Review by Sean Boelman
The work of songwriters often goes unrecognized, those who perform their lyrics often getting a majority of the credit. The new documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind hopes to remedy that, though, bringing light to a brilliant singer-songwriter whose work would later be popularized by other artists.
In the film, Lightfoot reflects back on his own life and career, discussing some of the things that influenced him and his music. Like any biography of a musician, the movie leans heavily on the viewer appreciating the subject’s accomplishments for the story to resonate. However, since Lightfoot has been such a prolific musician, it will be hard not to admire what he has done.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this documentary is that it goes very deep into Lightfoot’s personal life and his experiences that shaped what he had to say through his art. The up-close-and-personal interviews that the filmmakers conducted with Lightfoot do an excellent job of providing insight into who he was as both a creator and a person.
More so than most other films that explore art as an extension of oneself, this really captures the interplay between one’s experiences and one’s creations. There are a few sequences in the movie in which critics, peers, and Lightfoot himself are discussing some of his most famous songs and their meaning, providing some context that will undoubtedly be unknown to most viewers.
At right around an hour and thirty minutes in length, the film still manages to do quite a bit despite its relatively short runtime. The movie packs a surprisingly solid emotional punch thanks to its exploration of some of Lightfoot’s weightier struggles, which also creates a stronger connection between the subject and the audience.
The story is told with a combination of archive materials and modern-day interviews, and while it is a rather simple set-up, it is able to convey its information in a compelling and entertaining way. Much like most music documentaries, this is a crowd-pleaser, especially for those who have a passion for great songs.
If the film is missing something, it is performance footage of Lightfoot. Understandably, the focus here is more on his talent as a songwriter rather than a singer, as it is other artists’ performances of his songs that are more well-known. That said, the performances the audience does get to hear from Lightfoot are packed with emotion, leaving one wanting more.
Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind is a surprisingly touching documentary thanks to the personal exploration it offers of its subject. Music aficionados certainly won’t want to miss this one.
Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind screens online in partnership with indie theaters beginning July 29. A list of participating locations can be found here.