Sunday, October 4, 2009


Ten years ago at the first Woodstock Film Festival, Jonathan Demme screened his Talking Heads performance film STOP MAKING SENSE, so it makes perfect sense to screen his latest film, NEIL YOUNG'S TRUNK SHOW, at this year's Woodstock Film Festival tenth anniversary. Demme's enthusiasm is contagious, spreading over the audience like wildfire during the introduction, saying he wanted to capture the "energy of the rock and roll show" starting from scratch in making art and putting it on film that would create a satisfying emotional experience. And that's exactly what happens watching Neil Young rock away on tour through his direction.

Demme's earlier film with Neil Young was HEART OF GOLD, a tightly coordinated collaboration with Young providing his own creative insights into the filmmaking process. This time around, the directorial undertaking unfolds with Demme focusing on all aspects of the staging during a tour stop at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA. Built in 1927, the theater was a vaudeville house one of the area's first movie houses and since the 1970s has been a venue for music concerts. It is known for its natural acoustic properties and used in the past for recording live albums. Neil Young booked many theaters like this on his tour paying homage to the spirits of past performers and theatrical performances that linger among the collection of equipment and items that sometimes have no meaning other than they come out of Neil Young's trunk. It feels like a painting, a still life set up with appropriate lighting, elements making up the scene, an artist ready to capture it all on canvas. And then the music explodes.

As part of the intro, Demme warned the audience that if they don't like Neil Young, electric guitars, a 22-minute electric guitar rendition or very loud rock music, they should leave the theater before the start of the film. And then it begins, rocking hard and loud, later the acoustic guitar is brought in, harmonic sounds as Neil Young communes with the past and the present. His music is an emotional journey through the epic, long distance, hard core blaring electric guitar, then back down into the acoustics all along resonating that satisfying, draining, emotional experience.

NEIL YOUNG'S TRUNK SHOW embodies the musician heart, mind and soul with an astute filmmaker's eye that mixes sight and sound with a combination of cameras, digital and stock footage into a blend- some grainy, hi def, full of lighting and shadow design adding to the performance itself and highlighting rarely-heard selections from Neil Young's proverbial "trunk". Great stuff. Long live rock!

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