When I originally learned that Peter Raymont was developing a film about Gould, I, like most Canadians, knew the standard shorthand about this cultural icon: great pianist, but a rather odd and shadowy personality. I owned a copy of the Goldberg Variations and was a fan of “32 Short Films about Glenn Gould.” But, frankly, I knew little about Gould the man, even if I had an interest in him as an almost mythical character.
When I was approached by Peter to co-direct, I immediately agreed because I knew Gould would, like all mythical figures, be a fascinating, complex and contradictory character to explore. At the same time, there was something about Gould that made him the classic tragic hero. Through him one can explore the greatest virtues in humanity, but also the darkest of fears and flaws—in other words, that which makes us fundamentally human, in all our triumphs and frailties.
From the beginning, it was a challenging undertaking. Gould has not one but five biographies, with others in the works. Also, since his death in 1982, there have been numerous films exploring his life and achievements. So, the basic question: what do we have to offer that’s new? Why yet another film about Gould?
Like Gould himself, the answer is complex. At the heart of it all, Gould is a great human story. By intimately looking at the man alongside the myth, not only do we understand a bit more about Gould, we can all understand a bit more about ourselves. We can all relate to wanting to achieve success, to make our lasting mark in some fashion, but is there a human cost, a personal sacrifice, and is it ultimately worth it all? No simple answers but fundamental and worthy existential questions to ponder.
Gould often talked about the transcendental nature of music; maybe by losing ourselves in his music and his story, we can better find ourselves, or that’s my hope.
EDITOR TO DIRECTOR
A good filmmaker is ultimately a great storyteller.
I have been very fortunate to work on films that were made in the edit room.
Unlike fiction films, a documentary editor does not work with a script. Usually the editor has hundreds of hours of footage to go through, and slowly, often painfully, the story is found.
In some way, the transition from editor to director was a natural transition. In fact, my co-director Peter Raymont also started his stellar career as an editor.
However, I also became aware of some quite subtle but important differences between an editor and director.
My most important lesson was learning to gain trust from the people around you, whether producers, broadcasters, crew, or, most importantly, your characters. They all have to feel like you know what you are doing (even if you are only operating from instinct or gut feeling) and they need to trust you with their story – that you will do their stories justice.
The second key difference is living with uncertainty for a longer period of time. As an editor, the material is shapeless in the beginning. But within a couple of months a structure starts emerging and you are less in the period of cloudiness. As a director, this period is stretched out longer. So you have to learn to live with it and pace yourself accordingly.
And lastly, there’s a degree of insecurity that comes with directing—can I do this; is there a story here; if there is a story, am I capturing it in the field; with a limited budget, what to shoot, when to shoot, where to shoot; and so on. This is something that as an editor I thankfully didn’t have to deal with.
Maybe this process will make me be more sympathetic to directors when they first walk into the edit room carting their seemingly endless hours of footage like a ball and chain and wondering if a film will ever emerge.