Neil Young Journeys
by Donny Kutzbach
Neil Young’s temperamental, changeling ways as a singer/songwriter/unabashed rocker measure well against Neil Young as a subject of films. While he was one of the high points of the Band’s 1976 farewell, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, and he made one of the most monumental concert opuses of its time, the 1979 companion film to the album Rust Never Sleeps, he was also the man who, for his own reasons, refused to have his image appear in the touchstone 1970 documentary Woodstock. He’s always loved the medium of film, however, from tinkering with his own off-beat semi-narrative experimentations like Journey Through the Past and Human Highway to his ongoing collaboration with Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme.
For Journeys, their third film together, Young and Demme have made a road movie. Well, sort of a road movie. Capturing one night of his 2011 solo Le Noise tour at Toronto’s fabled Massey Hall—a room where Young has a lot of history—the film pairs live performance with footage of vintage car aficionado Young driving a cherry 1956 Ford Crown Vic through the rural Ontario hometown of his boyhood on the way to the venerable hall in downtown Toronto. The film is essentially just Young shot in the car and alone solo on the stage playing a set heavy with songs from the atmospheric Daniel Lanois-produced Le Noise, along with other significant mile-marker tracks from his past.
Journeys fits neatly in Young and Demme’s trilogy, following 2006’s Heart of Gold, a masterful, pristine live music showcase of a concert film, and 2009’s Trunk Show, a terrifically jagged affair pitched toward Young’s raggedly glorious ear-splitting abandon. This film is characterized a certain calm serenity and quietude, though there are moments of Young’s ferocious stage-stalking with the Gibson Les Paul dubbed “Old Black” in tow. By himself on stage, Young creates a massive sound, switching between guitars, piano, and pipe organ (for an almost tear-jerking take on “After the Goldrush”) and appearing larger than life, almost god-like at times.
Still, he can’t hide from the all of his 65 years, and there are moments where that mortality really shines through. It’s a juxtaposition that Demme deftly manages to capture on screen. And as his handheld photography rules the day, Demme finds some beautiful, genuine, off-the-cuff moments and old home recollections from Young, offering a different framework to the all-too-weary formula of the concert film.
Watch the trailer for Neil Young Journeys
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