“If you Could Read My Mind”, the only Gordon Lightfoot song that made it into the dance clubs that demonstrated the wide appeal of this gifted Canadian singer songwriter is arguably the most loved of all his songs and thus selected as the title of this comprehensive doc on the man. The film arrives after a very successful world premiere at this year’s Hot Docs.
The film begins with the song heard on the soundtrack “That’s what you Get for Loving Me,” followed by shots of other famous singers like Peter, Paul and Mary and Johnny Cash also performing this song. It is a chauvinistic song, as Lightfoot himself admits, which he wrote while he was married to Kim (also shown on camera later on). But it is a beautiful song, followed then by many of other famous works including “If You Could Read My Mind”.
It is the best time to make a doc on a subject when the subject is still alive and able to be interviewed and talk about his own life and work. Audiences are fortunate as there is plenty of Lighfoot insight. Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni have unprecedented access to the artist and his work.
The film takes the audience from high school auditoriums in straight-laced small town Ontario in the ’50s, to coffee houses of Yorkville and Greenwich Village in ’60s Toronto, through the turbulent substance-fueled arena shows of the ’70s, to present day. With an intimate and emotional examination (with his accompanying songs) of the artist’s profound relationship to his music and Canadian roots, IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND chronicles Lightfoot’s evolution from Christian choirboy in Orilla to troubled troubadour to international star (starting work in a bank when first moved to Toronto) and beloved Canadian icon.
On docs on singer celebrities, there is always a considerable portion that tracks he subject’s downfall be it drugs or drink and perhaps coming back. For this doc, Lightfoot’s only vice happens to be his drinking and partying. But though he drinks to some excess, it made him fun to be with while going into a drunken rage occasionally. As the film reveals, Lightfoot would drink a bottle a day. But all things considered, Lightfoot could handle the stress through his drink and it did not destroy his career though he did hit a bit of a low point. But Lightfoot finally realizes that he was not in a good place, especially when his girl walked out with his kid, and quit drinking cold turkey. And he went on to his canoe trips (10 trips in the bush) while rehabilitating.
Even if you are not a truly a Lightfoot fan, this film will have a strong lasting effect. It is a relaxing easy-going doc, with lots of yes, wonderful Gordon Lightfoot songs.
The film will also be broadcast on CBC and doc Channel in late 2019.