Admittedly influenced by Gordon Lightfoot, but more often sounding like Johnny Cash, Newfoundland singer-songwriter-guitarist Ron Hynes gets the bio-docu treatment in “The Man of a Thousand Songs,” named for the country western-flavored tune in which the artist first introduced his dark alter ego to the public. Speaking of himself in the third person, recovering substance abuser Hynes confesses on camera that “Ron” has had to fight “the Man” for control over their shared body. In addition to talking-head confessionals, recently shot concert footage stands to reward fans while helping to create new ones. International TV broadcasts beckon.
Director William D. MacGillivray’s deep respect for his middle-aged subject shows in his willingness to let the man — but never “the Man” — tell his own story. Aside from a harrowing black-and-white concert snippet of an intoxicated Hynes lashing out at an audience member for chatting during his set, the dark side of the artist never appears. Eventually it becomes clear that the now-sober Hynes’ habit of speaking about his demons as if they’re still around is part of his successful bid to keep them at bay.
MacGillivray and d.p. Kent Nason’s frequent closeups of Hynes’ somewhat ravaged face add to the pic’s intimacy, as does Hynes himself, who not only lays himself bare for the camera but likably relates, more than once, his favorite off-color joke: “Would it be abnormal if one of your testicles was bigger than the other two?”
Hynes’s grizzled nephew, Joel Thomas Hynes, proves a riveting personality in his own right, chain-smoking at his kitchen table and conveying his inability to fully understand the “sickness” of his mercurial uncle. Meantime, extending the pic’s focus on the difficulties of family, the songwriter tells of reuniting with his young daughter, who intuitively recognized him on television, and whom he hadn’t seen in a decade.
Tech credits appear both pleasing and slightly rough, as befits Hynes and his many hard-edged songs, which are known for their complex and unusual chords, as well as their thematic focus on loneliness, love, regret and addiction. Alternately, an uncharacteristically bouncy rocker Hynes delivers to one of many rapt audiences is sharply captured by MacGillivray, who seems to relish his subject’s intriguing contradictions.