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Pianist Glenn Gould's Life Comes to the Big Screen

The musician's career and personality are probed through an engrossing part-documentary, part-fictional account

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THE title of ``Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould'' is a little misleading since this is actually a single movie divided into 32 parts.

It's an uneven picture, and at times an eccentric one. But these qualities are fully in keeping with Gould himself, whose life and work oscillated between the brilliant and the ornery, often combining the two in ways that puzzled even his most steadfast admirers.

Not quite fiction and not quite documentary, the movie is as unpredictable as its subject: the most fascinating pianist - and perhaps the most fascinating musician of any kind - to achieve prominence during the past several decades. In all, it's the most engrossing arts-related film in a very long time.

``Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould'' was directed by Canadian filmmaker Francois Girard, and stars actor Colm Feore as the great pianist. The movie's design is borrowed from J.S. Bach's magnificent Goldberg Variations, in which 30 interrelated episodes are juxtaposed with an aria that introduces and concludes the work.

This aria is echoed in the movie by two leisurely scenes of Gould visiting the snow-covered reaches of the Canadian Arctic, which exercised a strong hold on his imagination.

Between these vignettes are 30 separate scenes covering many key issues in Gould's career, from his unconventional living habits to his still-debated decision to leave the concert stage at the peak of his career.

While many of the episodes are engaging and even amusing, others touch on the pianist's dark side, including the overuse of prescription drugs that may have contributed to his untimely death in 1982.

One section of the movie is labeled ``Questions With No Answers,'' raising such unresolved matters as Gould's failure to write much music of his own, despite his stated wish to become an active composer, and his seemingly inconsistent views on technical perfection in the recording studio - where he labored to create ideal performances through editing techniques, yet put up with imperfect pianos and his own irksome tendency to hum along as he played.

An additional ``question with no answer'' that occurs to me is whether Gould would have liked this movie. I suspect the answer is both yes and no.

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