Friday Staff Pick | Go Behind The Music with Lonely Boy
This is a guest post from the wonderful Montreal director and writer, Maude Michaud.
Like many people from my generation, my first exposure to ‘documentary-style’ entertainment was through shows like Behind the Music or A&E’s Biography. During my teen years, I was an avid watcher and never forgot to program the VCR when I knew I couldn’t catch the latest episode. Yet, despite my interest in non-fiction programming, I only learned to appreciate the documentary genre when I was well past my teens, and technically an adult, in CEGEP.
Anyone who’s studied film will probably agree when I say: in every class, no matter what the topic, there’s always one film that sticks with you and that makes you fall in love with a genre or a director. Up to that point, I had fallen for a lot of different fiction titles but I never really cared for documentaries. However, this all changed when I fell for a NFB doc about a singing Canuck heartthrob.
Maybe it’s because I saw the film was a sort of grown-up, better version of a Behind the Music episode, or maybe it simply catered to my personal interests, but on that day, Lonely Boy made me truly discover musical documentaries, which ended up being my gateway into the world of nonfiction cinema. I still remember the way the film began: no opening credits, no production company logo, nothing. Just familiar notes I recognized from childhood… “I’m just a lonely boy. Lonely and blue…”
That day, I also discovered Paul Anka. I had listened to most of his songs while growing up, but that’s all they were: familiar songs for which I only had a vague idea who the artist was. I was fascinated that a film could offer such an intimate portrait of a singer – after all, Behind the Music was always very detached and almost clinical in the way it portrayed musicians, often preferring a second-hand account of events from family or friends instead of getting the artist’s point of view. In contrast, Lonely Boy offered something much more powerful; it offered Paul Anka’s own perspective on his career, his life story, and his thoughts on fame, all while also showing us a glimpse of how the music industry worked back then. I was instantly hooked.
I was filled with nostalgia, partly because of the memories triggered by the music, but mostly because I was seeing images from an era I had always been fascinated with and wished I could have experienced first-hand. It was better than any fictional re-enactment; it felt real, like I stepped in a time machine and got to experience a slice of Paul Anka’s life on tour. I didn’t want the film to end and dreaded the moment the end credits would appear on screen.
That day, I realized that the best way to fully grasp the power of the documentary genre is to find films about topics you’re passionate about. As a musician and a musicophile, Lonely Boy was the perfect starting point for me and it inspired me to seek out similar docs like Don’t Look Back, Gimme Shelter, and the NFB’s Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen.
After that, watching documentaries became as natural for me as watching fiction films. I owe it all to this NFB film which encapsulated the poetic nostalgia my teenage self was so fond of and opened my eyes and my mind to a genre I had never dared explore before.