NXNE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: THE BALLAD OF HUGH
A Needed Reminder: The Ballad of Hugh
If you were to only read the description of The Ballad of Hugh you would probably come across something like this; an 82 year old singer/songwriter from Toronto is recording and releasing an album. Superficially, that is a very accurate description which may or may not be enticing to the NXNE film crowd. Those who do find that description interesting might be drawn to it out of genuine curiosity, the same curiosity that draws crowds to view contortionist acts, or sword swallowers. Those who are not drawn to this film will be missing out on an inspiring and touching story of a man who is both intensely cynical and profoundly self-aware.
Directed by Marco DiFelice, who is a close friend of the main focus Hugh Oliver and a fellow musician, we are presented with a portrait of a local artist who has, for the most part, gone unnoticed in a world of instant pop sensations and youth obsession. Through interviews, animations, and Oliver’s own spoken word and musical performances we are given a glimpse of a man who reflects on his past 82 years, and what brought him to where we see him today. Having reviewed other films for NXNE, it has been almost a surprising gift to see a film maker who doesn’t focus the camera on himself for longer than needed. First-time film maker DiFelice knows when to turn the camera away and allow the story to be told the way he wants it to, through Hugh’s own voice.
The film follows Oliver as he records his first album at Canterbury Studios in Toronto while interviews allow Oliver to tell us of how this came to be. A man who has been writing poetry and lyrics his whole life and not received the recognition he wanted must be a disheartening thing. But Oliver seems to take everything with a sense of dignity. Nowhere in the film does it feel as though he has regretted any of his decisions in life, nor does he seem bitter about the lack of opportunity with his craft. Hugh talks to the camera with ease about his health and of aging and only gets camera shy when talking about love, the one instance we see Hugh suddenly transformed from hardened cynic to embarrassed and blushing. It is refreshing to see a man of his age still talk and feel about love the way he does. And despite Oilver’s age, he is still drinking, smoking, sculpting and performing regular gigs in the city, which is admirable in itself.
In some way we probably all have a fantasy of fame or recognition, and for Hugh that time in his youth never came. Throughout the screening I couldn’t help but think of a passage I recently read from Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca which appropriately muses “…I thought how little we know about the feelings of old people. Children we understand, their fears and hopes and make-believe.”. In this age of youth obsession we often overlook the value and talents of the older generation and The Ballad of Hugh serves as a reminder that talent spans across all ages, and to place value on a limited range is doing a disservice to ourselves.
I am sure this movie will inspire many conversations around age, perseverance and relevance in today’s society, forcing us to reexamine the ageist attitude we, and the music industry have.
The Ballad of Hugh has it’s world premiere at NFB on Saturday, June 16 @ 3:00pm. For more information: http://nxne.com/film/film-program/
Hugh Oliver’s album release party for “…And All That Crap” is being held at the Tranzac Club in Toronto on Wednesday, June 13 at 8pm. For more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/304548912953243/
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