Saturday 18 June 2016

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me

Country musician Glen Campbell has had a rather fascinating life. During his 50 years in show business, he’s released more than 70 albums and sold over 50 million. But before that, he was a session musician in a group known as The Wrecking Crew, playing on recordings by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Monkees and many more. He’s also acted, with a starring role in 1969’s True Grit alongside John Wayne. Say what you want about his music – country might not be your cup of tea - but the man is a legend. He’s done it all. 

In 2011, sad news broke. Campbell announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which is out now on DVD, follows Campbell’s “Goodbye Tour” which began in August 2011 and came to a close in November 2012. Filmmaker James Keach covers Campbell’s entire journey - from receiving the diagnosis and making the public announcement, all the way to the end of the tour - with startling honesty. I’ll Be Me is a very difficult film to watch. But it is truly inspirational.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. Now, I’ll Be Me is not a full rags-to-riches biography of Campbell, but this isn’t the problem. The problem is that sometimes the flow of the film is interrupted by director Keach seemingly forgetting what film he’s making, and throwing in a whole load of biographical-doc cliché. Many faces from the music world – some recognisable, some not -  show up to tell us why they love Campbell and explain the impact he’s made, while educating us in Campbell’s past. This is all well and good, but you can’t help feeling that isn’t the film you’re here for. After a montage showing Campbell’s rise during the opening credits, the majority of the film takes place in the now, delivering linear coverage of Campbell’s final tour with incredibly moving footage of his battle with Alzheimer’s. We’re not here to see young up-and-comer musicians telling us when they first hear Campbell’s music, or how he’s inspired them. We’re not here to see Campbell’s past, we’re here for his present. This is when I’ll Be Me took a rather generic shape.

But thankfully, these sequences are brief. I’ll Be Me is largely a fly-on-the-wall look at the tour process and life on the road, along with being something of a public service announcement about the battle of Alzheimer’s. Like Karen Guthrie’s remarkable The Closer We Get, I’ll Be Me is an incredibly brave and important film about debilitating disease. Glen Campbell doesn’t shy away from showing himself at his most vulnerable, both intellectually and physically, and this is where the film is its most powerful. We open with Campbell watching old home videos of himself as a young man, playing with his kids. “Who are they”, he asks with a confused demeanour. It’s incredibly moving and upsetting, but immensely brave to share this intimate moment with us.

We watch in awe as Glen Campbell takes to the stages across his world tour - occasionally fluffing his lines and getting confused but, on the whole, putting on incredible performances for his adoring fans. While we see him struggling through rehearsals and sound checks, U2’s The Edge theorises “the audience being there somehow triggers his ability to access that other part of his brain” as he performs incredibly inspiring performances. Campbell’s tour manager admits he was worried that people might’ve only been attending Campbell’s final shows because they wanted to see a disaster – you know, the confused Campbell making a fool of himself. But he admits he was wrong, taken aback by the unanimous love and support given at the sold-out concerts all over the world.

The main strength of I’ll Be Me is Campbell’s courage, which fills the screen in every scene. Here’s a man fighting against one of the most horrible diseases out there – but he fights it with a smile. He sings, he performs, he laughs and he loves. Campbell’s wonderfully strong wife Kimberly Woolen states it is Glen’s merry heart and sense of humour that gave him the strength to keep performing, but with this attitude, you can beat anything. And this is something we can all learn from. Sometimes, a smile and a laugh is all it takes. This world of ours throws a lot of punches – at some people more than others. But you’re not alone.

On March 8th 2016, Rolling Stone reported Campbell was living in a care facility in the final stages of his disease. He is now unable to communicate, and no longer understands what people are saying to him. However, his family have said he is still “happy” and “cheerful”. I always knew Glen Campbell was a legend, but now I know he’s an inspiration.

I’ll Be Me is one of the most poignant, moving and inspiring documentaries ever made. 5/5.


Sam Love

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