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Old 05-10-2019, 09:15 PM   #42
charlene
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Default Re: HOT DOCS-Lightfoot documentary - interviews/photos/articles-Apr.-2019

TORONTO STAR ARTICLE - May 10,2019
https://www.thestar.com/entertainmen...w237wfzZdBMhAo


By Ben RaynerPop Music Critic
Fri., May 10, 2019

The first image to flicker onscreen in Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind is a long shot of the film’s titular subject standing with hands on hips at the door of his Rosedale mansion, levelling an iron gaze at the camera that veritably screams “tough nut to crack.”

And, hey, whaddaya know? Gordon Lightfoot is a tough nut to crack. The final impression of the 80-year-old Canadian folk icon left by Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni’s briskly entertaining and entirely legend-affirming new documentary — which received its world premiere with two screenings attended by Gord himself in Toronto during the Hot Docs film festival late last month and will return to the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Bloor St. from May 24 until June 7 before landing on the CBC’s Documentary channel at the end of the year — is that of a meticulous, if unpretentious perfectionist and professional who prefers to do his deep thinking in private and channel it into song rather than parading himself before the public as an open book, like so many other pop stars of his stature.
So while writer/directors Kehoe and Tosoni do manage to crack open the Lightfoot mystique a little bit in If You Could Read My Mind, the real triumph of their film is that they got Gordon Lightfoot to acquiesce to a documentary examination in the first place. As his longtime personal assistant Anne Leibold, noting that Lightfoot has been approached “hundreds” of times to do similar cinematic projects during her time on the payroll, puts it to the Star: “I applaud them because they got through a thick brick wall with him.”

The dry-witted Lightfoot, who has for years been good-naturedly badgered by Kehoe and Tosoni to let them do a film on his life and work during their occasional run-ins, simply shrugs off the decision to participate in the documentary as a matter of trust and timing.

“I was sitting with John Brunton (the film’s producer) one day and he was describing how a tornado came through Muskoka and almost tore his cottage in half with him inside with his family. That got me thinking,” he says, wedged into an impossibly cramped and humid office upstairs at the Hot Docs theatre with Kehoe, Tosoni, Leibold, Lightfoot’s wife Kim Hasse, a couple of other extraneous bodies and, for some reason, an actual humidifier before attending If You Could Read My Mind’s second screening on April 30.

“This has been suggested at other times. I thought about this a long time ago — a long, long time ago — but about five years ago we were talking about it one day and we said ‘Look at us. We’re still all walking around. Let’s get it done.’ As long as they didn’t go too deep. And I had the feeling that they weren’t going to try to make, like, a hatchet job of this. So here we are. I knew there would be certain things about it that might cause me a little discomfort, but that’s no problem. I mean, it’s a harsh world out there, y’know?”

Much of the filming got done at Lightfoot’s house, he adds drolly, “because I had the parking.”

The first time Lightfoot saw If You Could Read My Mind was in the theatre with everyone else at its actual Hot Docs premiere on April 27, which made the night of the second showing a slightly less stressful occasion for the filmmakers.

He had, Kehoe says, “given us carte blanche” to do what they would with the hours of interviews they began logging shortly after Lightfoot performed a trio of shows at Massey Hall before it went dark for two years of renovations last Canada Day. And yet, although the film doesn’t dig terribly deep for dirt — If You Could Read My Mind really only glances off such potentially contentious topics as Gord’s once-formidable drinking (Anne Murray gets in a good shot nonetheless) and his tempestuous ’70s relationship with notorious groupie Cathy Smith, later implicated in the overdose death of John Belushi and the probable inspiration for 1974’s bitter “Sundown” — there were, no doubt, a few squirmy moments in the cinema to be had on opening night.

The film opens, after all, with a visibly disgusted Lightfoot watching a vintage performance of his 1966 ramblin’-man calling card “For Lovin’ Me,” declaring it “a very offensive song for a guy to write who was married with a couple of kids” and musing “I guess I don’t like who I am” before finally calling an end to the session with a snarled “I hate this f--king song.”

“I’ll be much more relaxed tonight, I think. I was nervous, Gord — really, really nervous about your reaction,” admits Tosoni. “We’ve had our tiffs, right? And I don’t mean the Toronto International Film Festival. You’ve been ticked at us a couple of times, and I just don’t like him to be. But Martha and I did the film that we thought was right and we’re glad he said he liked it. But it was a little nerve-wracking the first time.”

“Joanie and I tossed and turned over it because we did feel that, for one thing, we have this personal relationship with Gord and we also have this huge respect and, also, he had given us his trust,” adds Kehoe. “He didn’t have approval. It was kind of in our hands so we did feel like, wow, we had to do this definitive documentary. But we kinda let go of that idea. In the end, we just said ‘We’re gonna make the film that we’re making about Gord.’ Somebody could come along and make a totally different film about him — and a great one, too — and just take a different angle. We tried to go through the songs as part of the story and kinda create a story around the songs a little bit. So that’s how we wove in the personal life.”

The thrice-married Lightfoot shrugs again.

“There are things that made me feel uncomfortable at times. But that doesn’t bother me all that much, really,” he says. “It’s mostly about the music. I mean, it’s all basically there — the personal side is there — but the way they handled it, it was, like, ‘Do you want to let it all hang out or do you just want to find a nice spot where you don’t have to go too deep?’ ”

The songs do lead the way in If I Could Read Your Mind, providing a loose narrative thread from Lightfoot’s early upbringing in Orillia — there’s priceless pre-pubescent audio of him singing high-register as a church choirboy — to his early tenure on CBC’s Country Hoedown show to his years as a ’60s coffee-house cool cat rolling through Yorkville, New York and Los Angeles with the likes of Ian and Sylvia, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan on through his elevation to one of Canada’s first true international pop-superstar exports with the arrival of monster hits like “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” during the early 1970s.

The epochal version of the latter from 1976’s Summertime Dream is revealed to be not just the first take of the song he and his band attempted in the studio, but a recording of the first time they’d ever played it together. And that’s where If You Could Read My Mind’s greatest pleasures lie: in nerding out over the obsessive completeness of each composition Lightfoot still hand-annotates in solitude before giving them up to the world. And nerd out people do throughout the film. Steve Earle, Sarah McLachlan, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson all gleefully go on the record alongside Can-folk contemporaries like Ian and Sylvia Tyson and Murray McLauchlan, as well as such unexpected Gord aficionados as actor Alec Baldwin and Greg Graffin of veteran Cali-punk outfit Bad Religion, professing their love of Gordon Lightfoot’s ageless and prototypically Canadian songwriting.

Lightfoot, for his part, doesn’t mind being viewed as a bit of a museum piece in the film because he isn’t a museum piece just yet. The main reason he didn’t watch If You Could Read My Mind until its premiere was that he was out on the road until a couple of days before the screening.

“I’m always just getting off the road. We have eight legs of touring this year and we’ve only done three legs so far. Five more legs to go. We gotta pay the bills in our band so we work steadily,” he says. “It’s just all part of the game to me. Y’know, we’re busy. We’re still working. I’m working on an album right now. It’s just one more thing that we’ve got going on here, this documentary. There’s a lot of stuff going on.”

A new Gordon Lightfoot studio album would be his first since 2004’s Harmony. He won’t give up details just yet, but he will say he’s determined to finally see it through because “I’ve been talking about it so much that I’ve put myself under the gun.”

“The material is completed, but I will have to teach it to my orchestra and that’ll take some time. That might take until the end of the year,” he says. “I’m not sure if it’s gonna take me three months or nine months yet. It’s gonna be one or t’other. It’ll either come out at the end of this year or early in 2020. Once we have it down, we’ll go in and do it — when everything’s ready to be done.”

There’s a pause before an expertly timed callback.

“It’s a good thing I have all that parking at my house. An entire band can park at my house.”

Ben Rayner is the Star's music critic and based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @ihateBenRayner

rene johnston-tor star-apr.30:2019 by char Westbrook, on Flickr
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