Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Ballad of Hugh Review: Have you heard the Ballad of Hugh?

Music is a huge part of people’s lives. I don’t think I know anyone who couldn’t name some song they love or that inspired them in some way. You just have to look at the popularity of the iPod and other music platforms to see just how important it is to most people. And then there are those people who become so inspired by music that they decide to get into it professionally. Spending hours, days and years at a time learning an instrument of some kind or training their voice to do what most people would kill to be able to do as well as they do. Some even do both.

In some ways I know exactly how that feels. When I was younger I studied piano and found that I had a natural talent for it. Where my siblings would spend every day working and trying to get the practice music right, I would sit down with the instructor and somehow be better than I was last week without really trying. As the years went on and things got tighter though, I found that my passion for music was overshadowed by my passion for writing, a talent that requires its own version of rhythm and flow which I found to be something of a challenge to figure out. I still find it something of a challenge. I couldn’t see myself going through the struggle of booking stage performances and attracting people to come and see me play.

Though I have a lot of respect for those that do put in the time and effort to put themselves front and center the way many musicians do in the music scene. So when I had the opportunity to see a documentary about an 80 year old Toronto area musician named Hugh Oliver who has spent his entire life trying to make it in the industry, the words “impressed” seem somewhat lacking to express things. It’s a tragic reality of any type of creative industry that people spend years of their lives trying to rise to the top of the industry, or at least get themselves noticed. Hugh Oliver has spent more than most and so the idea of a documentary about him seems like a natural fit.

You would think that a documentary about and elderly citizen of our fair country would be a problem to watch. It’s not. He has had quite the journey and this has been set against the backdrop of him finally getting the opportunity to record an album. That along with animated snippets of his narrated poetry and songs which talk about things that are not your typical subjects (his songs about Facebook and Harry Potter are particularly enjoyable) will definitely make you smile.

Ultimately, this film is about perseverance and the desire to succeed. Something that Hugh Oliver has in spades. You wouldn’t know it from the way he talks about himself and other subjects throughout the film but anyone who has even made a passing attempt to succeed, whether in a creative industry or not, will recognize the focus and drive that they have felt in this man. Anyone who has ever had to question their dream of making it in a creative industry will see a reason to keep going. If Hugh can spend a half century of his life chasing a dream, anyone else has no excuse.

Not that this is the message of the film, but I certainly feel that way after having seen it.

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