Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2005 8:54 pm 
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Margaret Brown: Be There to Love Me: A Film About Townes van Zandt (2005)

The straightforward title signals a straightforward piece of work: Be There to Love Me is a documentary about singer-songwriter Townes van Zandt. He's the kind of guy who looks real cool at first, but when you learn about how he lived and what he went through and put other people through, he doesn't seem so cool.

Be that as it may, Van Zandt wrote wonderful songs, poetic and sad, blues and country, and Kris Kristofferson called him "a songwriter's songwriter." His life was a strange mixture from the start. He was depressed and sniffed glue as a young teenager: the glue wrecked his teeth, aside from what it did to his brain. He was also an athlete, wrestling, baseball, football, and he was a handsome lean man who never got wide or lost his hair. His depression caused him to throw himself off a roof and his mother wanted to do something, so she had him sent to a hospital around Memphis where he got insulin shock treatments. This is something his mother regretted till her dying day. It took away all Townes's childhood memories and robbed him of a chunk of his personality. When he talks, you feel that something's missing. There's a distance, as if he's watching himself, as if he's not quite there. And he isn't.

Van Zandt remained gloomy and wrote about death in his songs, He drank and did drugs, but also went on the road – an act of self destruction but also an act of self denial, paring down to be creative – to write songs and sing them. Eventually he became quite well known, traveled with a little crew, and famous singers did covers of his songs, including Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris. He died of heart failure at 52. He had three wives and I think one daughter and two sons.

This documentary uses a lot of old footage, even of Townes as a young child. His family was pretty well off – which he is said to have regretted, because his songs are of the poor, lonely, and hopeless. This documentary achieves a kind of truth even though there is little that is distinctive about it but the songs. A a good documentary should, it serves its subject humbly.

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