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Ain’t in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm - Blu-ray Review

{2jtab: Movie Review}

Aint in it for My Health - Blu-ray Review

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5 Stars

Levon Helm, that backbeat-keepin’ dirt farmer with a very recognizable voice, is still with us.  His fans know his struggles with addiction, bankruptcy, and throat cancer but, with the documentary Ain’t in It for My Health, we get to see the absolute joy and peace Helm surrounded his final years with.  We get the cathartic release we needed after years of hearing little but turmoil from The Band’s drummer/vocalist/songwriter as royalties for songs he wrote went elsewhere.  It truly is a miracle that this final examination of Helm’s life exists.

Thanks to filmmaker Jacob Hatley, this affectionate documentary – which tracks Helm as he works on the projects after the release of his Grammy-winning 2007 album “Dirt Farmer” – captures his final months.  Consider this film his last will and testament.  He smokes until the end.  He tells his humorous anecdotes.  He mourns the suicide of Richard Manuel and the abrupt passing of Richard Danko.  He gracefully receives the news on his Grammy.  He also keeps banging away at the drums and singing his songs.  It is like spending a few months in the life of this world-weary artist.

While death permeates the atmosphere of the documentary, there is a simple joy in the music that Helm lets speak for itself.  The film documents that Helm’s life – no matter how hoarse and cracked his voice becomes – is all about making music for others to enjoy.  Several scenes feature him with an acoustic guitar while a friend grabs a harmonica.  It’s this grit that charms; the constant drive to make music.

The film covers the formation of what would become The Band during the years they backed Bob Dylan.  They started out being hated in 1965 and ended with a “farewell” concert in 1976.  Of course, the members of The Band still speaking to each other (everyone but Robbie Robertson, who gets their royalty checks) would reform for three more albums during the early 1990s, Helm admits that - after the second album – The Band was “over” and, yes, it’s quite a shocking admission that discredits a lot of wonderful music.

But everything in Ain’t in It for My Health is grounded in the reality of 2012.  He whispers a lot.  He must protect his voice.  He is often in and out of his physician’s office with a tube snaked down his nose.  It’s all on camera.  Yet, even in this decline of health, the famous smile remains.  He is a natural performer and quite happy to perform for people.  He doesn’t appear to resent anyone – even his attempts to clarify his position on Robertson come across without an edge.   Maybe a part of him feels defeated; the only real emotion that comes across that is full of sorrow is when he talks about Manuel’s suicide.

The documentary isn’t designed to be a legacy recap.  There is a nice fly-on-the-wall approach that is both gorgeous and honest.  Any true discussion of what split up The Band is left for others.  Hatley’s film is presented as a day in the life sort of look at the artist; it just so happens that the days recounted here are some of his last.  Helm passed away April 19, 2012 at a hospital in New York City. He was 71.  I’ve heard it mentioned that when a song plays, the sound waves continue on forever.  I want to believe that this is true so that the entire universe can share in Helm’s weathered voice.

What a long strange trip it continues to be.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Ain't In it for My Health - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Runtime:
85 mins
Director
: Jacob Hatley
Writer:
Cast:
Larry Campbell, Levon Helm, Billy Bob Thornton
Genre
: Documentary | Music
Tagline:

Memorable Movie Quote: "Levon is absolutely crucial to what the band means."
Distributor:
Kino Lorber
Official Site:
www.facebook.com/LevonHelmFilm
Release Date: April 19, 2013
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 8, 2013

Synopsis: Starting with the image of a tour bus warming its engine in the stillness of an empty lot, this haunting, personal portrait of music legend Levon Helm evokes the mood of a lifetime spent on the road.

Jacob Hatley’s extraordinarily intimate documentary finds Helm, a founding member of the pioneering rock group The Band, at home in Woodstock in the midst of creating his first studio album in 25 years. As Helm and his collaborators engage in the mysterious and alchemical act of writing new songs, business demands, chronic health problems, and lifetime achievement awards from the Grammys constantly interrupt their creative process. Throughout it all, Helm talks with humor and unassuming candor about his personal setbacks and past regrets, while revealing the understated passion and dogged commitment that drives him and his music. The ultimate survivor, he’s overcome drugs, bankruptcy, the bitter breakup of The Band, and a bout of throat cancer—but then, as the rueful title indicates, he wasn’t in it for his health

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Aint in it for My Health - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars

3 stars



Blu-ray Experience
4 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - October 8, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: Region A

New to Blu-ray, the 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer looks and sounds breathtaking on Blu-ray.  Kino originally released the film on DVD a couple years back; however, this is its Blu-ray debut.  The transfer (particularly the grainier moments) is as stunning and awe-inspiring as anything you’ll find in non-fiction cinema this year.  The images are crisp and – due to shooting style of the documentary – subject to change due to the amount of light available in the room where scenes are shot.  For the most part, the images come across clear.  There are only a few scenes that are completely in the dark but they add so much to the overall character of the documentary that one shouldn’t complain.  Small details in the soil and vegetation are very pronounced, as well as in Helm's face and the faces of all the men he's with.  Thankfully, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does a terrific job of capturing the sound of his music – and all the other sounds – and reproducing them in a wonderful manner.

Supplements:

Commentary:

Special Features:

The release from Kino is relatively bare bones, only coming with a handful of deleted scenes and a trailer, but the film itself is reason enough to grab this film off the store shelves.  The Deleted Scenes – which add up to thirteen individual cuts – run (on average) about one to two minutes each and are completely necessary to the film.  There is one 20-minute deleted scene which showcases Helm and a friend’s ability to play the blues.  You can play them all in one sitting and they are worth the time.  The trailer is also included.

{2jtab: Trailer}

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