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The Grand Suggests: "Ain't in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm"

Film captures the many sides of The Band's former drummer

The film focuses on the four-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member after his 2007 comeback album, "Dirt Farmer."

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I know that I may be revealing myself as a bit of a musical troglodyte if I tell you this, but when I first received word that I'd be reviewing the movie Ain't in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm, my first thought was, "Who the heck is Levon Helm?!" followed immediately by, "Oh, now I remember. ...  He played the sheriff in Blazing Saddles, right?" After a quick Google search and upon viewing the film, I realized that I hadn't mixed up two people's names so badly since I was taking my final exam in eighth grade history and inadvertently attributed the founding of Texas to Whitney Houston.

Don't be too hard on me; in just a few short weeks I'll be reaching the ripe old age of 30 years old, so you'll forgive me if my knowledge of prolific Canadian-American folk rock groups of the '60s and '70s is a bit lacking. If you're at all familiar with The Band, one of the aforementioned prolific Canadian-American folk rock groups of the '60s and '70s, then Helm requires no introduction, and this captivating documentary chronicling Helm's final years from relative newcomer Jacob Hatley is sure to draw you in. For those of you who, much like me prior to seeing this film, aren't familiar with Helm or The Band, I have news for you: You absolutely are familiar with Helm and The Band.

In addition to being their drummer, Helm also frequently served as the lead and/or backing vocalist for a group so focused on honing their craft that they clearly didn't want to waste any time coming up with a name. Their massive discography spans three decades and includes a string of top 100 hits, including "The Weight" - a song that you've heard countless times in all manner of media and that some of you thought was by CCR and entitled "Take a Load Off, Annie". In addition to his tenure with The Band and an equally impressive solo career, Helm also had a notable career in film and television, including roles in Coal Miner's Daughter (1980), The Right Stuff (1983), Shooter (2007) and this final, sadly posthumous, offering.

While Ain't in It for My Health mainly focuses on Helm's lengthy battle with throat cancer amidst the production of his critically acclaimed and Grammy Award-winning 2007 solo album Dirt Farmer, it doesn't completely neglect his past.  Through archival footage and interviews with Helm's friends and family, we're given a brief but adequate recap of his younger years that helps to establish his present more than it lingers on his bygone days. 

Ain't in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm is a heartwarming and at times heart-rending look into the day-to-day life of a man faced with his certain, inevitable mortality.  It's a compelling portrait of a man embracing his final years with the same joie de vivre with which he embraced the rest of his life.

Ain't in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm, 1:40 and 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 9, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $4.50-$9, 253.593.4474

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