For Neil Young fans, this is a journey you’ll want to take. Director Jonathan Demme combines footage from Young’s 2011 solo concert at Massey Hall in Toronto with scenes of the rock icon cruising through his native Canada turf in his ’56 Crown Vic. The result is a simultaneously mellow but intense experience.
The filmmaker and Young explore his hometown of Omemee, Ontario and other familiar locales on their drive to Toronto. The reminiscing comes in short snippets–the bulk of the film is Young’s solo concert at Massey Hall, which centers around his 2010 album Le Noise plus a few previously unreleased songs. A few classics are also thrown in: “Ohio,” “Down by the River,” “After the Gold Rush.”
Young’s stories of his childhood in the countryside range from inane to interesting, but all add flavor to the film. The audience carries out a few clear images: Young pulling home a cart full of fish he’d caught as a boy, or camping out in his parents’ backyard to be close to his chickens; “I think that’s why I was out there,” he notes. It’s also reassuring to learn that the kids who grow up blowing up turtles with firecrackers can mature into environmentalists as Young did.
Raw talent and intensity flood the film thanks to Young, who seems to be plugged into a deeper version of reality than the rest of us. His singular voice and musical ability carry the film. Young makes use of every aspect of his instruments, as adept at manipulating the body of his guitar to play with the feedback as he is at strumming the strings. It’s gorgeous to watch.
However, Demme’s film style doesn’t add much and in some places detracts from the experience. Unflattering pinkish hues don’t do much for Young’s aging face, and during some extreme close-ups the audience may develop a fear of being inhaled up the star’s nostrils. Later on in the film the camera backs off a little, which helps.
Overall, there’s no doubt of Young’s continuing virtuosity. From his newest album (Le Noise, 2010), “Walk with Me,” “Sign of Love,” and “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” stand out in particular.
At the end, the credits rolled, but no one in the theater got up until after the last song finished playing–and that says enough right there. Overall, it’s all about whether you like Young or not. If you do, this film is a treat. If not, you probably wouldn’t be sitting there anyway.
By Jen Matteis