I’m pretty stoked, the documentary about one of my all-time favorite performers (and homeboy from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas), Levon Helm, is set to be released real soon. I’ve seen a lot of good reviews of the film already. In case you haven’t seen the preview trailers, see below…
John W. Barry recently wrote: You learn an awful lot about Levon Helm in a new documentary about the late musician — like how much he loves tractors and farms, how his creative process unfolds and how deep his disdain for the music industry runs.
“Ain’t In It for My Health” is a revealing look at the Arkansas native and longtime Woodstock resident who was remembered by many Friday — the one-year anniversary of his death from cancer. The documentary is currently being shown at Cinema Village in Manhattan. Director Jacob Hatley and producer Mary Posatko will participate in question-and-answer session today. The documentary — shown at Upstate Films in Woodstock and Rhinebeck and Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock last weekend — leaves you feeling like you spent nearly 90 minutes with Helm, on his tour bus, on stage, in the recording studio, in his living room and as he watches television. You can share a laugh stirred by his quick sense of humor as he tells stories around his kitchen table. And Helm takes you along on a visit to his doctor, where he undergoes an extremely uncomfortable procedure, during which a scope with a tiny camera is inserted through his nose, so it can provide images of his throat.
Helm’s visit to the doctor followed radiation treatments for throat cancer, just one of the challenges that the Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member overcame in life, along with bankruptcy and almost losing his home to foreclosure. Contrasts define Helm’s life and “Ain’t In It For My Health,” which tracks his celebrity and the adoring fans and the private plane with Bob Dylan, but also probes the more everyday aspects of this rock star’s life and in the process provides a glimpse of how Helm lead an extraordinary life, both on stage and off. The contrast is striking between Helm as a young rock star touring the world and the man of more than six decades looking back on accomplishment and struggle, who reconciles both with no ego and no self pity.
“Ain’t In It For My Health” gives Helm a platform to invite you inside his triumphs and his challenges. He walks you through everything with a sense of honesty that we don’t necessarily identify with celebrity. Hatley captures multiple tender moments, including one scene in which Helm drifts off to sleep. There is also extensive footage from Helm’s Midnight Ramble house concerts, which played such a critical role in the comeback that lies at the heart of this film. Helm’s dogs, Muddy and Lucy, are constants in the movie and provide levity to the serious stuff. The deep bond he shared with Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, his former band mates in The Band, is also explored at length. And Danko’s widow, Elizabeth, provides touching and poignant insight into The Band while actor Billy Bob Thornton draws out of Helm a negative assessment of The Band’s legacy.
The Grammy nomination that Helm’s 2007 comeback album, “Dirt Farmer,” earned and the Lifetime Achievement Grammy awarded to The Band in 2008 are touchstones to which the film keeps returning. Both complement in a concrete way a more abstract concept that defines the movie — Helm’s resiliency in the face of despair and his ability to embrace it all with a smile. Visit www.levonhelmfilm.com and www.levonhelm.com for information.