Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

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This documentary rocks! I’m glad that sometime actor James Keach (brother of Stacy) goes behind the camera for films, because he gave us an incredible documentary on a music legend. It’s amazing that he was able to show the ravaging effects of Alzheimer’s as well as giving us a lovely tribute, and a cute love story.

I remember reading about the tour Glen Campbell was going to do in 2011, and since it had already come out that he had Alzheimer’s, I felt it was exploitative. I had feelings going into this movie it would be, also. Boy was I wrong. I came away realizing his wife Kim Woolen, and probably most wives behind the scenes, are incredibly strong. And it wasn’t just giving the fans one last chance to see him, it was letting Campbell do something he loves. It’s incredible to see how a guy that starts this documentary not even recognizing his own kids in home movies, can remember elaborate guitar solos (we can forgive him for not remembering the wives, there were many).

What was so fascinating about watching all the behind-the-scenes footage, is wondering if it was because of this disease, or the nature of performing, that he’d get so nervous. I’ve read that performers who have done something hundreds of times, still get stage fright.

Yet we’re not just shown moments like Paul McCartney coming backstage and praising him, or Jay Leno attempting to be funny. This documentary has you in tears of joy, as his young daughter (the banjo player, keyboardist, background singer of his touring band) come up to him on the bus, and they harmonize a blues song together. We all wish we could have moments like that with our kids; and a few scenes later, they’re doing a smokin’ version of “Dueling Banjos” on stage.

Yes, I cried watching him have a cat scan done and listening to the doctor give him the bad news. Yet you’ll also cry watching the wonderful moments; signing autographs for fans, performing a difficult song, and hearing other legendary musicians talk about him. That list includes songwriter Jimmy Webb, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, The Edge, Sheryl Crowe, Keith Urban, Bruce Springsteen, and Steve Martin – who was a young writer on his show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. We also get to hear from politicians Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton.

Campbell’s sense of humor is charming and his folksy, down-home manner, have us rooting for him every step of the way. I came into this only knowing three of his songs (Gentle on my Mind, Wichita Lineman, and Rhinestone Cowboy), but that doesn’t matter. As a critic said to me at a meeting the other day, “I can’t name a single song of his, and I loved this documentary.”

The emotions come flying out in the weirdest of ways. For example, hearing his family and band talk about the last show he’s going to do in Napa. I thought of other farewell tours I’ve seen, in both sports and music. The artist knows and appreciates the adulation. He doesn’t have a clue it’s his last show. Is that a good thing, or bad? I don’t know, but I was bawling trying to decide which. All we’re sure about, is that he does understand the adulation he is getting. It’s well deserved, and they are wonderful moments.

The movie also provides funny moments, a few scary things, and some TMI moments (his wife explaining how a new dosage of medication has been like Viagra).

When his beautiful and talented daughter Ashley testifies before Congress on funding for Alzheimer’s…with tears in her eyes, and a dad sitting by with an expression of vagueness…it’s very moving.

Most will probably find the conclusion more powerful than I did. It has him reuniting with The Wrecking Crew – one of L.A’s best session bands. They record his final song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” It wasn’t a bad moment, but it felt contrived. I’ve also seen this being done a lot recently (Muscle Shoals, 20 Feet From Stardom, etc.).

The Roger Ebert documentary (Life Itself) that came out this year was okay, but I would’ve preferred it to be more like this. We didn’t just see Campbell in hospitals, but concert halls, home, and once on the golf course. I learned a lot about him I didn’t know (He was in both True Grit and The Beach Boys!)

There’s a movie coming out soon with Alzheimer’s (Still Alice), and it was awful. I instead recommend you find this documentary, and enjoy the Glen Campbell Goodtime TWO hours.

It gets 4 stars out of 5.

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