July 12, 2012
Sixty-six years old and following a musical route of his own design, Neil Young has survived a brain aneurysm, decades of stardom amid radically shifting public taste and who knows how many renditions of "Heart of Gold." In close-up, singing onstage, the northern Ontario native resembles a gnarly oak tree blessed with the ability to play guitar and harmonica and to sing of love and war. Which covers just about everything.
Director Jonathan Demme's "Neil Young Journeys" is the third in a trilogy of Young concert films. This one has two preoccupations. One is the May 2011 performance (two, actually, on two different nights) Young gave at the tail end of his solo tour, at Toronto's Massey Hall.
The other is how Young got there, literally: En route from Young's hometown of Omemee, Ontario, the singer-songwriter drove a '56 Crown Vic and along the way stopped at places he lived with his brother, Bob (also in the film).
We hear of Young's neighborhood friend from the old days, the exquisitely named Goof Whitney, who convinced Young to eat tar and insult random strangers. More importantly, in the intimate concert footage, we're treated to songs from several decades, including one of the new-ish ones, "Sign of Love" (2010), in which Young looks ahead to "when we both have silver hair/ And a little less time."
Demme remains one of our most innately musical contemporary directors, shooting and editing his footage in such a way as to complement the creative artist. He has no interest in "selling" this material, or anything about Young, to anyone who isn't receptive by nature.
The results, shot by cinematographer Declan Quinn ("Rachel Getting Married"), are sadly beautiful, to borrow a Paul Westerberg lyric from The Replacements. With its one-of-a-kind poetic lamentation, Young's voice sounds more peculiarly lovely than ever. A small picture, but good and true.
'Neil Young Journeys' -- 3 stars
MPAA rating: PG (for language including some drug references, and brief thematic material)
Running time: 1:27
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