An intimate portrait of Atlantic legend Ron Hynes, William D. MacGillivray’s “The Man of a Thousand Songs” is also a complex account of the personal costs of obsession, loneliness and substance abuse. A singer-songwriter whose work has been covered by countless performers, Hynes met with early success, getting a recording contract at 16 and featured later in a long-running television series. But the cost of this success was dear. His ego ran amok, his relationships eroded and his onstage meltdowns overshadowed his songwriting talent.
The film focuses on Hynes as he recounts and makes sense of his life. A fascinating character, Hynes comes across as sincere, but he’s also decidedly guarded. Though one senses reservoirs of regret in his eyes, Hynes chooses to address these issues almost abstractly. He refers to himself as three different people: himself; a singer-songwriter; and the man of a thousand songs – “a total creature” who took over his life and nearly killed him. Joel, the person who probably knows him best, reluctantly confides that he’s impossible to reach and that you never know which side of him you’ll get. Of course, part of his alienation from himself is directly related to his work, which demands that he blur the line between truth and myth.
“The Man of a Thousand Songs” also opens a compelling window on the songwriter’s craft, and the self-doubts that come with the profession. Hynes shelved his best-known song, “Sonny’s Dream,” for almost a year because the melody felt so familiar he thought he had stolen it. As a corollary, the film explores the costs and benefits of an artist staying within Canada. Hynes admits he could have made far more money if he moved to Los Angeles, but would probably have never written his most heralded work. Perhaps best of all, the film features Hynes performing in numerous venues – a pleasure to watch regardless of how familiar you may be with his work. His cracked and wispy voice imbues his songs with profound emotional weight. [Synopsis courtesy of Steve Gravestock/Toronto International Film Festival]