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Townes Van Zandt - Be Here to Love Me

Palm Pictures // Unrated // March 14, 2006
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted March 25, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie-

This is a documentary about somewhat legendary Texas singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt,incredibly influential on his peers and a man seemingly destined for stardom given his writing prowess as well as musical talents. Country music luminaries such as Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson cannot say enough good things about his work; Steve Earle offered to stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table and declare Van Zandt as the world's greatest songwriter. What commercial success he did have came later in his career, penning the song "Poncho And Lefty" which Nelson and Merle Haggard recorded and had a huge hit with, as well as "If I Needed Someone"- which he said was the only song he ever wrote in his sleep- which Harris had success covering.

That Townes was a troubled, somewhat twisted man is an understatement; in his teens he was treated for clinical depression with months of shock treatments, literally robbing him of most of his childhood memories. He experimented with any number of drugs from his teens on, from sniffing glue in school to heroin use as an adult. He drank constantly along with his drug use, ultimately dying of a heart attack in 1997 at the age of 53. Friends and peers tell stories about him willingly falling from a four story apartment, just to see how it would feel to lose control, as well as playing Russian Roulette in the presence of Earle, trying his luck with three clicks. While his ex-wives are complimentary of him, they also seem to have been living strange, empty lives in those marriages. His children seem to have bitter issues over the years with their father, yet are also in awe of his talent. He spent much of his time on the road, living a spartan,nomadic lifestyle. One telling story here is of what would have been a high profile tour Van Zandt was on the verge of undertaking; the night before it was to get underway, he went on a drinking binge and by the end of the night had shattered his arm, wrecking what would have been a opportunity to advance his career.

After seeing this film it becomes undeniable that Van Zant was blessed with incredible talent. Tortured genius comes to mind when listening to anecdotes on the man's lifestyle, then seeing an abundance of footage of live performaces. Coming across as a musician in the vein of, say, John Prine, Van Zandt seemed to have a natural charm all his own off stage as well as on, with a unique voice and wonderful guitar style that seemed to only improve throughout the years. Playing one beautiful self-penned song after another, he seemingly captivated any crowd he played for. While never gaining national notoriety, in the Texas region his name was seemingly hallowed. Much of his material has since been rereleased on CD in the form of best-of packages, and several live performances are now available in his wake. During the years he recorded several albums that were mostly out of print during his living years, and presumably much of his income came from live shows and in later years royalties from songs like "Poncho And Lefty" and "If I Needed You". The resulting fame from having written such songs seemed to be something of an uncomfortable fit for Van Zandt, especially after spending so much of his life with a smaller portion of it.

Directed by Margaret Brown and clocking in at 100 minutes, this is a documentary of extraordinary proportion on Van Zandt- painstaking care has gone into assembling this film. She paints a fascinating portrait of the man with layer after layer of detail, giving us footage of many, many friends from throughout Van Zandt's life; high school friends, Army buddies, record producers, his children, and all three of his wives as well as musicians the likes of Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle. Several television interviews and performance spots are shown as well as extensive film from his concerts. One gets the feeling of having lost a wonderful artist who never came close to fulfilling his potential due to his self-destructive, abusive lifestyle.


Presentation here is in 1.85:1 widescreen and for the most part looks superb, with colors accurate, clean and deep. The video quality is sharp. Scattered throughout the film are several pieces that are in 1.33:1 fullscreen due to the fact they were filmed for television.


The audio track here is Dolby Digital 2.0 and is actually a fine one, with the voices clear and easy to understand and the music crisp and clean.


Additional Interviews- Assorted anecdotes from the likes of Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Michael and Margo Timmins, Steve Earle and Steve Turner on various times spent with Townes; his drinking binges, poker playing, song writing and insights into both his bright and good sides offered. Totalling around a half an hour this is a nice embellishment for the documentary and worth checking out.
Performances- Three songs performed by Townes Van Zandt- Kathleen, Tecumseh Valley, and Snowin' On Raton- as well as one song performed by J.T Van Zandt, Nothin', and one by Savendra Banhart, Colorado Girl.
Commentary Track with Director Margaret Brown, musician Joe Ely and cinematographer Lee Daniel- A detailed commentary with the three discussing the film scene by scene; Brown and Ely seem to have taped their track together with Daniel's take spliced in. Relaxed and informative this is definitely worth a listen.
Also here is a trailer for the film as well as a weblink to the films' website.

Final Thoughts-

When receiving this disc for review I had little idea as to who Townes Van Zandt was; I didn't expect the film to interest me nearly as much as it did or compel me to seek out more of his music. This is a lush, wonderfully thought out DVD presentation of an equally fine documentary that I have trouble finding fault with. Highly recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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