How many Neil Young movies is too many?
For Jonathan Demme, two was not enough. Neil Young Journeys follows Heart of Gold (2006) and Neil Young Trunk Show (2009), which was shot at Upper Darby's Tower Theater, as the director's third feature-length concert film devoted to the Canadian rocker.
Is the 66-year-old Young an inexhaustible subject? That's pretty much the premise of Journeys, which intersperses footage of the hippie icon and godfather of grunge tooling around Omemee, Ontario, in a 1956 Crown Victoria, reminiscing about growing up as he makes his way to Toronto's Massey Hall to perform a two-night stand in 2011.
Journeys differs from the previous two Young movies made by Demme - a lensman whose unmatched music-on-screen credits include Stop Making Sense (1984) and Storefront Hitchcock (1998) - in that it includes intimate, non-musical moments, and it captures a solo performance.
The Massey Hall shows were in support of Le Noise, his 2010 album produced by fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois. That experimental work slathered Young's haunting vocals and roiling guitar in layers of atmospheric reverb and feedback.
The tour that followed, which played the Tower last year, was unique in mixing Young performing quietly beautiful songs from his vast catalog like "After the Gold Rush" and "I Believe in You" with rockers like "Down by the River" that instead of being done with a full-on savage band were rendered with the sonic maelstrom all emanating from Young's electric guitar.
On stage, the results were mixed, with the wall of noise, sans rhythm section, at times creating a distancing effect for an artist whose appeal is all about the appearance of unvarnished, blood-on-the-floor personal expression.
In Journeys, however, that qualm is quashed by Demme's directorial skill, as he keeps the momentum moving and employs a variety of film stocks and camera angles. That includes a super up-close-and-personal nostril cam attached to Young's microphone that familiarizes the viewer with every strand of Young's grizzly beard. That might be the turning point for those not interested in getting quite so intimate with the senior citizen rocker.
For Young enthusiasts, however, his idiosyncratic guided tour around the "town in north Ontario" where he grew up qualifies Journeys as necessary viewing as much as the unreleased piano ballad "Leia" or late-career highlight "Love and War" does.
Following his brother Scott in a separate car because he clearly does not know his way around, Young amusingly talks about how he used firecrackers to blow up turtles when he was growing up. "My environmental roots are not that deep," he says. He also tells how an older friend named Goon would pay him a nickel to tell ladies: "You have a fat ass." "Give me a nickel, I'll do anything," he says.
Journeys doesn't capture the instrumental interplay of Trunk Show or match the country-flavored elegiac beauty of Heart of Gold.
It does find Young in a wistful, philosophical mood, though. Referencing the recent deaths of more than one longtime collaborator as well as the fact that his childhood home no longer exists, Young says: "It's still in my head. That's why you don't have to worry when you lose friends, 'cause they're still in your head. They're still in your heart."
I'd say the movie does a fine job of completing the trilogy, but I wouldn't be surprised if Demme and Young have more in them yet.
Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @delucadan.