Martians, Star Trek, and Eccentric Pianists in Films

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Do you like reading Science Fiction? This is one of my favorite tales by Robert Heinlein. Heinlein’s human protagonist, Valentine Michael Smith was orphaned by the astronauts of the first expedition to Mars. Raised by Martians, Smith acquires superhuman intelligence and psychic abilities but retains the innocence of a child. When Smith returns to Earth, he evaluates the norms of human society such as religion, government, ownership, and sex.  Written in 1961, the cult classic infiltrated the Oxford Dictionary with the word “grok” as one who understands, emphasizes or knows.

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Episode 2 of the first season on Star Trek featured a boy named Charlie who was raised by extraterrestrials capable of great powers. Heinlein’s Valentine Michael Smith was the inspiration for the episode.

Take a look when you have a moment.


Whenever I think about Charlie X or Valentine Michael Smith, I think of an old school mate of mine and this familiar memory:

I crept up through the dark stairwell of the auditorium because I heard on stage above me the haunting sound of the most beautiful piano playing. In the wings behind blue velvet curtains, I listened to Adam, the only senior at our high school who had the skill to play Brahms Rhapsody in G Minor. He had set the stage lights in blues and greens. The house was dark, and I was privy to a private concert. As he played the grand piano, his face was unearthly. It was a five-minute experience that has stayed with me thirty years later.

Adam possessed a reputation for being a little eccentric. That is, he was too smart for the rest of us. He was tall and handsome and mysterious, always wearing black and a scarf around his neck. He was in his own world, often humming to himself, often laughing aloud when no one was around. He was a curiosity, a Stranger in a Strange Land.  Heinlein’s title is an allusion to Exodus 2:22, Moses, who was a stranger in a strange land.


Want to watch an intellectual, brilliant film directed by François Girard?

Canadian Glenn Gould was a great pianist whose eccentricities made him as famous as his gift for playing Bach. He carried around a battered chair too low for him to play on. You can hear his humming on his recordings. He spoke strangely, yet there was intense intelligence. He was a hypochondriac, a recluse, a stranger in a strange land. Mad? Autistic? Whatever the label, I find him fascinating. I recommend Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, an intriguing experiment in cinematography. The vignettes show Gould’s world of sensory sensitivity. It is not your typical Hollywood movie. It is intelligent; it is musically satisfying. No one can play the Goldberg’s Variations like Glenn Gould. Here’s one.

If you need a Hollywood movie depicting the eccentricities of gifted piano players, try Shine, the heartbreaking story of David Helfgott, an Australian prodigy pushed to the brink of insanity. Geoffrey Rush won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1996.

How many times in my life have I wished I could play Rachmaninov or Brahms or Chopin? I can’t play like my favorite strangers, so I will grok them from the wings and clap hard.

13 thoughts on “Martians, Star Trek, and Eccentric Pianists in Films

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    1. You are so wonderful to nominate me! Your kind words and interesting blog is award enough for me! I enjoy your readership and support. I think Canada is cool, and you have taught me a lot. You are the best! Thank you, Cindy


  1. I really enjoy reading this blog and going through the video clips! Thanks! I love the music by Brahms, and nobody plays Bach with the precision and control of Glen Gould.


  2. Awesome post! Even though I learn piano as a kid, I actually don’t know how to play 😦 Really enjoyed the music here, Cindy, esp. that Brahms one. And yeah, I wished I could play Rachmaninov too, esp. the theme from Somewhere in Time 😀


  3. Shine is a wonderful movie.
    Coincidentally, I had just watched the film Quartet the other night. Not a great movie, but interesting because It’s directed by Dustin Hoffman, has several film greats in (Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly …) and because of it’s unusual theme and setting – an seniors home (mansion) peopled completely by former Opera Singers, Classical Musicians, and the like. Though there’s not as much as we might hope, film can be a very effective way for people to experience the Arts they would otherwise not be exposed to.
    We gain an appreciation of such fine music and great artistry.


  4. Ooh, Cindy, your memories of that affected and insecure piano-playing guy Adam are so much more kindly than mine! I’m definitely going to try to remember him your way from now on. Bless you for that!

    This is a great post. Star Trek, Heinlein, piano classics, movie classics — all interests of mine, and all beautifully put into conversation with each other. Thank you.


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