With Neil Young Journeys, the third film in the Jonathan Demme/Neil Young documentary trilogy, Demme hoped to create an intimate portrait that looks deep into the heart and soul of the artist. And what better vantage point than one coming from a tiny wide-angle camera duct taped to the microphone and aimed at Young’s unshaven chin giving us an up-close-and-personal look at his dancing uvula and extensive dental restorations as the singer/songwriter runs through a string of mostly unknown songs from his latest album, Le Noise.
Demme, a long-time Neil Young fan and collaborator, captured the singer’s 2006 Nashville performance in Neil Young: Heart of Gold, and then followed along again in 2009’s Neil Young Trunk Show, which memorialized a Pennsylvania concert during the Chrome Dreams II tour. In Journeys, Demme climbs into the passenger seat of Young’s bright red 1956 Crown Vic, jams the camera in the grizzly singer’s face and rolls tape as the pair drive from Young’s idyllic hometown of Omemee, Ontario to downtown Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall, where he is to perform the last of two nights of his solo world tour.
Along the drive, Young recounts childhood stories and juvenile shenanigans as the team occasionally stop to rustle through the brush with hopes of finding leftover bits and pieces of barns, childhood homes, or chicken coops. Too often though, all we get are stories about where someone used to live, or shots of a front porch where someone used to sit.
Clearly, the film is meant to be both a literal and figurative journey through the singer’s life, but with the actual road trip from Omemee to Toronto being only 90 miles, it’s too short. And nothing remains to be seen along the way save for endless patches of scrub brush, hilly rural roads, and an occasional car passing on the highway. Through the years everything has either been torn down, paved over, or shoved to the side in the name of progress, which I suppose could be the point of the “journey,” but these interludes amount to nothing more than a bad, boring trip. And Demme runs out of these scenes - which he uses to intercut the concert footage - before the movie reaches its halfway point.
What remains is a second half consisting almost entirely of concert footage with that obtrusive mic-cam staring down the throat of the bristly Young as he rips through a set of songs that are far from his more memorable stuff. While he does visit a few classics, namely Ohio, Hey Hey, My My, and I believe in You, it all feels like a sterile tribute for the loyalists who’ve swooned and swayed alongside every note of Young’s stellar 50+ year career… or at least to those familiar with 2010’s Le Noise. There’s just not much else for the non-fans or casual observers who don’t count themselves among the hardcores. And with a film called Journeys, one would hope for a more entertaining romp through the classics that might take us on our own little nostalgic journey through the years. But alas, no.
At least with such classic concert movies as Zep’s The Song Remains the Same or even Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, there’s enough other stuff going on in there - or the characters themselves are interesting enough - to entertain on a level above that of seeing how long Demme will stubbornly hold a camera shot obscured by a giant blob of spittle. Rock and roll may never die, but it certainly needs life support.
MPAA Rating: PG for language including some drug references, and brief thematic material.
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Neil Young; Bob Young
Genre: Documentary | Music
Tagline: Neil Young Journeys
Memorable Movie Quote: "My environmental roots are not that deep."
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Release Date: September 12, 2011 (Toronto INternational Film Festival); July 20, 2012 (Dallas)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No Details vailable
Synopsis: In NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS, Young’s intense performances are presented in full, along with passages from the funny and sometimes wistful ride into town. Demme and Young previously collaborated on two other documentaries, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, which chronicled Young performing in Nashville, the year after he survived a brain aneurysm and Neil Young Trunk Show, which memorialized a Pennsylvania concert during Young’s “Chrome Dreams II” tour.