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67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2013
Levon Helm lived a life in music, one that unfortunately ended too soon last year when he was 71 years old. But what a life! His career traced the entire arc of the rock and roll era, from his early years seeing Elvis, Sonny Boy and Bill Monroe as a kid in Arkansas, to his years on the road as a member of Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks, then leader of Levon And The Hawks, which became Dylan's first road band. Then The Hawks became The Band, the most respected band of the golden age of rock.

He played a decent guitar and a distinctive mandolin, but that voice! Levon was the voice of the American heartland, an iconic, craggy, lusty voice whether singing, acting and narrating, or just telling stories. And, oh yes, he was one the the very best drummers in the world. But his post-Band career, while artistically rich, left him ultimately broke, and in the late nineties cancer took his voice.

To pay the rent and medical bills, and just to play, he began hosting Midnight Rambles at his home in Woodstock, where he had a studio in his beautiful barn. Playing for a couple hundred people on Saturday nights, Levon came all the way back to the top, and along the way his voice came back. Sort of.

This beautiful and powerful documentary, filmed with Levon's full cooperation around 2008, finds him at home with his family and friends, learning of his nomination for a Grammy for his new album (he would win it, along with two more), laughing and telling stories with his friends and bandmates, and playing with some of the best musicians on the planet both in his barn and on tour. While the beautiful spirit and sheer joy of music certainly shine through here, the film is also unflinching in showing Levon struggling with a ravaged voice and being tested, rather unpleasantly, at a hospital, and making those closest to him cringe with his bitterness about the end of The Band and the subsequent demise of his dear friends Rick and Richard.

Ultimately, this film holds up in several ways. It is a gritty, effective "fly on the wall" style documentary; it is an interesting and instructive view of a Rock life; and if you went to a Ramble at the Barn, or just loved Levon for the national treasure he was, it will move you.

OK, I guess that's a thumbs up.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2013
Nobody, however skilled, can make a decent documentary about an individual, band or indeed event, if the subject matter doesn't create a fascinating story. However in the case of Levon Helm this was surely the director's least concern - indeed it would be difficult to make a bad film about this fascinating musical maverick. But in the hands of the previously unknown Jacob Hatley - clearly a man destined for big things - the incredible story of Levon and his music is treated with finesse, skill and feeling to create possibly the best music documentary to emerge this year.

There are now 3 classic documentaries available that tell the story of The Band or members thereof and which all fans of this American institution should be sure are in pride of place in their collections.

The Last Waltz (Special Edition)
Dylan, Bob - Down In The Flood
Ain't In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2013
This documentary accomplishes something rare in a biographical story: it is uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. Watching Levon simultaneously struggle with illness while continuing to live and love life and create and perform beautiful music is powerfully inspiring. Listening to the stories about the dark side of his history with The Band was heartbreaking, and the filmmaker gives us a nuanced look at how Levon deals with his legacy with pride, but also with some bitterness about the music business. In his unguarded moments, we can see that Levon is still heartbroken over the loss of Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, and the interview sequences with Rick's widow are a brilliant juxtaposition that meshes Levon's story with the demise of The Band and the era in which they breathed rarefied air. I thank the filmmaker for this heartwarming portrait, and I treasure this intimate record of a slice of the life - and tragic death - of a man and musician I have always admired and respected.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2013
Great. No other words. I was priviledged to attend a few rambles before Levon left us. This documentary is a great reminder of what was lost and how it should continue!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2013
There's no sugarcoating the fact that this film is partly an exercise in watching a dying man in his last "good" days. If you're someone who admired and valued, or loved this man that's pretty rough.
I loved the Band's music and think Levon was a fabulous drummer and superb singer. To the extent that one hopes to get to really know the person one knows only through a media filter, this film delivers a pretty straight ahead portrait of a man who was pretty straight ahead. The sense that what you saw was what he was is pretty much confirmed here.
Its a sobering unblinking look at illness, dying, perseverance and a man in some ways trying to come to terms with the vagaries of existence.
At one time the Band was one of the most popular Rock & Roll groups in the country, and imo certainly the best white band this country (or Canada) ever produced. They must have made untold millions.
Here we come upon Levon whose medical expenses have driven him to the brink of home foreclosure, (if it can happen to him, who's safe?) and one can't help but wonder how the hell that happened?
Well it apparently is all in the song publishing rights and Robbie Robertson got most of those. Levon is justifiably bitter.
This is not how I'd choose to remember Levon Helm as a sick, suffering albeit game, septuagenarian, but I'm glad to have had the opportunity to see how things were towards the end.
As a documentary I'd have to give it high marks.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2013
Incredible story about a complex and talented artist. Levon Helm is so authentically American he should be on a unit of currency and this movie does him justice
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2013
Imagine: Sitting on a back porch with Levon Helm, that is the feel of this fine documentary. Enjoy the ups and downs of one of rock and roll's great ambassadors shortly before his passing. 5 stars, easily.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2013
You can not help but love Levon for his work and who he is. The movie gives you a glimpse into how hard it was to be him. It some ways it is difficult to watch. This is as real a documentary as you'll seel. Amazing. Worth all the money.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2013
A look inside the voice! You get to see a side of Levon like never before, from great concert footage to home life. A gritty chronicle of Levons last years that show you just how much a single man can change to history of music. Dont rent this title buy it, you will want to watch it over and over. Best film I have seen in years
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2014
Not a documentary. Nor a celebration. Instead, a slice of life from a musican facing down the end of the road. Helm, battling financial and health issues, is captured backstage, on the bus, at the studio, and at home. Throughout, Helm holds court. Talk drifts from idle chatter and yarns (a lot of this) to jabs at the music business. The film is sympathetic but it's not exactly a flattering portrait: preening when up, bitter and sometimes in denial when down (as when he talks about bandmate Richards Manual's suicide). More prone to sing and talk all night than to sit down and work on a song. All which is very sad-- I admire the music in the man (as one observer said, "his drumming could make you cry"), but the man has the look of one who stayed too long at the party ... and wonders why he has a hangover. Rest in peace, Mark Lavon, and thanks for all the wonderful music.
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