If only Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) had managed to start his career a little earlier. Then the director’s personal obsession with songwriter and musician Neil Young — whose only real peer from his own generation is Bob Dylan — might have resulted in a treasure trove of rare footage from Young’s 1970s prime. Instead, Demme has delivered three feature-length documentaries about Young over the last six years that focus on sometimes-weak new material and only hint at what makes the artist worthy of such lavish attention. Young deserves all the credit in the world for sticking to his guns and doing whatever he wants well into his sixties, marketplace be damned. But that won’t keep a movie like Neil Young Journeys from disappointing even diehard fans.
For Journeys, Demme follows Young around his boyhood hometown of Omemee, Ontario, and lovingly shoots a 2011 solo show at Toronto’s beautiful Massey Hall. There are flashes of the old fire — the unmistakable sound of Young’s electric guitar on a classic like Down By the River can still send shivers up your spine, even without the wonderfully raucous accompaniment of Crazy Horse, Young’s own prototypical garage band. In fact, we can hardly wait for Neil Young and Crazy Horse to headline at this year’s Voodoo Fest. But Neil Young Journeys doesn’t do much to build our anticipation.
Neil Young Journeys screens through Thursday, September 13 at the AMC Elmwood Palace 20 in Harahan.