Film takes fans along on 'Neil Young Journeys'
A review of Jonathan Demme's third Neil Young documentary, "Neil Young Journeys."
Seattle Times music critic
'Neil Young Journeys,' a documentary directed by Jonathan Demme. 87 minutes. Rated PG. Varsity.
Since it opened in 1894, Toronto's Massey Hall has hosted everyone from Enrico Caruso to Bob Dylan, so it's no surprise that the brilliant, Ontario-bred singer-songwriter Neil Young and director Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs," "Stop Making Sense") chose this fabled venue for a 2011 concert film cum documentary, "Neil Young Journeys." (It is the third in a trilogy, the first being "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" and "Neil Young Trunk Show").
Just as Young's songs quiver in the territory between simple, outward-directed observation ("Big birds flying through the sky") and opaque interiority ("Out of the blue, into the black"), the film whips between wide-open views of a gray-stubbled, somewhat grizzled Young and his brother Bob revisiting their rural hometown of Omemee, 82 miles northeast of Toronto, and intense, tightly shot concert segments. Eventually, they head for the city, Neil driving a 1956 Crown Victoria Fairlane Ford (he collects vintage gas guzzlers).
The concert is fine. Young, playing solo acoustic and electric guitars, delivers old favorites such as "My, My, Hey, Hey" and "Helpless" but also newer tunes touched by repentance and intimations of mortality (Young is 66), such as "Love and War" and "Rumblin'."
Delicious lines such as "I've said a lot of things I can't take back/ And I don't know if I want to" or "When will I learn how to feel, how to give back and how to heal?" are the high points of the show.
For anyone who lived through the '60s, news footage of the Kent State murders shown as Young plays "Ohio" is upsetting, to say the least. The concert camera work is sometimes a little tight for comfort (not really interested in Young's bridge work), though it adds to the intensity.
The Omemee segments, by contrast, are thin and casual, though sometimes fascinating. We discover, for example, that Young's father, Scott Young, was a well-known sportswriter and novelist who has a school named after him. Where Young killed a turtle, ate tar or tormented another boy are not so interesting, nor is Young's jejune observation that the admittedly beautiful, rolling countryside we are seeing is "peaceful."
You don't get the sense that Demme is drilling down the way Young does in his songs, but is mostly along for the ride. That said, it's a pleasant enough journey. And the car's real nice.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org