Stirring documentary details talent, and waste

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, December 1, 2005 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The new documentary “Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt” might have a lot to do with making the respected songwriter more famous in death than he was in life. It’s a stirring and emotionally felt tribute.

Townes Van Zandt sang his own songs and released a score of albums but never really had a hit with any of them. Luckily, other singers revered his work, with Emmylou Harris performing a classic version of “If I Needed You” and Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard scoring a smash 1983 hit with “Pancho &Lefty.”

“Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt” HHH

Tantalizing: Documentary about the respected songwriter, who never had a hit in his own singing career. A life of recklessness and substance abuse makes for a sometimes maddening experience, but the songs are still there.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for language

Now showing: Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., Seattle; 206-329-2629

The movie shines a light on Van Zandt’s life, which was largely one of struggle and substance abuse. Born into a prominent Texas family, he met his demons early, sniffing glue in school and exhibiting erratic behavior.

The film suggests a course of electroshock treatment was responsible for many of his later problems, but it looks as though Van Zandt had instability built into his personality from the beginning. Before the shock therapy, he dropped from a four-story-high balcony during a party just to see what it would feel like.

He had three marriages, three children, and years of touring. He inspired other musicians but sometimes stumbled his way through public performances, blitzed on booze.

Director Margaret Brown uses a tremendous amount of footage of Van Zandt, thanks to home video, talk-show interviews and public performances. He comes across as elusive and hidden, self-conscious to an almost crippling degree.

Brown interviewed friends and colleagues of Van Zandt to share their memories, which enriches the portrait. Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Steve Earle and Kris Kristofferson all give insight.

The net effect of this is absorbing. Also maddening, since Van Zandt clearly could have achieved more with his gifts if he’d cleaned himself up. The visible squandering of his talent – to say nothing of the spectacle it must have presented to his children – is painful to watch.

Still, the songs are there. A batch of them are excerpted in the film, although hearing a few in their entirety would have been nice.

In oneinterview, Van Zandt says he wants to write songs so good no one can understand them, “including me.” This film gives evidence of how hard it must have been to live with that ambition.

Talk to us

More in Life

Kotor's zigzagging town wall rewards climbers with a spectacular view. (Cameron Hewitt / Rick Steves' Europe)
Rick Steves: Just south of Dubrovnik lies unpolished Montenegro

One of Europe’s youngest nations offers dramatic scenery, locals eager to show off their unique land, and a refreshing rough-around-the-edges appeal.

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

TSR image for calendar
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend in Snohomish: The Snohomish Blues Invasion and the Snohomish Studio Tour 2023.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

TSR image only
Does your elementary school child have ADHD?

It’s important to identify children with this condition so we can help them succeed in school.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

A clump of flowering ornamental grass or pennisetum alopecuroides in an autumn garden.
My garden runneth over with fountain grasses, and for good reason

These late-blooming perennials come in many varieties. They work well as accents, groundcovers, edgings or in containers.

This Vacasa rental is disgusting. Can I get my money back?

The vacation rental Carol Wilson books for her group through Vacasa is infested with rats and insects. Vacasa offers to refund one night, but can they get all of their money back?

A woman diverts from her walk on Colby Avenue to take a closer look at a pickup truck that was partly crushed by a fallen tree during an overnight wind storm Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in north Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / Herald file)
Storm season is coming. Here’s how to prepare for power outages.

The most important action you can take is to make an emergency preparedness kit.

Most Read