Jock Carroll's controversial Glenn Gould is also important,
for reasons I shall explain.
All this leads to the issue of biography and performance--whether 32
Films essentially fails in focussing on the biographical rather than the
music. But I think that elements of Gould's biography are essential
to an understanding of his whole attitude towards performance, recording,
interviewing, and repertoire.
It is clear that Gould was agoraphobic--afraid of being in public places,
traveling and the like. Someone with agoraphobia ia also going to suffer
in varying degrees from social phobia (Gould for a while could not eat
in the presence of others), obsesssive-compulsive behaviour, and generalized
anxiety. He admitted he was agoraphobic to Carroll. This is
the obvious explanation for his giving up performances, his frequent illnesses
while performing, and his reluctance to travel anywhere, except for New
York, that he could not get to by car--a very large car. People with
this sort of anxiety put a lot of emphasis on maintaining control.
They are hyper-vigilant about their body sensations and about things in
their environment. They cannot tolerate being in a situation which
they cannot control. This may explain why Gould preferred the telephone
to personal contacts; he could phone from a safe environment and terminate
the conversation whenever he wanted to. It is not so easy to leave
someone else's place or ask others to leave. On the other hand, once
he had invited someone to visit, he didn't want them to leave and played
for hours. In short, he was a lot like the Jack Nicholson character
in As Good as it Gets.
Carroll's book, based on interviews with Gould while he was still performing,
captures all this very well.
So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, it does explain
his giving up performances and it does explain his obsession with the use
of technology to create the perfect performance on record. Tapes
allowed him total control over the final released product. A person
with Gould's sort of anxiety problems and control obsession is not going
to want to allow himself to be carried away by emotions, love and the commitments
that love would involve. Thus, we have perhaps the explanation for
his love/hate relationship with the romantic repertoire, to which he was
drawn but which he was somewhat afraid of getting to involved in, as well
as his reluctance to commit himself to a woman.
So, I think that it is very useful to realize that Gould had these
anxiety problems in explaining some of his performance/recording eccentricities.
A film that focuses on his life is therefore useful musically and not just
as a gossipy account of his life.
For me, my two favourite Gould pieces are the aria from the second
CBS recording of the Goldbergs; and Selingers Round.