Troubled genius: ‘Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould’

Being a genius is by definition being an outsider. The oldest high IQ society in the world, Mensa has 100,000 members worldwide, more than 57,000 members in the U.S. and an estimated 6 million qualified Americans. Qualification is based those scoring in the 98 percentile on approved intelligence tests. There are a lot of people who are or may be geniuses, but what makes them alike is they don’t think the same as the majority of the population and just how does one fit in with the common person without being viewed as an oddity or the one with a loose screw? How does one survive when few people think like you do? How do geniuses survive?

This delightful and thoughtful documentary, “The Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould,” is about a very public genius. It seems to ask: How does a private man fair in the public eye, particularly a public hungry for the sweet genius of his music and for gossip about the famous?

Glenn Herbert Gould in Toronto (1932), he was the only child Russell Herbert Gold and Florence Emma Gold.  On his mother’s side he was related to the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, a composer who he declined to play.  To avoid anti-Semitism, the family changed their name to Gould because Gold seems to be associated with Jewish names.

His parents were both musical and his mother was determined he be a musician. She was his first teacher and insisted that he hum as he played, a habit he was unable to shake during his adult years.  Gould would later study with Alberto Guerrero at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and that would deeply influence his style.

Yet it was not only his style, but his idiosyncratic habits and his handsome appearance that would land him in magazines such as “Life,” “Vogue,” and “Glamour.”

“His life is itself a performance,” one of his acquaintances remarked while another called him a “genius nut.” One person compared him to James Dean.

Just what made him nutty? Before WackoJacko, Gould wore gloves constantly. He brought his own chair and rug to play with. He hunched over the piano.

What made him a hot topic? He had an affair with a friend’s wife. He refused to leave Toronto as his home base for somewhere with more hustle and bustle like New York,  and, sometimes, he refused to perform.

This documentary uses archival footage along with interviews of formers friends and acquaintances of Gould. Gould, who died in 1982 at age 50, is fondly remembered, even sometimes with bemused frustration. The portrait that emerges is a man who was at heart an introvert but whose genius perversely came from his performance on stage and in life and a society that rewarded his bad and sometimes petulant behavior with more attention, making him a celebrity.

If you’re living in Pasadena, home to Caltech and JPL, then the number of geniuses is probably higher than the average city of similar size.  This documentary is likely about someone like you or someone you know.  For lovers of classical music, particularly Johann Sebastian Bach, this sensitive movie is about one of the most influential interpreters of Bach’s works.

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