Published on May 10th, 2013 | by Clint Davis
Neil Young Journeys 
Summary: Jonthan Demme's third Neil Young documentary feels unnecessary and unplanned, but Young's intimate performance is so raw that it's worth a watch for fans.
PG | 86 min.
Director: Jonathan Demme
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Director Jonathan Demme obviously has a thing for Neil Young. Most filmmakers won’t put together a trilogy unless there’s pressure from studio executives to recreate a box office success–Demme just likes hanging out with the legendary Canadian rocker. So much so that he’s done three documentary/concert films profiling his life and work…and who knows if he’s finished?
2011’s Neil Young Journeys follows the director’s previous installments, 2006’s Neil Young: Heart of Gold and 2009’s Neil Young Trunk Show. I missed the trio’s second installment but I was a huge fan of Heart of Gold–to me, it was a great marriage because Demme is a hell of a filmmaker and Young is among the greatest artists in music history. However, when watching Journeys, I felt it didn’t execute anything quite as well as its predecessor.
I hesitate to identify Journey as much more than a Neil Young concert film because a live performance is by far the majority of the film’s content. Unfortunately, this movie is billed as a documentary featuring insight into Young’s life through a road trip from his hometown of Omemee, Ontario to his concert at Massey Hall in Toronto. These segments are what left me feeling underwhelmed about the film.
If Journeys had been created as a straight concert movie, it would have been closer to a 4-star rating because Young leaves it all on stage. His Massey Hall performance is pure passion–there’s no Crazy Horse or Stray Gators on backup, this is just a man and his tunes.
Novice Neil Young fans will likely feel left out by the setlist as it consists mostly of tunes from his 2010 release Le Noise. He does perform some classics, including “After the Goldrush”, “My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)”, and a powerful guitar-only version of “Down by the River”. Young also does his iconic track “Ohio” with Demme inserting footage from the Kent State shootings that inspired the tune–I understood this choice but it felt out of place with the rest of the film as it’s the only song you get any real backstory on. It would have been an interesting move to give more insight into why the songs were written and what inspired them, instead “Ohio” is the only song that gets this treatment.
It’s not that Journeys is a sub-par movie, it just felt like they had no map to guide them along. During the segments in Young’s classic LincVolt, he tells meandering stories that don’t really go anywhere. There are no revealing stories of painful or even joyous moments of his life, instead one of the more memorable tales involved an adolescent Young blowing up a turtle by “sticking a firecracker up its ass”. These off-stage portions serve as a total contrast to the performance portions as the former features laughs and smiles while the latter segments are very stark and serious. I couldn’t help but feel that Demme just grabbed some cameras, started filming his friend, and hoped something would develop.
For big Neil Young fans, Journeys should at least be seen once because it’s a showcase for how strong his songwriting skills still are, plus a testament to his prowess as a guitar player. The concert performance at its heart is powerful, but will likely alienate people who only know the tunes they hear on radio. Demme is a skilled music documentarian but something about Journeys just feels half-baked. Meanwhile, its subject once asked us, “Are You Passionate?”–Clearly, he still is.