Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 45 min.
Our Content ratings (0-10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex 7/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
I remember the days of old, I think about all your deeds, I meditate on the works of your hands.
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
James Keach’s documentary Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me aims for the heart, and scores a bull’s eye. As one who remembers when the singer’s tuneful songs were all the rage, and delighted in using “Rhinestone Cowboy” to explore values with youth and adults, I found myself tearing up numerous times while watching this testimonial to love and courage. The love was shown not only by Campbell and his supportive family, but also by the audiences who packed his 151 concerts during his ambitious “Farewell Tour.” (After publicly announcing in 2011 that he had Alzheimer’s disease, he and his family made the risky decision to go on one last tour in this country and abroad.)
And the courage was not only the singer’s, exposing himself to enormous risks by taking the stage when not sure that he would remember all of the words of his songs—it was also the courage of his family, and of 4th wife Kim and his three performing children who risked criticism that they were pushing her husband onto the stage.
The filming, and the tour, took place over nearly two years. We see Campbell not only on stage singing his familiar songs, but also at home, on the tour bus, and at clinics where doctors explain his disease and what they can expect as it progressively robs him of his memory and, eventually, control of his body. At a later examination a doctor marvels that Glen can still play and sing so well, remarking that his music must be deeply embedded in his brain in order for him still to connect with it. Connect with it he does, playing solo segments with great skill in between his singing the verses. One of the most thrilling moments is when he plays “Dueling Banjos” with his talented daughter Ashley—he on his 12-string guitar and she on her long-necked banjo.
His two sons Cal and Shannon also play in his touring band. With Kim close by, sitting out in the audience or watching in the wings, the tour is a real family affair. Most of his crew also expresses their feelings about being a part of his traveling family. In between concerts Kim has her hands full taking care of him and coping with his mood swings and oft-times stubborn refusal to take a shower or visit a dentist to ease a toothache.
Although his memory eventually gives way so that the family has to call it quits after the Nov. 30th , 2012 concert at Napa, CA, one thing that he retains is his sense of humor. We see it when he trades pokes with a crewmember on the bus; when he evades the questions of his doctor by responding, “I don’t need to know all that;” and his joking with his family. At one point he says, “I have cried, and I have laughed. Laughing is a hell of a lot better!” Amen to that.
The film also pays homage to the attention that Glen and his family have brought to the little understood Alzheimer’s disease. Ashley’s testimony to a Congressional committee on the need for increased expenditures on research includes a heartfelt tribute to her dad.
Throughout the film a veritable galaxy of musical greats also pay tribute to the singer– Bruce Springsteen, Keith Urban, the Edge, Brad Paisley, Jimmy Webb (writer of many Campbell’s hits), Blake Shelton, John Carter Cash, and Cheryl Crow. Paul McCartney and Jay Leno, as well as President Clinton also add their voices.
Documentarian James Keach has performed a real service in recording so intimately the singer and his family. Campbell’s accomplishments over a long career were considerable—first as a highly sought after back-up player; then solo performer of great songs such as “The Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” Gentle on My Mind,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy;” winner of five Grammys; induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame; his TV series, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour”; and a role in the original True Grit, co-starring with John Wayne. However, thanks to this film, the argument can be made that the tour during his twilight years of remembrance, thereby bringing the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease to the attention of Congress in an attempt to secure greater funding for research, could be his crowning achievement.
Campbell’s last song, which he co-wrote with Julian Raymond is a lovely tribute to faithful Kim and presents a haunting view of Alzheimer’s disease from one heading into its dark realm. If we did not know of his illness, we might think that this is a break-up song, rather than an accolade to his soulmate:
“I’m still here, but yet I’m gone I don’t play guitar or sing my songs They never defined who I am The man that loves you ’til the end
You’re the last person I will love You’re the last face I will recall And best of all, I’m not gonna miss you Not gonna miss you.”*
Earlier this year Campbell was moved into an Alzheimer’s long-term care center. He might forget, but thanks to this film, and of course, the treasure trove of his recordings, he will not be forgotten.
This review with a set of discussion questions is in the Dec. 2014 issue of Visual Parables.