New York Times (May 1, 1994)
of American friends have noted a particular flavor they cannot quite identify
in the new film "Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould."
They wondered if it had something to do with its being Canadian. Herewith
some thoughts on the matter.
up in Canada, we were forced in school to watch movies by the National
Film Board of Canada, which helped make this film. Everyone in class
groaned when N.F.B. shorts began. N.F.B. films were like industrial
movies that only incidentally focused on human beings instead of zinc.
Even to 10-year-olds, they seemed like cultural inoculation.
- The 60's
and 70's were a sexy, happening time. It seemed that the Canadian esthetic,
whatever that might be, was on the cusp of articulation. The N.F.B.
was part of this.
McLaren was a pioneer Canadian animator whose experimental cartoons
were endlessly shown to school children courtesy of the N.F.B. Some
of his work appears in this movie.
- Don McKellar,
the film's co-writer, is in his 30's and most certainly saw countless
N.F.B. films as a child.
- A famous
series of N.F.B. short films was called "Hinterland Who's Who."
It had as its trademark the call of the loon, a sound that now evokes
in many Canadians who watched this program a sense of primal patriotism
infinitely greater than even the national anthem.
is a cold country; its relatively sparse humanity is separated by vast
has more pay telephones per capita than any other country.
Gould was a phone freak.
- The movie
features rotary phones, which now seem oddly primitive.
died before the arrival of Touch-Tone dialing, voice mail, pagers and
cordless phones. Irony!
telephoning patterns had much in common with those of Howard Hughes.
Both men would call anyone, anywhere, at any time of day or night.
- Back in
the 1970's, Howard Hughes lived for a year or so in the Bayshore Inn
hotel in Vancouver. Rumor had it that his assistants would rearrange
the furniture and say, "You're in Puerto Vallarta now, Mr. Hughes,"
and he wouldn't know the difference.
is Gould buried? I once visited Marshall McLuhan's grave, north of Toronto.
Its tombstone, flush with the grass, read "The truth shall set
you free" in the futuristic computer-style writing favored in the
- The movie
features big, flat, boat-type cars - mattresses on wheels. - Glenn Gould
liked Arrowroot cookies. And ketchup. After seeing the movie, audiences
will find this sort of detail sticking in the mind long after other
facts have vanished.
Gould was left-handed.
he took: Valium, Trifluoperazine, Phenobarbital, Librax, Aldomet, Clonidine,
Indocin, Hydrochlorothiazide, Fiorinal, Phenylbutazone, Gravol and Allopurinol.
- Not all
the music in the film is classical. One of the short segments, set in
a diner, uses "Downtown" by Petula Clark.
- The film
captures certain flavors of the Canadian architectural landscape high
modernist architecture refracted through the Ontario lens, which equates
ornament with sin; Lake Superior motels with knotty pine walls.
- When I
was 22, I bought a Glenn Gould cassette, knowing nothing of Gould's
tendency to hum during recordings. I thought there was a defect in the
tape and tried to return it.
was freaked out about turning 49 because the digits added up to 13.
- He died
of a stroke in 1982 at the age of 50.
- He seems
to have been surrounded by reams and reams of manuscripts and books
- engulfed by information.
- Some cities
visited by him while he toured: Salzburg, Stockholm, Berlin, Wiesbaden,
Florence, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem. His final performance was in Los Angeles,
- The documentary
film may well be Canada's one true art form.
Menuhin says of Gould and of Gould's decision to stop performing live:
"I think that - like all people who try to rationalize their position,
who do what they want at any cost and then seek some sort of universal
justification - he fell into a trap. A trap where he dwelt a little
too much on the morality of his decision."
was obsessed with the Arctic and dreamed of spending an entire winter
above the Arctic Circle.
- The film
reflects Gould's obsession with solitude - with the lone figure finding
solace in an empty landscape. Much of the Canadian identity seems to
stem from having to define empirically the essence of self inside a
- The movie
features a few shots of Gould brooding his way across a frozen lake,
which do, only briefly, make one pine for a fast-forward button. But
isn't that what the Canadian winter is all about?
- From a
very early age, Gould began, Michael Jackson-like, wearing fingerless
- Used in
the movie: NASA stock; moving X-rays, early 60's black-and-white news
stock; a page from Gould's personal diary; interviews with subtitles;
animation; still photographs of pills.
- From the
end of the movie: "In the fall of 1977, the U.S. Government sent
two ships, Voyager 1 and 2, into space. . . . A variety of messages
were placed on board that would be capable of communicating the existence
of an intelligent creature living on a planet called Earth. Among these
was included a short prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach, as performed
by Glenn Gould. Voyagers 1 and 2 left our solar system, respectively,
in 1987 and 1989.
Short Films About Glenn Gould," strangely, does capture the feeling
of being Canadian.