Review: Neil Young Journeys Premieres In Toronto

Demme’s latest rock doc is a confessional journey through Shakey’s storied past

When two passionate artists collide with like-minded visions, the result is a magical piece of filmmaking — art for art’s sake. This sums up Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme’s latest rock documentary, Neil Young Journeys, which premiered last night at the Toronto International Film Festival.

While people were gushing over material girl Madonna – who struck a pose on the red carpet around the block before her feature film W.E. – hometown hero Neil Young was in the audience at the Princess of Wales theater around the corner where Demme’s movie had its global debut.

Shortly before 7 p.m., Young entered the sold-out theater to a standing ovation; he was accompanied by an entourage of family and friends, including his wife Pegi.

Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder was also in the house early to watch the movie before exiting to lead his band in the second of two sold-out shows down the street at the Air Canada Centre. (The night before, Young joined the band on stage for their encore).

Demme shot most of the footage for the film this past May over two nights during Young’s stop at Toronto’s Massey Hall as part of his Le Noise solo tour.

After setting the scene with shots of Massey, the viewer takes a nostalgic ride with Young in his 1956 Ford Crown Victoria; Young gives the audience a tour of Omemee, a sleepy town northeast of Toronto where Neil’s parents moved in 1949 when he was just four–years-old; following his parent’s separation, his father Scott, a famous Canadian writer, remained in Omemee until his death in 2005.

Wearing a Manitoba Moose cap, Young gives us an intimate glimpse of his early childhood. Neil’s brother Bob joins him for parts of this tour.

Then, it’s time for Le Noise — that’s when it gets loud as the scene shifts to Neil’s Massey concerts. After the movie, Demme reveals that Neil insisted the film be shot in 96 kilohertz (apparently all movies are shot in 48 kilohertz). The footage shows Young perform most of the numbers from Le Noise, along with classics such as “Ohio,” “Down By The River,” “After the Gold Rush,” and “Hey, Hey My, My.”

The mercurial musician moves between two pianos, an organ and several of his famed electric guitars: his Gretsch White Falcon, his customimized Gibson Les Paul Goldtop (known as Old Black), and other classic acoustics. Demme’s deft directing makes sure every passionate note and nuance coming from Neil’s instruments are noticed.

One of the more touching numbers, among many highs, is a new song: “You Never Call,” where Young pays homage to his late friend Larry “L.A.” Johnson, who ran Neil’s film company (Shakey Pictures). The film ends with Neil playing some final notes on the piano and looking in the rearview mirror of his classic car heading down the highway.

Following the 90-minute film, which saw the audience as still as the giant Native American wood carving that played a central role in the film, Demme, 67, and Young, 65, came to the stage for an intimate dialogue.

Except for the same white straw hat he wore in the film, Young was dressed all in black: t-shirt, leather jacket, jeans, and boots. Sporting a wry smile, Young arrived munching on a box of popcorn. Before settling into the black leather lounge chair next to Demme, he bowed to the filmmaker best known for directing feature films Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia.

The audience was a mix of old friends and longtime fans. During the question and answer period, one woman revealed she was a grade-school classmate.

As the evening wound down, Young called up his longtime manager Elliot Roberts to take a bow as well for his role in the artist’s career.

Long may he run.

Neil Young Journeys is expected to arrive in theaters later this year.