Film director Jonathan Demme discusses new doc “Neil Young Journeys”
June 19, 2012 by Dana Feldman
by Dana Feldman
“I just love to film music, not just Neil Young music,” filmmaker Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, The Manchurian Candidate) says enthusiastically. “There’s a certain magic between live music and cameras when done a certain way,” he continues. With NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS being the latest in what has been deemed a trilogy of Neil Young documentaries in Demme’s film library, the director says of his fascination with Young, a man he calls a creative master, “There’s a certain facetiousness to it, it’s only a trilogy because there’s three.” When asked if he needed to do another on Neil Young, his answer was a simple, “This Young appreciator did!” Laughing, he quickly added, “We may not have needed it, but I’m sure glad to have it.”
The first was “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” in 2006, which was followed by “Neil Young Trunk Show” in 2009. “Not many artists can carry a film,” Demme says quite matter-of-factly. Shot with six cameras and four small icon cameras (the size of a small tape recorder) with a diverse mix of digital and film, the transitions of which are seamless, there is a unique look to the film that many say is unarguably visually spectacular. “We could attach the icons to places that a normal sized camera could never fit. This enabled us to film in such a way as to bring the audience as close as possible. And we had a camera dedicated solely to his guitar.”
It was in May of 2011 that Young drove a 1956 Crown Victoria from his hometown of Omemee, Ontario to Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall where he performed the last two nights of his solo world tour. It was on this drive that Young recounted memories from his youth with Demme there to capture it all. Weaved in with live performances of such classic hits as “Ohio” and “Hey Hey, My My” as well as previously unreleased songs “Leia” and “You Never Call,” the viewer joins Young as he recounts the journey of his life.
With its premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, Young fans had the opportunity to see him perform, for the first time in a long time, without a band. “On ‘Heart of Gold’ he had a full band with him and on ‘Trunk Show’ he had seven or so people on stage with him. With those films, we shot angles that captured the relationships he had with his band mates.” Further explaining his awe of Young, “So many of Neil’s songs are autobiographical and his new songs are very much about what he is feeling right now.” Massey Hall, the place where Young started off in the seventies, and returned to again recently, was something Demme wanted to capture. “There was a real opportunity to see Neil open up as well as an opportunity for the film to be very intense.” Putting Young in a car, a place in which Demme knows Young feels comfortable proved the perfect recipe for what was a very natural, organic film experience. “He’s obsessive about vintage cars, he has dozens.” Adding enthusiastically, “Neil Young is to me a very actively cinematic person. Everything about him lends himself to the camera.”
Asked if he feels that those not familiar with Young’s music might get something from seeing the film, he answers from the heart. “Well, my fantasy is that, of course, people might hear that this is a fantastic film and it will pique their interest and they’ll want to check this guy out.” Contemplating further, he quickly asks, “Why does anyone see anything and how do you get people to see any film?” With over twenty-seven feature films under his director and producer belt, films that have been nominated for twenty Academy Awards, he is certainly in a position to make any film he deems worthy. “There’s a line in a song that I’ve always been intrigued by, ‘There is a town in North Ontario’, and this inspired me to explore Neil Young.”
“I don’t think of NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS as a blockbuster, but it was an incredibly worthwhile experience. I don’t care about blockbusters either, not my thing, never was my thing.” Further explaining his choice to make documentaries, Demme says, “If I’m enthusiastic about something, hopefully others are, as well.”
Demme recently filmed a new documentary entitled “I’m Carolyn Parker” that will have its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. “After Katrina, I went to meet people who had lost their homes. I went there every three months or so and tracked down the individuals who refused to leave. This film is a portrait of an amazing woman.”
“Neil Young Journeys” is an official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival 2011 and the Slamdance Film Festival 2012. This film opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, June 29th, 2012 and is Rated PG with a runtime of 87 minutes. Watch the trailer here.