Dolly Parton: Here I Am – review

Dolly Parton: Here I Am is a ninety-minute documentary that should have been called Dolly Parton: Queen Of Country. The documentary takes the shallowest of dives into her life and where she came from. 

With interviews from musicians she has worked with and friends who have known her over her fifty-year career, as well as interviews with the good lady herself, Dolly Parton: Here I Am is a moderately entertaining documentary but, especially in this day and age, a little frustrating. 

Parton has become a fabric of society, a part of musical and entertainment history. Her large chest and bouffant blonde hair, along with her country and western-lite dress code, make her instantly recognisable the world over. And then there are her songs. Jolene, I Will Always Love You, Island In A Stream, Nine To Five, Here You Go Again, to name a few. 

Dolly Parton has been so ever-present that one feels as if you know her but you do not. Dolly Parton: Here I Am does not get one any closer to knowing her either. That is not to say it is not interesting. There is, even in the little that is said by Parton herself and her friends, hints at the determination and steeliness of her character. 

From a large family, with eleven siblings, Parton knew from the age of ten that she wanted to sing and be famous. Eight years later, she arrived in Nashville determined to launch her career in the home of country music. She learned quickly that, as a young pretty woman, she would have to stand up for herself. 

A pleasant country girl, Parton’s confidence came to the fore when she sang. Such was her talent for both singing and songwriting, she found a manager and music deal quickly. Another thing that points to a particular type of intelligence, was Parton’s understanding of image and how she wanted to be perceived. 

She met her husband, Carl Dean, in 1964 and they married two years later. Dolly married Carl against the advice of her producers and kept the marriage secret for a year. From an early age, Dolly did what Dolly wanted to do. 

Dolly has been to married to Carl for more than fifty years and most of her session musicians have never met him or even seen him. 

Parton was not only an engaging songstress. She wrote songs that appealed to her demographic of young women in the sixties during the height of the sexual revolution. 

Though her songs broached serious subjects and told thoughtful stories, in her public appearances and interviews, Parton never spoke in support of or against any political or social subject. 

In this regard, Parton is and was very much a throwback to the famous of years gone by, before the internet age and the proliferation of media and the need and want of sensational stories. 

Most of the stars, of music and screen pre-internet, were only known for their on-screen images, what they released or their management released to the public. 

In these days of constant and relentless attention-seeking, many in media feel the need to stay in the public eye, trying to project an everyman image. Parton sticks with what has always been known of her; big chest, tiny waist, big voice and country.

Never a frown or a scowl, never a solemn look, ever the sunny country girl/woman looking to spread love and joy through her music. 

One of her session musicians tells a story of inviting her to his son’s wedding. She was accosted all evening by fans and the curious. After a few hours, he told her she did not have to pander to the guest as she was there herself as a guest. Dolly explained to him that it was something that she accepted came with being famous. 

Parton maintains a cheerfulness and presents an almost lucky outlook to her fame, as though it were a happy accident as opposed to astute decision making such as refusing to sell, at the time, the world’s most famous artist, Elvis Presley, the rights to the song I Will Always Love You, a song that would make the already successful artist extremely wealthy when Whitney Houston made it a worldwide hit.

Fans of Dolly said Whitney claimed it was her record. Dolly agreed; it was Whitney’s record and she loved Whitney’s version. But it was Dolly’s song and she got paid. 

Her relentless work over five decades in both music, television and film does not point to a person who got lucky, especially as she focussed on her career from such a young age. 

Like I said at the outset, Dolly Parton: Here I Am is not a warts and all biography and some will be frustrated by that. It is a charming look at her career and trawls through some her extensive music catalogue. There is some good footage and the voice is always a delight to hear. 

Dolly Parton knows who she is and knows what Dolly Parton she wants the world to see and that is the one she portrays. She knew way back in 1980 when she was making her film debut in Nine To Five and her co-stars, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, who remain lifelong friends with her, said they never saw her without her wig or makeup. That is Dolly.

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