Photo credit: Kent Nason
William MacGillivray's new documentary, The Man of a Thousand Songs, is said to be a revealing look at the personal struggles of renowned singer/songwriter Ron Hynes.
“Well, I think this film is about Ron's light side and his dark side,” Ron says as the film opens. “I think the light side is Ron, and the dark side is that guy that he's got to be when he goes out on stage, or that guy that kind of...took over his life. I think Ron invented this guy, and then he kind of came to life...do you think that's what it's about?” he peers straight into the lens, withdrawn yet intent. His eyes are those of someone who still battles with very dark forces.
Ron speaks of himself in the third person, and as two separate people: Ron and The Man. The latter, according to Ron, took over his life for a period in the late 90s/early 00s, causing him to spiral into a cycle of addiction and dependency.
We walk and talk with Ron, as he recalls the early days and how he got started, takes us on a tour of his childhood home in Ferryland, discusses memories of his Wonderful Grand Band days, and more.
He knows he's good, comparing himself with Hank Williams, Gordon Lightfoot and the like. He's self-admittedly self-involved, which may have initiated his divorce from wife Connie. At one point, nephew Joel Thomas Hynes (who is a big part of the film), reflects, “I know that he's absent from a lot of loved ones lives, and that he's forsaken a lot for the search for the perfect song. There's something admirable about that, and there's something that's not-so-admirable about that, because some really good people can go by the wayside.”
But maybe a huge ego and a great sense of self are required to lay his heart and soul on the line, as Ron Hynes does.
We hear tales of woe about his long-lost relationships with his children, which he claims to be his ongoing personal sorrow of sorrows. The tales are some of the most moving and self-reflective thoughts-out-loud that you'll ever hear.
The final 30 minutes of the film speak openly about Ron's temporary dependency on cocaine and alcohol. It's a story that will knot your stomach. And his third-person description of The Man, which might make you think Ron Hynes is bi-polar, is chilling.
The film includes sweeping views of St. John's, it creeps through the city's dark clubs and pubs, and chats with its residents. Live performances are peppered throughout, along with salty interviews with Ron and Joel.
At its' core, this film is really about struggling with inner demons, and about learning to sit comfortably in your own skin, which is something we can all relate to.What does Bill MacGillivray have to say about it?
The filmmaker confesses that he never planned for this to be a soft, bland, 'life and times'-type production.
“To Ron's credit,” he says, “he never wavered. We wanted people, fans and strangers alike, to get to know Ron and to be confronted with the brutal fact that it is hard to be someone who lays their art and their life on the line on a day to day basis. I wanted people to be aware that a true artist can never simply stop making their art. And there is a price to be paid for that.”
The film premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 13th. Not too shabby.
MacGillivray says that he and his partner, producer Terry Greenlaw, have always tried to take the local and make it universal.
“People forget the fact that our familiar, everyday world is someone else's exotic,” he says. “The trick is, I think, to try to express the truth of the local rather than the myth of the local. The opening of The Man of a Thousand Songs is a very quick snapshot of St. John's, its people, its manners, its ways – all in a couple of minutes of course, but we wanted this audience to have a context for Ron and a taste of the world that has influenced him and his art.”
The Man of a Thousand Songs premieres at TIFF on September 13th, with two further screenings on September 14 and 18.