Recording Neil’s recollections and musings, director Demme rides shotgun in Young’s 1956 Crown Victoria from Omemee to Toronto’s Massey Hall where Young first performed 30 years ago. On the stage alone here, Young delights with his haunting voice and expert phrasing. Each of the dozen or so songs presented without interruption is identified with the year it was written. Recent work primarily from Young’s 2010 Le Noise album make up at least half of those included though Young also reprises several gems: “Down by the River” from 1969, “I Believe in You” and “Ohio,” both from 1970. “Ohio” is powerful, presented with archival footage from the Kent State massacre and photographs of the four students killed.
Throughout Neil Young Journeys the songs provide the heart and soul of the film but the stops along the way add rich context and insight. For example, Young recounts with amusement and a bit of embarrassment eating tar as a child convinced that it would turn into chocolate and putting a firecracker up a turtle’s backside. He visits the lawn where he slept in a pup tent to be close to his chickens and demonstrates his signal his mother required every morning to confirm all was well. Neil points out a school he attended, named for his father, a talented creative writer who performed as the only white face in a minstrel show there. And there’s a sweet photo of Neil in a cowboy outfit, also used through the end credits.
Technically, cameras stay focused on Young, one at the mic shooting extreme close-ups is terribly unflattering but the others capture intense emotion and stay on Young’s mesmerizing face. The audience remains invisible for the film’s first half, overheard with polite applause only. Gradually they become more of a presence but never intrude. Demme controls the show: Young, singing, driving and telling stories. For Young fans, it’s a lovely gift. For one week only at Landmark’s Tivoli Theatre.