Classic Rock Review

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Neil Young Year Of The Horse DVD (1997)


Review The method of Jim Jarmusch has worked, to this point, to minimalize the actor’s environment as means of accentuating the spoken word. Relationships are shared usually between the audience and an intimate few; 3 (Stranger Than Paradise), 2 (Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes), 1 (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai). Banter usually focuses on juxtaposing decisions made in the past with the decisions, although often not apparent, that are to be made within the quagmire of what is routine. Transient characters use expression and subsequent argument as the auteur’s mouthpiece to confront this routine. Year of the Horse is Jarmusch’s exception; rockumenting the band Crazy Horse and their lead man Neil Young on their 1996 world tour.

Jim Jarmusch, after teaming up with Neil Young for the soundtrack to his 1995 film Dead Man, has collaborated with Neil again, under the guise of Shakey Pictures, Neil Young’s pseudonym and label, to document Crazy Horse’s Broken Arrow tour. Old tour footage (1976 tour footage was directed and filmed by One West, the 1986 footage was taken from the film Muddy Track, a Shakey Picture, directed and filmed by Bernard Shakey) is included as means of juxtaposing the band’s transition in sound, set design and apparel, a testament to their consistency. The band – Neil Young (guitar/vocals), Ralph Molina (drums/vocals), Frank “Poncho” Sampedro (guitar/keyboards/vocals), and Billy Talbot (bass/vocals) – question Jarmusch’s ability to capture the essence of what truly is Crazy Horse as their tenure as grunge gods with an iconic leading man cannot be easily summarized. Or can it? “Some artsy-fartsy New York director gonna ask a bunch of stupid questions and pretend like you’re explaining what’s been a 30-year relationship.” Or can it?

As Crazy Horse’s tour meanders through the United States and Europe, Jarmusch’s camera documents each step of the way, the highlights of which allow the audience to witness a tour bus fight regarding the harmonies on the song Cortez the Killer, a hit off of the 1976 album Zuma. In fact, many of the references, and subsequent song and footage selection revolve around Zuma. Their 1976 tour/footage was captured while promoting the album, and the songs Barstool Blues and Stupid Girl both appear on the Year of the Horse set list, and are played admirably well some 20 years later. Jarmusch decided to use Super 8mm film stock to capture their 1996 concert footage, an obvious testament to the raw edginess to the band’s music. Behind the scenes footage is by way of interview, working as an homage to lives lost and as a celebration of continued success.

In an interview with Emmanuel Tellier from “Les Inrockuptibles” magazine, Neil intimates that with Year of the Horse “you can really feel the personal view of a film maker, and above all the movie is about the band. It’s more than a simple story; it’s an impression, a succession of feelings. I had the idea of doing this movie – I like this kind of stuff and I like to have a camera with me, but Jim made it possible…With Crazy Horse, we always work hard. Sometimes, people don’t understand how hard it is. Jarmusch’s film really shows that.”

The film’s set list, like its footage, is a blend of old favourites and new(er) tracks off of the bands 1996 Broken Arrow album. Neil says in the film that he “always hated calling the band Neil Young and Crazy Horse…we together are Crazy Horse.” The iconic frontman has wavered very little from his aptitude for great song writing, leadership that has kept this grunge band in check and sounding great for over twenty years.

Review This appears to be an effort to reflect the ragged, jagged, fuzzy, loose sound of Crazy Horse visually and attitudinally in a documentary. The film stock is low quality, the camera is hand-held and often jiggly, there’s lots of out-of-focus, grainy stuff, and the interviews and candid moments seem offhand and sometimes random. I don’t see why that couldn’t work in principle, but in this case it doesn’t amount to much. To me, at least, it isn’t that interesting visually or attitudinally because of any of those techniques. In fact, some people positively hate this film because of those techniques, so they may bother you too. However, there is some interesting stuff in the interviews, of a very basic sort. You get some flavour of what the band members are like and how they interact, and some history of how they got together.

The more valuable part of the film for me is the music. Most of it’s from 1996 concert performances, but there are some clips from earlier, back as far as the 70s, including a substantial part of “Like a Hurricane.” My favourite is “Tonight’s the Night,” which starts off with a quiet bass line and goes through several gritty stages, including some unusual guitar effects from Young. It’s introduced by interview bits about David Briggs, a producer and friend who died young of lung cancer, which sets a sober mood. The other songs are a mix of old and what was new in 1996: “F****n’ Up,” “Slip Away,” “Barstool Blues,” “Stupid Girl,” “Big Time,” “Tonight’s the Night,” “Sedan Delivery,” “My Girl,” “Like a Hurricane,” “Music Arcade.” They’re all well performed, with maximum energy.

The DVD chapters (on my copy, at least) don’t usually correspond to the beginning of a song, which is inconvenient for those who might want to hear the songs more often than the interviews and such that are between them.

There are three versions of this DVD available through Amazon right now. The one I have is a bare-bones region 1 Canadian version, UPC 774212009235, with a Warholish cover of four differently coloured versions of the photo of the midsection of Young playing guitar. The sound quality, in Dolby 2.0, is pretty good for a live concert. The image quality is supposed to be distressed, and it is. It’s nonanamorphic widescreen, meaning it will have black bars on the sides on a widescreen monitor, but given the generally low video quality, that hardly matters. The only extra is a trailer. (It’s worth checking the Canadian Amazon site for cheaper prices on this one.)

There’s a region-free Brazilian version that has Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 sound options, plus a photo gallery, biography and discography.

The US release has Dolby 2.0, 5.1 and DTS 5.1. It also has a 26-minute interview with Young and director Jarmusch, plus additional interview material with Crazy Horse. The additional stuff is said to be about as interesting as the stuff that’s in the interviews in the film itself, but I haven’t seen it. There’s also the trailer (and a couple trailers for other films). The DTS sound is said to be good, if you have the system required for it. The video is nonanamorphic widescreen. Obviously, of the three, the US release is the one to get if you can, but all these DVDs are out of print, and that version is currently the most expensive.

There’s also a 2-CD set called Year of the Horse, but the music on it isn’t the same as on the DVD.

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Year Of The Horse DVD | , | Leave a comment