NEIL YOUNG: JOURNEYS
As a portrait of an artist at work, Neil Young: Journeys is as intimate as it gets. Director Jonathan Demme has created a concert movie interspersed with footage of the rocker guiding him around rural Ontario where he grew up.
Journeys delves into Young’s formative years: we see his mother’s prized old lawn, the lake where he caught fish as a boy and the place where he slept in a tent next to his chicken coop.
The performance sections (filmed at Toronto’s old Massey Hall) are equally personal. Demme switches between a central camera located in the sound booth, and one attached directly to the mic. We see Young’s mouth close up as it enunciates his tremulous whine. The camera captures the rust-brown stubble on his jowl and the lens is flecked with spit by the end of the performance – perhaps a little too personal.
The airy, green Ontario countryside provides effective respite from the intensity of the performance inside the concert hall. It also provides interesting insights into the songs’ lyrical content.
As he re-explores the places he explored as a boy, Young reflects on a childhood spent with fish, turtles, chickens and foxes. He has a clear affection for the great outdoors, which sheds light on the environmentalism that has run throughout his 40 year career.
The film opens with Peaceful Valley Boulevard, a haunting green battle cry from 2010’s Le Noise. The majority of tracks are from that album so don’t go in expecting a run through of the classics. There are a few thrown in though, and it’s one of these that strikes a poignant note as the aging rocker returns home. 1979’s My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), a plaintive reflection on the shortlived nature of rock-stardom, seems both fitting and wide of the mark: “Its better to burn out than to fade away”. But Young is not burning out or fading away. He is older and somewhat wizened, but as Journeys shows, he’s still capable of a mesmerizing performance.