Neil Young Journeys
- Director:Jonathan Demme
- Cast:Neil Young
- Release Date:September 13, 2012
- Running time:87 minutes
- Film Worth:$14.00
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It never offers up enough to transcend its fan base, but for those already converted, it’s an enjoyably intimate affair.
In 2011, rock legend Neil Young stepped away from the big stages and returned to his hometown of Omemee, Ontario, to play a gig at the historic Massey Hall. Along for the ride was director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) in his third outing with the musician, after Heart of Gold (2006) and Trunk Show (2009).
Demme is no stranger to concert films, being responsible for the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, which almost thirty years later is still considered a blueprint for how to make these films right. Young plays the gig by himself, on stage surrounded by instruments, with the material largely coming from his latest album, 2010’s Le Noise. It was a stripped-down, minimalist gig, appropriate for a scaled-down venue.
Forgoing any flashy directorial tricks, Demme largely lets the music speak for itself. The focus is kept solely on Young and his playing; the audience is heard but barely seen, and at times the camera gets up so close you can count the hairs on Neil’s stubble (or have him spit at the camera). It’s incredibly intimate, and has the effect of seeming like the musician is playing especially for you.
Those unfamiliar with Neil Young and his music, however, will find that this is not the best of introductions. Aside from documenting the gig, Demme reveals very little about the man himself. Interspersed with the concert footage are Young and his brother Bob going around Omemee recalling memories of their youth – typical childhood pranks, such as lighting firecrackers up a turtle’s rear end – and they effectively show a man in his twilight years reminiscing about the past, rather than a world-famous musician. However, these moments are brief, and one ends up wishing there were more of them. There are many aspects of Young’s life worth telling – his environmental activism, or his brush with death after being diagnosed with a brain aneurysm – but this film is not concerned with them.
The music is admittedly well played, with Young’s banshee wail holding up really well at 66, but any newbies not familiar with some of Neil Young’s classics will probably find it hard to connect. The exception is Ohio, about four students shot by police during an anti-war protest at Kent University in 1970, whom Demme solemly pays tribute to onscreen during a powerful moment.
Jonathan Demme is a confessed Neil Young fan, who has made a movie for Neil Young fans. Journeys has a very specific audience, and ultimately it is them who will get the most enjoyment out of it.