Film Scouts Reviews

"Year of the Horse"

by Karen Jaehne

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It's quintessentially hip. Neil Young and Crazy Horse in a rock-doc by Jarmusch should bring us to our knees. Of course, this is a film buff's perspective. If you're a Neil Young fan, you realize that most of Young's fans don't know Jim Jarmusch or his film "Dead Man," that Young so kindly scored. Rock 'n' roll is a helluvalot bigger than indie film, which is why the rockumentary exists (and why "Spinal Tap" is better filmmaking but "Last Waltz" is better music).

Jarmusch is also smart enough to realize it, and he tries to cover his tracks by showing us the skepticism of Poncho Sampedro three times! Three times?! Clearly, Jim is running scared, because Poncho is right. How can you get to the heart of what it has taken these musicians 25 years of hard music and even harder living to work out?

Is music more real than film? Young's greatest tribute came with his Academy Award nomination for the title song of "Philadelphia" - when Bruce Springsteen picked up the Oscar, he admitted that the real survivor, Neil Young, deserved it.

Jarmusch pursues the riddle: why is Crazy Horse the ideal band for Neil Young? The answer is easy: they are as hip as he is and uninhibited by his reputation, because they know how much in-put they had into that rep. The rest is history. And that's the part that Jarmusch just can't get at. Sure, there's footage from 1976, reminding us how haunted but good-looking Neil Young once was and why rock bands make bad hotel guests (setting flowers on fire). And there's footage from 1986, and the 1996 tour - and the guitars, up close and personal.

There is a magic in the way they break down a song, playing it until the song disintegrates and disappears behind one zen-like chord that they play, driving it right through the middle of your forehead. Jarmusch also has enough respect for the music to incorporate complete performances, not snippets, and provides us with two performances of "Like a Hurricane."

The heart of the film is Neil Young singing "I'm still living the dream..." Yes, he seems to be, and he's showing the wear and tear of the "dream" and the lifestyle we all had as hippies. It was cool, but gets harder as you grow up, as you have kids and take on responsibility. Neil Young fans know about Young's work to provide toy trains for kids with special needs -- and that Young has two such kids. Nothing so personal shows up in the film. We only see Neil Young, the last surviving ur-hipster, singing every song as if it's his last.

"I'm still living the dream..." may well be his reply to John Lennon's "The dream is dead." Which is why we love him and follow him and intuitively agree with Poncho's dismissal of Jarmusch: how can you ask two questions and get to the heart of something so complex? Jarmusch reads him the Bible and explains the difference between the Old and New Testaments. (Is Neil putting him on?)

For all of his reputation as a tyro terrible, Jarmusch just doesn't have the miles on him to penetrate the fame and psychosis behind Young and Crazy Horse's stratospheric success and regular retreat. Maybe it takes an Oliver Stone, but then, he's been there, done that.

Today Young seeks his sanity in a privacy comparable only to that other great Canadian recluse/musician, Glenn Gould. (Somebody ought to look into the genius of that Northern thing...)

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