I almost missed out on seeing this. The initial screenings sold out before I could arrange my tickets but fortunately the NZFF added two more screenings and I caught the Monday morning showing (the other added screening is Sunday at 1:15). This is Jonathan Demme’s third film with Neil Young as the subject; the others are 2006’s Neil Young: Heart Of Gold and 2009’s Neil Young Trunk Show. This one finds Neil returning to his Ontario roots while performing songs from his 2010 solo album, Le Noise.
It may be obvious, but your enjoyment of this concert film/documentary will depend almost completely on your admiration for Neil Young as the film focusses on him and little else. It opens with Neil cruising rural Canada in a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria pointing out places of interest. Those places are mostly from his childhood where it seems he lived idyllic life fishing, hanging out with his brother and, um, blowing up turtles. Brother Bob is leading the way, driving a 1971 Cadillac as they make their way to their family home, or at least the place where it used to be. Immediately you’ll be humming “Helpless” to yourself as Neil states, “This is a town in North Ontario”.
These scenes are charming, especially if you are a fan of all things Neil, as I am. But the majority of this film consists of concert footage shot at Toronto’s Massey Hall while touring Le Noise.
Le Noise was the collaboration between Neil and Daniel Lanois in which the two souped up Neil’s amp and let him rip, solo, through a batch of new songs. I was concerned that listening to Neil wail away on electric guitar without a band could get tedious…what was I thinking?
Most of the set list is made up of songs from Le Noise such as The Hitchhiker, Peaceful Valley Boulevard and Rumblin’. Of them, Love And War seems to pack the most punch. There are a handful of classics sprinkled throughout the set including Down By The River, After The Gold Rush (yes, the crowd cheers during the “getting high” line) and I Believe In You.
I was surprised how powerful Ohio still was after all these year. Neil’s guitar comes roaring in and he sounds fantastic. Demme has chosen to feature news footage of the Kent State Riot at this point, which I felt was rather heavy-handed, although it was a nice gesture to list the names of the four students who were killed.
The first note on Young’s acoustic guitar to start My My Hey Hey was also a highpoint. It’s amazing how plucking one note on one string can be so evocative.
Demme’s other directorial decision was to fix a camera on Neil’s mic stand allowing us to get a very up close and personal look at his stubble and his tonsils. It was a shot I could do without.
Otherwise, I loved the film. Neil’s voice is in great shape, his playing is as thrilling as ever and he even unveils a new song…Leia.
Having just released Americana, Neil is on the road with Crazy Horse, with Patti Smith in support (how’s that for a bill?), but he has promise an album of new material, recorded with Crazy Horse before the year is out. In the meantime, this’ll do.