Published Apr 28, 2011It's surprising that no one has made a rock doc about Ron Sexsmith until now. Then again, fame and commercial success have eluded him too. That hasn't stopped folks like Daniel Lanois, Feist, Keifer Sutherland and Elvis Costello from singing his praises, as they do in this film. Add to that the countless musicians over the past 20 years who have covered Sexsmith's melodic, yet melancholic, tunes about love and heartache.
Douglas Arrowsmith explores this contradiction as the Toronto, ON songwriter records his 12th album, Long Player Late Bloomer, in L.A. with heavy metal producer Bob Rock. It's make-it-or-break-it time, as the shy, sensitive Sexsmith gambles on a Bob Rock production to score him the commercial hit he now craves. However, his timidity and fear of success hold him back.
There's lots of great footage, mostly of Sexsmith recording with Rock, but there's one moment when the millionaire producer counsels his singer to overcome his stage fright or else he'll be cursed to spend the rest of his life merely talking about his fears. Another highlight is Sexsmith's appearance on Elvis Costello's Spectacle show, alongside Sheryl Crow, at the Apollo. Elvis observes that Sexsmith was born "slightly out of time," after the age of the singer-songwriter of the '70s. We also glimpse Sexsmith's fractured family life and see how constant touring has estranged him from his now grown up son.
The doc is a little long and doesn't offer a resolution to Sexsmith's professional or personal dilemmas, but these moments sustain the film, imparting a vivid portrait of a gifted musician. In fact, Sexsmith's internal conflicts elevate Love Shines from the typical hagiography and "clip job" that most rock docs are, lending the film substance.
This approach should attract an audience beyond the rabid "Ron" cult out there, a wider audience that the songwriter laureate of Canada richly deserves. (HBO Canada)