I’ve never cared much for country-western music, but there are exceptions to every rule — even this one. Consider the recordings of Glen Campbell: though deeply rooted in country (and reflecting that genre’s frequently melancholic tint), Campbell’s recordings were melodic enough to tickle my fancy and (more importantly) crossover to the pop charts. His recording success allowed Campbell to become a national television and film personality, with his own small-screen variety hour and a significant role opposite John Wayne in True Grit (1969).
Until recently, however, it had been a fallow few decades for the veteran entertainer. That changed in 2011, when Campbell publicly announced he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and would soon be retiring from show business. A final (excellent) album, ‘Ghost on the Canvas’, was released later that year, followed by a 2012 farewell tour that serves as the focal point of Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, a terrific documentary opening at AMC Bay Street in Emeryville on Friday, Nov. 14. No playdates are currently scheduled in Berkeley.
Though the opening credits unspool over home movie footage from years long past, this is not a particularly nostalgic tale. While passing mention is made of Campbell’s time in the legendary session group The Wrecking Crew as well as his subbing for Brian Wilson during a mid-60s Beach Boys tour, the camera remains firmly fixed upon the singer’s ‘Goodbye’ tour and the increasing toll taken by his degenerative condition.
It’s clear from the get-go that the Campbell family granted director James Keach all areas access. There’s precious little sugarcoating here: we see Campbell’s medical appointments, family arguments stemming from his worsening health, and moments of deep vulnerability (affecting not only Campbell, but his wife and children as well). As much as a tribute to the man, this is a film intended to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s.
The bulk of Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me follows the clan on their remarkable 2012 odyssey. Embarking on a tour which included over 150 dates from coast to coast (including stops at the Library of Congress and Carnegie Hall) before concluding at Napa’s Uptown Theatre, the family display tremendous patience, resilience, and love for their declining patriarch.
There’s also plenty of music, of course, and much of it is terrific. There’s probably never been a bad Campbell rendering of the transcendent ‘Wichita Lineman’, and it still sounds wonderful here. The film also provides a reminder that Campbell was a brilliant guitar player, with him tearing through some impressive solos as well as a heartwarming ‘Dueling Banjos’ duet with daughter Ashley. Heck, even ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ sounds pretty good.
Talking heads include songwriter Jimmy Webb, contemporary singer Keith Urban (who accurately describes Campbell’s style as ‘high lonesome’), and even U2’s The Edge (thankfully there’s no Bono). In the end, though, the film’s subject is best summarized by the man himself, who declares “I have cried, and I have laughed. Laughing is a hell of a lot better.” You’ll probably find your own eyes getting a little moist during this inspiring, deeply sad, but incredibly worthwhile film.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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