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Legendary singer Glen Campbell‘s valiant struggle with Alzheimer’s disease is heartbreakingly chronicled in James Keach‘s documentary which serves to not only put a very human face on this horrific condition but also as a triumphant valedictory of Campbell’s poignant farewell tour. As one commentator in Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me points out, the singer’s legacy will include not only his formidable musical achievements but also his bravery in soldiering on and bringing attention to the ravaging effects of Alzheimer’s.
The film begins movingly with a scene featuring the singer and his fourth wife Kim watching old movies, with Campbell often unable to recognize either himself or his children. He’s then seen in a doctor’s office at the Mayo Clinic, not knowing the answers to such questions as who was the country’s first president.
“I can play guitar,” Campbell finally says after failing to respond to various gentle queries. And can he ever, with the doctors amazed that his musical abilities remained miraculously intact even as his mental faculties continued to deteriorate. We see him nervously preparing for an appearance on The Tonight Show after his condition has been made public, and after getting through his number he can be heard triumphantly shouting, “I got through it!”
The ensuing tour to promote his magnificent 2011 album Ghost on the Canvas eventually amassed 151 shows, with Campbell joined onstage by three of his musician children and closely watched over by his attentive spouse. Although his difficulties are at times clearly evident and he’s ever reliant on Teleprompters to remember the lyrics, his singing and virtuosic guitar playing were right on target, as evidenced by a clip of him and his banjo playing daughter Ashley dueting on a rollicking “Dueling Banjos.”
In between performance footage of shows from all across the country, including such key cities as New York and Los Angeles, there are numerous scenes of Campbell interacting with his loved ones. He’s consistently upbeat and joking; when his wife gently explains for the umpteenth time that he’s losing his memory, he tellingly replies “I’ve been trying to get rid of it for the last forty years.” One of the more amusing moments stems from his doctor’s upping his dose of the medication Aricept only to have it produce Viagra-like effects.
“I guess there’s an upside to Alzheimer’s,” Kim bemusedly comments.
A gallery of famous faces testifies to his enduring musical legacy, including his frequent collaborator Jimmy Webb, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, U2’s The Edge, Bruce Springsteen and Bill Clinton. Steve Martin, who early in his career worked as a writer for the singer’s television variety show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, affectionately reminisces about his former boss’ generosity and good spirits.
As the tour continues, Campbell’s condition continued to deteriorate, as evidenced by footage from his final date in Napa, California which he was barely able to get through. Sadly–or perhaps not, depending on one’s perspective–he didn’t even know it was his last-ever show.
The film doesn’t ignore the disease’s emotional toll, with scenes of Campbell angrily reacting to various situations. A scene in which his daughter tearfully testifies before Congress urging more funding for Alzheimer’s research as her father looks on with a vague expression is almost unbearably moving.
It ends, appropriately, on a simultaneously poignant and triumphant note, with footage of Campbell reuniting with his fellow former players of The Wrecking Crew, one of Los Angeles’ all-time great session bands, to record his final record, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” That touching song and this powerfully personal documentary provide the final grace notes of this musical icon’s life and career.
Production: PCH Films
Director: James Keach
Producers: Trevor Albert, James Keach
Executive producers: Scott Borchetta, Susan Disney Lord, Julian Raymond, Stanley Schneider, Jane Seymour
Director of photography: Alex Exline
Editor: Elisa Bonora
No rating, 105 min.
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