Capule Review: Ain’t in it for my Health: A film about Levon Helm

by John Davidson for FILMbutton

Levon Helm was struggling. With the taxman, throat cancer, Grammy executives and with an enduring legacy that would rather see him be forever 25. Despite this, this simple and focused documentary finds him in good spirits during the final years of his life in upstate New York. Footage shot a few years ago is nicely blended with historical footage of Mr. Helm at the prime of his career. Most notable is footage from the legendary 1969 performance of The Band at The Woodstock Music Festival, and his later years’ commentary about a run in back stage with Jimmy Hendrix.

Throughout the film, we see Levon Helm as the simple man he had become, and possibly was all along. Farming his fields, struggling to find new lyrics for an old melody, telling stories to many houseguests, including an appearance by Billy bob Thornton made him a happy man. Throughout it all, he makes it clear that he has no time for industry marketing or nonsense, that there is likely to be no forgiveness for his old band mate Robbie Robertson and that for him, the song and the live performance of it remain at the centre of all he loved about music.

Late in the film we see him playing a song for his granddaughter, and perhaps sense along with him that his time on this earth might be short. It does not surprise us then when he turns to the camera and gives the film its de facto title by saying ‘It’s not how long you live, it’s HOW you live that counts’. We could all take a lesson from Levon Helm, as this film simply demonstrates that he had a life well lived.

Ain’t in it for my Health: A film about Levon Helm will open the Canadian Music Week Film Fest on Thursday, March 21st at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

John Davidson is a huge music & film fan who has produced an independent film and now runs sonaBlast! Records Canada.

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