Forget Crosby, Stills and Nash and maybe even Crazy Horse. Jonathan Demme might be Neil Young’s ultimate collaborator.
The third tête-à-tête between the “Philadelphia” filmmaker and the “Ohio” classic rocker, “Neil Young Journeys” opens with Neil driving around “a town in north Ontario,” the home of his early youth. We’re riding with him in the back seat of a 1956 Crown Victoria that looks as big as a cruise ship and sounds like the rumble from an Iron Range mine.
The real ride, however, begins a few minutes later when the rock legend plugs in his similarly bulky and even more guttural Gretsch guitar with us seated right at his feet. Buckle up and hold on.
Filmed around the Toronto finale of his 2010-’11 solo tour, “Journeys” is one of the most close-up concert films of all time. Not only are the scenes at Young’s childhood haunts remarkably intimate (and often funny), there are moments on stage when you can see the singer’s dental work or guess how many hours it had been since his last shave. (Yeah, not so funny.)
For casual Young fans, he plays a handful of The Hits, including solo versions of “Ohio,” “Down by the River,” “Hey Hey My My” and an organ-pumping “After the Gold Rush.” For the treasure seekers, there are powerful versions of tracks from the 2010 Daniel Lanois-produced “Le Noise” album plus several surprises, including the old nugget “I Believe in You” and a touching, still-unreleased piano ballad, “Leia.” As with the last Young-Demme movie, 2006’s “Heart of Gold,” this one is haunted by a recent death (Young’s longtime pedal-steel whiz Ben Keith) and carries a somber, sentimental undertone. Adding to that vibe is a mini-documentary on the four Kent State shooting victims, included to set up “Ohio” – further proof that Young, 68, is not one to put an expiration date on a cause.
Best of all, the song finds Young still very much in his prime. His voice stands up as strong and distinctive as that Crown Vic, and his guitar playing is more deeply felt than any crash or bang served up in those Spider-Man or Batman movies. Dare it be said, “Journeys” has the coolest superhero on screen this summer.