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Glen Campbell – I’ll Be Me (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Glen Campbell - I'll Be Me

Glen Campbell – I’ll Be Me


Featuring Glen Campbell, Kim Campbell, Ashley Campbell, Cal Campbell, Shannon Campbell, T.J. Kuenster, Ry Jarred, Siggy Sjursen, Kiefo Nilsson, Ronald Petersen, Bobbie Gale, Jay Leno, Jimmy Webb, Bruce Springsteen, The Edge, Paul McCartney, Blake Shelton, Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Taylor Swift, Steve Martin, Chad Smith, Kathy Mattea, Vince Gill, The Band Perry, Clancy Fraser, Bill Maclay, John Carter Cash, Joe Osborne, Hal Blaine, Don Randi, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner and President Bill Clinton.

Directed by James Keach.

Distributed by Virgil Films/PCH Films.  105 minutes.  Rated PG.

Glen Campbell was one of the greatest guitarists of the 20th century.  He was never flashy or edgy and sometimes was underestimated as just a good-natured, middle-of-the-road country singer, but that was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to Campbell’s skills.

Long before he became a solo singing star, Campbell was a standing member of the legendary studio posse the Wrecking Crew, the musical engine behind many of the biggest hits of 1960s and 1970s.  Campbell’s deceptively complex guitar lines (though best known as a country singer, Campbell was weaned on jazz piano) anchored some of the biggest hits of the era.  Campbell took Brian Wilson’s place touring in the Beach Boys when Wilson decided he no longer wanted to tour, but wanted to concentrate on studio albums Pet Sounds and Smile.

By the late sixties, Campbell was a superstar himself.  Blessed with a supple, unassuming voice to go with his guitar prowess, he had a long line of classic hit singles (often recorded with songwriter/producer Jimmy Webb) which included “Wichita Lineman,” “Gentle on My Mind,” “Galveston,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” and many more.  He had a popular TV variety show (The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour) and even made a series of movies, making the biggest splash playing opposite John Wayne in the classic True Grit.

However, by the late 70s, despite a few slightly cheesy comeback hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights,” Campbell’s life and career were in a bit of a free fall.  He had an ugly celeb breakup (with singer Tanya Tucker), a bad drinking and drug problem and even got caught in one of the first crazy-looking celeb mug shots.

Still, quietly Campbell pieced his life and career back together, marrying his fourth (and final) wife Kim, kicking his addictions and returning to the road.  For years he was forgotten in the recording studios, but in 2008 his back-to-basics comeback album Meet Glen Campbell brought him back to critical acclaim.  As he was starting recording his follow-up album Ghost on the Canvas, family and friends started noticing that Campbell was becoming very forgetful.  While working on the album, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Campbell and his family decided to do one last tour, while he was still able to do so.  I’ll Be Me, directed by actor James Keach, is a look at that final tour – but it is so much more.  Campbell, his family and friends gave the filmmakers total access, showing the good, bad and ugly of this difficult time in their lives.  Luckily for the most part Campbell is still a good-natured and generally happy man.  His doctors say that the music has actually been something of a saving grace for the man, his brain is so hard-wired to perform that it helps him fight the evil disease that is ravaging the man.

Still, for all the good, it is rather shocking to see Campbell like this, a smart and talented man who has now been reduced to wracking his brains to remember his children’s names.

A truly heartbreaking moment, one of several in this clear-eyed look at the man, the disease and all it has taken from him, has Glen Campbell and his band taking the stage at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville (former home of the Grand Ol’ Opry).  Campbell takes the stage playing the opening chords of one of his classics, “Gentle on My Mind,” a song the man has undoubtedly played thousands of times throughout his career.  However he can barely make it through a single line before he has to stop playing.  A teleprompter, which gave the song lyrics and guitar chords of the song, had gone down, and in his condition he could not remember the lyrics of one of his defining songs.

The teleprompter is quickly fixed and the singer is able to continue the song, but this short lived glitch is an eye-opener, a glimpse behind the curtain of a disease that robs a human of most of what makes them vital.

However, it also becomes obvious that the adulation of the audience was able to give Campbell moments of clarity and beauty as he fought for control of his own mind.  Eventually, as the tour stretched out over two years and 150 shows, the disease gets more and more of a foothold until it is impossible to continue.

It’s a sad and tragic thing, but at least Campbell was afforded one last go around and the opportunity to remind us of his great skill one last time.

I’ll Be Me is a depressing film in many ways, obviously, because the audience is watching a very smart, talented man losing his skills.  But it is also a celebration of Campbell’s life and the great love he brought to performing and to life.  We’ll always have the memories of his old performances, and through I’ll Be Me we will also have a bit more understanding of his life, particularly the tragic final act.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: July 3, 2015.

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