Movie Review: “Neil Young Journeys”

ImageNeil Young is in fine voice, captured live at Toronto’s acoustic treasure, Massey Hall, in Jonathan Demme’s latest Neil Young documentary, “Neil Young Journeys.”

This follows “Neil Young Trunk Show” in 2009. And “Neil Young: Heart of Gold.” And those are just the Jonathan  Demme Neil Young feature films.

 There was an “American Masters” on PBS a few years back, and in ’97 Jim Jarmusch filmed “Year of the Horse,” and so on. And on.

Which prompts a viewer, in between close-ups so tight Demme captures Young’s dental work for posterity, to wonder, “Judas Priest, how many Neil Young documentaries do we need?”

The guy’s a legend. He’s famous for never selling out. About the only evidence he ever fell into this rock star vanity thing is the staggering amount of film footage there is of the guy — video documentaries, TV documentaries, theatrical films.

Doesn’t Neil Young ever say no?

Young’s plaintive Canadian wail, as distinct as ever at 65 (he’s 66, now), rings and the power chords thunder through Massey Hall in this May, 2011 show. He revisits hits from the late ’60s and early 70s, and mixes in recent work as he performs, solo, on acoustic and electric guitar, on a tinkly upright piano and a concert grand, and an organ — sometimes with harmonica, sometimes without.

And Demme, in random moments of creativity, inserts graphics of the “four dead in Ohio” (Kent State victims), shots of one of Young’s sons born with cerebral palsy, old home movies and footage of Neil driving a `1956 Ford Fairlane (black, of course) from his hometown of Omemee, Ontario, down to Toronto. That’s meant to be the organizing principle here, Neil driving, stopping, making random observations about his life, childhood pranks and the like.

It’s doesn’t organize anything.

Demme, who set the standard for this sort of film with the Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense,” edits the set out of order and doesn’t really build this show into anything. Young doesn’t help, skipping whole decaxes of his song catalog, hitting mostly the high spots. Demme’s sole contribution to the form seems to be the tiny camera he slapped on the stage microphone — capturing Young’s mouth and jawbone, until spit gets on the lens.

Get past that, and the fact that if you’ve seen a concert documentary in theaters in the past 20 years, the odds are pretty good it had Neil Young in it, and you can still appreciate the stage show. It’s  just the “Godfather of Grunge,” stubbly, singing in that soulful sneer of his, wearing a battered Panama hat and shapeless worsted sportcoat (his sage attire is very Leon Redbone these days) sucking on lemons and beer backstage, and giving flawless renditions of his tunes from three of the five decades of his career. Impressive, yes. Original? Not even remotely so.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG for language including some drug references, and brief thematic material

Cast: Neil Young

Credits:Directed by Jonathan Demme. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:27

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