The title of "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould" refers to the film's structure, 32 vignettes that probe the life of the title character, eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, who died at age 50 some 12 years ago.
The surprise here is that the movie proves to be less about Gould the man than his passion for his art, though some of his peculiarities are certainly put on display.
A man of contradictions, Gould was an accomplished and respected interpreter of Bach, who also apparently enjoyed listening to Petula Clark (her hit song "Downtown" is used here). But Gould is perhaps most famous for abandoning live performances in favor of working doggedly in the studio on his meticulous recordings, a decision that would seem to fly in the face of what most musicians express about keeping music fresh and alive.
The number of blackout sequences used here is not random but is based on Gould's 1982 recording of Bach's "Goldberg Variations," a suite of 32 short piano pieces for which he won two posthumous Grammys. And it is fitting that his mesmerizing music laces nearly every one of the film bits here, and dominates a number of them.
In fact, "Thirty Two Short Films" is in truth more about the music than the man, reaching some sort of zenith when segments focus on his distinctive style, with fascinating visuals devoted to the inner workings of a piano or the sound-track itself.
But the biographical bits are also fun, ranging from stark interviews with those who knew him to comic scenes that examine his eccentricities.
As the adult Gould, Colm Feore is assured, dignified and a convincing pianist, but the film belongs to director Francois Girard who makes what could be a very difficult film quite accessible, if somewhat uneven. Generally, it is quite entertaining and thoughtful.