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Memories of super talented musician Neil Young are called to mind by him and erratic (but often quite good) filmmaker Jonathan Demme in the documentary “Neil Young: Journeys.” It starts off idolizing the childhood of Young that is not all that different and probably much less modest than ours in rural Canada, but the documentary slowly progresses into a sporadically composed concert movie.
It’s nothing more than a typical direct-to-DVD live concert that you might see from bands like the Rolling Stones and Phish.
… And there is surely nothing creative and commendable about filming a concert and flipping it into a documentary. Demme over-edits the concert to a point where it seems artistically stupid. He shoots Young from random angles, from over the piano to under the microphone, and gives us way too much of Young’s babble and (excuse me) ugly face in comparison to his music.
Young’s music is the highlight of “Journeys.” Featuring a performance that took place at Massey Hall in Toronto back in 2011, Demme samples some of Young’s much older music from the 1970’s as well as his more recent work from the 21st century. All of it is poetic. Lyrically and instrumentally, Neil Young has not lost a step - although some of his physical movements (dances?) aren’t quite up to par with the melodies he plays. Regardless, half the time you can’t even see his groove because Demme’s camera is locked onto a tripod and is incapable of panning or tilting to keep pace with the (barely) moving musician.
Why am I being so hard on filmmaker Jonathan Demme, who has brought us classics like “The Silence Of The Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” you may ask? Only because I think that he literally ran around on the night of the concert with a camera and chose random shooting locations within the venue based on what he thought looked different than everything else – but in every case he kept the crowd completely out of visibility. At times, the audience seems so inexistent that it looks like Young is doing a live recording at a studio.
Sure, Demme tries to tie Young’s emotional attachment to the Kent State Tragedy of 1970 into the story behind the documentary, but there really is no other point to the film aside from highlighting Young’s talent. The B-footage doesn’t give a meaning to his songs (and his songs don’t give a meaning to the B-footage), so what is even the point of its existence? One big WTF moment is Demme’s extreme close-up of Young’s mouth while he is singing emphatically, spitting onto the lens of the camera. Some may find it audacious; I just found it visually unappealing.
Demme doesn’t give the audience any reason to care about Young’s history unless they’re already fans of him. With classics like “Hey Hey, My My” among the songs Young plays, I still didn’t recognize much of his newer music, which makes up a significant portion of the set list. With that being said, the music was all enjoyable – I just didn’t care for Demme’s absurd camera placement, which makes “Neil Young Journeys” look as if it was shot from the locations where the pesticide guy who is subcontracted by the venue placed insect poisoning to get rid of an abundance of ants, or something.
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