Directed by Jonathan Demme. PG. 87 min. Opens July 12.
It appears that, so long as Neil Young continues to make albums, Jonathan Demme will keep making movies about him. But Demme’s third Young concert film in five years is arguably the most in tune with its subject’s plug-’er-in-and-let-it-rip spirit, having been hastily assembled last spring around Neil’s two-night stand at Massey Hall in support of 2010′s solo electric release Le Noise. And in contrast to its two predecessors, Journeys is—as its title suggests—as much a road film as concert doc, interspersing its solitary, song-length performances with charming sequences of Young driving an old Cadillac around his former childhood haunts in Omemee (the “town in North Ontario” of “Helpless” fame) en route to Toronto, trying to play tour guide to a rural landscape that has changed dramatically since he last visited it.
Curiously, Demme opts to disrupt the goin’-back-to-Canada theme partway through the film with a well-meaning but totally incongruous visual tribute to the Kent State massacre victims eulogized in “Ohio.” But he effectively renders Neil’s performances in eerily claustrophobic close-ups that all but negate the presence of a live audience and considerably ramp up the intensity—particularly during a reading of Le Noise‘s ferocious “Hitchhiker” that climaxes with an unintentional spitball on a microphone-affixed camera lens. Rather than cut to another, more flattering angle, Demme lets the saliva-soaked moment linger, creating an accidental but absolutely perfect symbiosis of audio and visual distortion.