Thursday, September 15, 2011

TIFF Review 2011: "Neil Young: Journeys"

(USA, 2001, 87 minutes)
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Neil Young, Bob Young

Well, it's a short journey, literally speaking (approx. 140 km north east from Toronto, or two hours) but metaphorically, a cyclical one: in "Neil Young: Journeys", the indefatigable (33 solo albums in 29 years), unstoppable (even an aneurism couldn't defeat him), and ageless (at 65 he's eligible for Canadian retirement benefits) icon/iconoclast returns to Toronto's Massey Hall--the site of his 1971 Journey Through the Past Solo Tour-- for a low-key concert to promote his then-new album, Le Noise, produced by Daniel Lanois. Re-teaming with director Jonathon Demme, Young takes us on a candid, off-the-cuff afternoon ride along the 401 (following his brother Bob), inter-cut with performance footage of the two-night event.

For devotees, it's a chance to hear some familiar autographical yarns spun again as Young tours around Omemee, a community in the Kwartha Lakes where he was raised from the age of four (having been born in Toronto). From behind the wheel of his vintage Crown Victoria and sporting a Manitoba Moose cap, Young shows off his parent’s home, his uncle’s yard, and the public school named in honour of his father, writer Scott Young. Happening upon yet another development site, Young laments that “It's all gone, but still in my head". On a lighter note, he cranks up the stereo and confesses that he listens to most new music on the "these daysî and that the tinny car radio is the ultimate test of a song's quality and longevity.

Onstage at Toronto's Massey Hall, Young shares the floor with a large wooden statue of a Native American and hobbles with measured enthusiasm between sets to one of two pianos, an organ, and a variety of acoustic and electric guitars. The set list primarily focuses on his newest material but he works in a few solo signatures like “After The Gold Rush”, “Down By The River”, and “Ohio” (movingly punctuated by the projected names and pictures of the four who were shot dead at Kent State University on May 4, 1970).

"Journeys" marks Young’s third documentary collaboration with Jonathon Demme (they first met when Young wrote a song for Demme’s 1993 drama Philadelphia), following Neil Young: Heart of Gold, recorded in Nashville only a year after brain surgery, and Neil Young Trunk Show, which documented a Pennsylvania performance of his long-awaited Chrome Dreams II. Young’s evasive filmmaking alter ego, Bernard Shakey, is nowhere to be found and cited only in the name of his production company.

Considering that Young spends most of the film seated, the film is inventively shot by DOP Declan Quinn who harnesses six HD cameras and five ìiconî cameras (each about the size of a cigarette package) for just about every conceivable angle. But sonically, it’s a revelation, and something of a pioneering effort being the first film to be recorded at 96 kHz, offering twice the amount of sound data (as most films are apparently recorded at 48).

Three Neil Young docs in under a single decade might be a bit much for the unenlightened, but for committed fans it makes for some Le Grand Noise, indeedÖ

©2011 Robert J. Lewis