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Neil Young Journeys (Blu-ray Review)

5 Nov, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Sony Pictures
Box Office $0.22 million
$30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG’ for language, including some drug references and brief, thematic material.

The two rock troubadours (male) truest to themselves are probably Bob Dylan and Neil Young, so there’s a kind of beauteous symmetry to the fact that Martin Scorsese has chronicled one on screen and Jonathan Demme the other, given that the latter duo are the two filmmakers of note (both Oscar winners, in fact) who are the closest to be walking versions of the Rock and Hall of Fame. Journeys is, in fact, the third screen outing that Demme has undertaken with Young, following 2006’s Neil Young: Heart of Gold (which I liked a bunch) and 2009’s Neil Young Trunk Show (which I never saw, damn).

Of the three, Journeys has to be the one most fashioned toward the hard core, in that is a diminutive and certainly intimate portrait of the singer/songwriter at home in Canada, wrapping up a worldwide tour in Toronto, to which he journeys from hometown Omemee in a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria (none of this limo, or even chauffeur, stuff with him). Lack of pretention, of course, has always been a key component of Young’s appeal — complete with his take-it-or-leave-it vocal stylings and wardrobe choices that pretty well come down to which pair of grungy jeans we’re going to wear tonight.

One gets a complete sense here of the roots-engendered stability that have kept Young from veering off the track in ways that have turned so many rock stars into a train wreck. Cruising through Omemee, Young takes us past the school that was named for his community-prominent father, and we also meet his brother. The subject’s anecdote about a senior childhood influence who was named “Goof” reminds me of the small-town characters my father used to regale me about from his own experience: Butt-Cut Willis, Bruce Bruce and Moldy Akers, to name three monikers I can never forget. In Goof’s case, he convinced the younger Young that eating tar was some kind of culinary treat – and that though it would taste a little funny at first, it would eventually prove satisfying.

The concert portions’ stripped-down sets are taken to great extent from Young’s 2010 Le Noise album, though some of the highlights here come from: deep catalog — as when he revives 1970’s “Ohio” (which many of us Ohioans never forget), a salute to the four victims of that year’s Kent State killings amid protests of Richard Nixon’s Vietnam War escalation; the families of the slain receive acknowledgment in the final credits. There is a lovely intimate moment late I the film where we see Young going back stage to take off his jacket and take a mild swig of something as he prepares to go back on stage for an obligatory encore. But this is not a concert movie with elaborate audience reaction shots (nor was Demme’s Stop Making Sense). These are predominantly tight close-ups of a professional doing his job, which means this is a screen endeavor for the devoted.

Demme’s direction has always been as unpretentious as Young’s singing, and certainly Journeys represents the small-ball approach the director has taken after his wonderful career got off-kilter starting with 1998’s Beloved, or maybe even with Philadelphia, which was a couple rungs down from the sterling run Demme has amassed in the years leading up to it. It’s easy to take, the way Demme’s early cheapies for Roger Corman are — which sounds like a mild put-down or perhaps on the patronizing side but isn’t.

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