You don't have to be a Glen Campbell fan or even a country music fan to appreciate the story and message behind I'll Be Me. Simply put, it's about losing someone, watching helplessly as what makes them a unique individual, someone close to you, disappears little by little each day.
I'll Be Me, a documentary directed by James Keach (Walk The Line), is about the ravages of Alzheimer's disease and the toll it takes on the individual and the family and loved ones around that person.
For those of you who don't know who Glen Campbell is, he is a guitar player and singer of the highest caliber who almost single-handedly brought country music into the mainstream. His good looks, down home country charm and infectious smile, and well written and carefully chosen music, has made him a popular artist, entertaining the public for decades. If you have ever listened to popular recordings of radio hits of the 1960s, then you most likely have heard Glen Campbell as a backup singer or guitar player in a group of session musicians popularly known as The Wrecking Crew. That in itself was a remarkable career he had creating the sounds for dozens of hit songs prior to own his fame. Now, Mr. Campbell at times struggles to remember where the bathroom is in his own house.
I'll Be Me, now streaming on Netflix and available on DVD through Virgin Films, takes us on an extreme familial inside journey with Mr. Campbell at his doctor's office, in his home, at rehearsal, traveling on a tour bus and ultimately, performing on stage. We see him struggle in the doctor's office to remember who was the first president of the United States. We watch as he misidentifies a young woman in a home a video as his ex-wife, when in fact it was his daughter. He doesn't recognize himself in a video as he and his wife watch it together.
"Who's that? Who's that?"
“It's you, honey.”
“It is? Ok. Then I'll be me."
This movie is unforgettable but it is painful and difficult (for me, as a fan) to watch - and that in the comfort of my own home. I can't imagine the Campbells' frustration, pain and enduring patience on a daily, hourly basis. The movie begins with us behind the scenes in Mr. Campbell's home with his wife and children. His adult children form his stable, talented and closely knit musical backup band. While critics of the tour may see it as exploitative, through interviews with family members, business associates, agents and road crew, we find out the decision to tour in support of a new album and 'get the message out there' about Alzheimer's was not taken lightly. In fact, it was a difficult one for Mr. Campbell and his family, a point which is reinforced throughout the film. Despite the daily obstacles he faces, his family supports him without question, and with much patience, love and understanding. At one point during the course of a day he insists someone stole or misplaced something of his, strongly and heatedly argues his point with his daughter. Minutes later he returns with no memory of what had just occurred and kisses her on the forehead.
Through the use of a teleprompter onstage he is able to read his lyrics, and consequently is able to perform, amazingly not as someone who has a debilitating disease just getting by – but as Glen Campbell the talented singer, guitarist and actor we have come to know, and smiling that “good ole boy” smile the whole time. It is obvious he enjoys his time onstage, an oasis for him, maybe – a stark contrast to his hours at home or on the bus, not remembering why he is doing what he is doing, where he is going or what is supposed to happen in the next few minutes. Playing both the guitar and singing, only occasionally does he have to stop what he's doing and regroup, the band playing on behind him, professionally showing their support. At one performance he stops playing completely and announces to his understanding audience, “I've got this thing that makes you forget everything you've ever learned”. The audience is loyal and repeatedly shows him that its alright, in their own way, about his onstage dilemma. They clap, nod, cry and wait for him. No complaints, just understanding. They are his fans and they are there to see him, for what will most likely be the last performances of his life.
“Is this in the key of C?” and “I forget an A flat.”
They applaud or just simply wait for him to recover. I applaud Mr. Campbell and his family, managers, and entourage for their courage, dedication and commitment to giving I'll Be Me a life of its own. The Glen Campbell documented here is Glen Campbell. His talents cannot be denied or diminished, in spite of his difficulties remembering. We remember. We, as fans of music, film, and other entertainers tend to immortalize the stars we follow. They, like their publicity photos, never seem to grow old. Their lives seemingly never end, even after they're gone because we have access to the things they created while they were alive. Their music and movies live on giving them a timeless presence, in any year we choose to view or listen to them. Their creations are eternal. But they are people. Real people like you and me. And I'll Be Me reinforces that with a figurative baseball bat to the face. Fan or not, this film will not let you forget Mr. Glen Campbell, the man, husband, father and entertainer. ~JW