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

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

Director: Jacob Hatley

Cast: Jacob Hatley, Levon Helm, Amy Helm, Larry Campbell

     
 

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Born in Arkansas in 1940, Levon Helm started playing music before anyone thought up the name rock & roll, and after taking up the drums, he teamed with Ronnie Hawkins, a fellow Arkansan who was becoming a popular rockabilly star in Canada. In time, Helm and his bandmates parted ways with Hawkins to go out on their own, and after a spell as BobSee more details below

Overview

Born in Arkansas in 1940, Levon Helm started playing music before anyone thought up the name rock & roll, and after taking up the drums, he teamed with Ronnie Hawkins, a fellow Arkansan who was becoming a popular rockabilly star in Canada. In time, Helm and his bandmates parted ways with Hawkins to go out on their own, and after a spell as Bob Dylan's backing group they became known as The Band, recording a handful of the most honored rock albums of the 1960s and '70s. When guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson decided to break up The Band in 1976, the group's final concert was a major musical event that spawned Martin Scorsese's acclaimed documentary The Last Waltz. But Levon Helm wasn't done with music by a long shot, and in spite of three decades that would have tested any man's patience -- including troubles with drug addiction, unpaid record royalties, bankruptcy, legal skirmishes over the rights to his music, accidentally shooting himself in the leg, the death of two of his closest friends, and a battle with throat cancer -- in 2008 Helm had a banner year as he earned a Grammy nomination for his first studio album in years, Dirt Farmer, and he was given a lifetime achievement award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Filmmaker Jacob Hatley offers an intimate look at a legend of American music as he struggles to keep moving forward against long odds in the documentary Ain't In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm, which was an official selection at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Perry Seibert
When musician Levon Helm was at the height of his popularity as a member of The Band, his formidable talent was captured forever in Martin Scorsese's landmark documentary The Last Waltz. More than 30 years later, director Jacob Hatley paints a portrait of the man in what would turn out to be his final years; that movie, Ain't in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm, is a poignant and loving coda to Helm's life and career. The title comes from something Levon reportedly told Robbie Robertson after Robertson suggested that The Band stop touring because one or more of them might crack from the constant stress and tension, and the movie never shies away from the damage Helm has suffered from his lifestyle. He's survived throat cancer, though the aftereffects leave him occasionally unable to speak. His voice, even at its best, is scratchy -- unlike the authoritative baritone you can hear on the original recording of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."" However, what he's lost in vocal power, he's gained in color and wisdom. When he sings now, Levon sounds like he not only knows the truth, but he's lived it -- a feeling that Hatley's film effectively reveals. Avoiding the obvious cliché, Hatley doesn't build his picture around a big comeback, though Helm would record and win accolades for Dirt Farmer, his first album in more than 20 years, during filming. The movie doesn't ignore this accomplishment, but its central drama is whether Helm will attend a Grammys ceremony in which the members of The Band will be honored with lifetime-achievement awards. He's bitter about the acrimonious dissolution of the quintet -- it's obvious that the deaths of Rick Danko and Richard Manuel are still with him - and he expresses his cynicism about this being nothing more than an attempt by "the suits" to sell records. Watching Levon struggle with his legacy, you understand that he's full of conflicting emotions while still being at heart an uncomplicated man who wants nothing more than to live his life surrounded by family, friends, music, and his home. Much of the time he achieves those modest goals. After beating cancer he was nearly bankrupt, so in order to save his house in 2003 he began the Midnight Ramble, a series of concerts held in his barn. They became so successful that he soon had other famous musicians -- like Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and the Black Crowes' lead singer Chris Robinson -- dropping in to play. While we're treated to some spectacular music throughout the documentary, what you take away from it is an intimate depiction of the man himself. We watch as he tells folksy stories about fishing in his youth and serenades his grandchild; in addition, a series of interviews with those closest to him unveils a sense of the darkness and anger he feels about never receiving the proper credit for his contributions to The Band. The history of his former group is presented quickly and efficiently, so that newcomers will get the proper context for the drummer's career and old fans don't have to sit through backstory they already know by heart -- though it's hard not to imagine both groups cracking a huge grin at archival footage of Ed Sullivan introducing the individual members of The Band when they appeared on his show. Helm gives us his own concise history of The Band during a conversation with a visiting Billy Bob Thornton that reveals how he doesn't let the past, even though he doesn't ever forget it, dictate how he lives in the present. Poignant without being tearjerking, respectful of history without being condescending to those unaware of it, and loaded with superior music, Ain't in It for My Health is more than just another rock doc. It's a warmhearted record of a life well-lived.

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Product Details

Release Date:
10/08/2013
UPC:
0738329118921
Original Release:
2010
Rating:
NR
Source:
Lorber Films (Kino)
Time:
1:23:00
Sales rank:
46,050

Special Features

Deleted scenes; Trailer

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Levon Helm Participant
Amy Helm Participant
Larry Campbell Participant
Billy Bob Thornton Participant
Teresa Williams Participant
Barbara O'Brien Participant

Technical Credits
Jacob Hatley Director
Albert Berger Executive Producer
Stephen Brower Producer
Larry Campbell Score Composer
Philip W. Davis Associate Producer
Barbara O'Brien Associate Producer
Mary Posatko Producer
Ren Segna Producer
Emily Topper Cinematographer
Thomas Vickers Editor
Kevin Welk Executive Producer
Ron Yerxa Executive Producer

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