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Ain't In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm

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For the fans left bereft by his 2012 death, it's impossible to imagine a more exquisite, honest, and beautifully detailed documentary about the life of Levon Helm than Jacob Hatley's Ain't in It for My Health. The film seems as much man as it does movie, capturing the many sides of The Band's former drummer: his modesty, his humor, his anger about how his group fell apart. And, without getting all gooey, the doc shows how Helm handled the cancer that hovered over his final decade. Finally, this unassuming little flick makes a sham out of drugs-a-go-go melodramatic crap like Walk the Line-- maybe because Hatley never forgets he's making a movie about a goddamn musician. You get Helm talking joyfully about growing up in Arkansas, where the space under the porch was his "own little farm" and the family put rings in the hogs' noses so they wouldn't root under the house. We see the adult drummer, white and frightened, as his doctor checks his (barely) cancer-free vocal chords; we see the feisty sumbitch who doesn’t give a damn about his Lifetime Achievement Grammy and claims "It was pretty much over" for The Band after their classic second record, The Band. And then there’s the music: Near the end, Helm belts a Hank Williams lyric out like it’s 1972--and with honest joy. Here's a tune sung by a man, once rich, then poor, now somewhere in the middle, doing what he got into this business for--to make good, honest music. Substitute "film" for "music" and you can say the same about Hatley and his quietly remarkable cinematic achievement.

Peter Gerstenzang

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