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The Independent Critic

Neil Young
Jonathan Demme
Rated PG
87 Mins.
Sony Classics
Extras include conversations with Young and Demme plus a making-of featurette.

 "Neil Young Journeys" Takes The Iconic Artist Back Home 
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Neil Young Journeys is the third collaboration between the iconic rocker and director Jonathan Demme, following 2006's Neil Young: Heart of Gold and 2009's Trunk Show. Journeys is a more sparse and less dominating endeavor than the previous two films, but it also may very well be the most emotionally resonant of the cinematic trio.

In the film, Young returns to his hometown of Toronto for an appearance at Massey Hall in May of 2011. Supporting his 2010 album Le Noise, the film is indeed noisy, a driving and relentlessly feisty concert/music doc that mostly focuses on the music this time around with the grizzled and relaxed Young shot largely in close-up amidst his twanging guitars and melodic whine of emotion and purpose.

In most cases, use of the word "whine" would be an insult. Yet, with Neil Young it's his unique vocalizations that have endeared him to generation after generation of true music connoisseurs who focus on the music, the lyrics and the passion that Young brings to virtually everything he does and sings. The film is as loud as is Young's voice for justice, a point driven home with some early footage of his 1970 performance at Kent State singing aloud and with great intensity "Four dead in Ohio..." as even then he was surrounded by an almost earth-shattering wall of sound.

It's nearly impossible to imagine that any fan of Neil Young won't be completely captivated here, with Demme's camera clearly capturing this rather quiet musical icon in a way that is grand yet not unnecessarily reverent.

As loud as this film is, it's actually the quietness that makes the film so great. As Demme and Young tool around in a 1956 Crown Victoria on a two-hour road trip from Young's Ontario area home to the Toronto concert, Young shares his life and memories in a way that feels refreshingly authentic without much of the narcissism so often found in this type of film. Rather than feeling like self-promotion, this journey feels much like Young sharing an experience with a buddy and allowing the whole world to observe.

In other words, it's pretty close to incredible.

While the concert largely focuses on tunes from "Le Noise," old favorites are here and as strong as ever. Demme hardly ever turns the camera away from Young, avoiding the usual gratuitous audience shots typically designed to show an adoring and swooning public. Swooning is unnecessary here, with Demme having complete faith in Young and his music.

It works.

Neil Young has always had this weird impact on me. With the exception of "Rockin' in a Free World," I've seldom ever considered him one of my favorite artists and, quite honestly, when I hear the faint rumblings of his voice coming over the airways I typically find myself cringing a bit.

Then, I listen anyway.

I listen to his words. I listen to his voice. I listen to the way he enunciates that seems to emphasize every precious nuance of his songs. Then, suddenly the artist whose music only a few moments early I wanted to turn off becomes an artist from which I can't turn away. "Rockin' in a Free World" can lead me to tears, as can "Ohio" and multiple other Neil Young tunes.

Come to think of it, so did Neil Young Journeys, an intimate yet pulsating journey through one of the world's most unique yet unforgettable rockers whose life and music continues to reverberate through the airwaves even as Young himself has arrived in his mid-60's with as much energy, passion and purpose as ever.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic