A Legend’s ‘Journeys’

Jonathan Demme’s new doc on Neil Young follows the singer on tour and in his Canadian hometown

Director Jonathan Demme’s new concert film, “Neil Young Journeys,” follows Young on his 2011 solo tour and to the old haunts that inspired the legendary singer-songwriter’s work.

At 66, legendary singer Neil Young can do pretty much whatever he wants. So, he’s doing everything.

In 2010, he briefly reunited with Buffalo Springfield after a 40-year hiatus. Last month, he dropped the covers collection “Americana,” his first album with backing band Crazy Horse in more than eight years. In October, he’ll release a memoir, “Waging Heavy Peace.” And starting Friday, you can catch him on the big screen in “Neil Young Journeys,” the third film in a series directed by Jonathan Demme. What makes the film stand out?

The Story

Before the music starts, Demme follows Young on a tour of the “town in North Ontario” he sang so fondly about in 1970’s “Helpless.” Driving a 1956 Crown Victoria, Young and his brother, Bob, return to Omemee, Ontario, their rural Canadian hometown, en route to Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall. “It’s all gone,” Young notes as he visits places he hasn’t seen in years, “but it’s still in my head.”

The Music

The bulk of the film features Young onstage during the last two nights of his 2011 solo tour, which saw him mixing early ’70s favorites and previously unreleased songs with tracks from his 2010 album “Le Noise.”

Armed with only an electric guitar, Young maintains the intensity of classics such as “Ohio” and “Down by the River.” Switching to organ, he turns “After the Gold Rush” into a carnival song. Of the unreleased cuts, touching ballads “Leia” and “You Never Call” are highlights.

The Directing

No one shoots concerts like Demme, who directed the Talking Heads’ 1983 live-show masterpiece “Stop Making Sense.” He lets the camera linger on a single shot for longer than any other director would, forcing viewers to focus on the music.

Demme also installed small cameras in Young’s piano and mic stand, resulting in some odd but arresting images. On “Hitchhiker,” he stays fixed on the microphone camera, which cuts Young’s head off at his eyes to a hypnotic effect. Things get visceral, too: Early in the song, a drop of sweat or spit lands on the camera and stays there, and so does Demme.

Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW; opens Fri., $8-$11; 202-783-9494. (Metro Center)
AMC Loews Shirlington 7, 2772 S. Randolph St., Arlington; opens Fri., $8-$11; 888-262-4386. 
Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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Christopher Porter · July 19, 2012