The scoop on Jonathan Demme’s “Neil Young Trunk Show”

While fictional biopics such as “Ray” and “Walk the Line” are worth your dollar if you want to see some great acting, I prefer to watch the actual musician(s) in their element. Being relatively young, I haven’t had the chance to catch some of my favorites live, so I get very excited when live DVDs and documentaries are announced. Still, those are often hit or miss. Thankfully, some filmmakers have, over the years, utilized techniques that really “capture” a performance in ways that even being attendance can’t produce. Take Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz,” for example, or more recently, Davis Guggenheim’s “It Might Get Loud.” Neil Young is an individual who puts everything he has into his live act. This requires actual “thinking” on his part, and over the years he’s began combining different forms of art into a traditional tour date. Jonathan Demme (director of “Silence of the Lambs” and “Rachel Getting Married) has long been fascinated by the rock verteran’s otherworldly presence on stage. So far, in his planned trilogy on Young, Demm’s released “Heart of Gold,” a concert film documenting a performance shortly after the release of Young’s album “Prairie Wind.” The second installment, “Neil Young Trunk Show,” looks just as captivating.

Trunk Show is subtitled “scenes from a concert,” specifically from a pair of shows Young performed at the 1927-built Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, as part of his intimate Chrome Dreams II theater tour in 2008. Onstage, he performed a full acoustic set, followed by a full electric one with bandmates Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Ralph Molina, Anthony “Sweetpea” Crawford and wife Pegi Young. He also had painter Eric Johnson creating on-the-spot works for each song. The stage was cluttered with “pre-digital” items, including a fan, DNC camera, and telephone.

Demme knew the set list, but says nothing was planned for the film. “Neil trusts me,” he says. Shot on hand-held cameras (HDCam, HDV and Super-8mm), Demme’s team included director of photography Declan Quinn (Rachel Getting Married, Leaving Las Vegas) and camera operators he’s worked with before.

Unlike the as-is sequence of Heart of Gold, for Trunk Show Demme jumbled the set list: the rare (”Mexico,” “Kansas,” “The Sultan”), the classics (”Cinnamon Girl,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “After the Gold Rush,” “Like a Hurricane”) and more recent (”No Hidden Path,” “The Believer”), and interspersed a few offstage moments to “ventilate the visuals” from the “claustrophobic indoors on the stage.” Those included Young’s entry to the Tower from a garbage-filled alley and the removal of a hangnail in his dressing room “He is completely unvain,” says Demme.

“Neil Young Trunk Show” will run at the Woodstock Film Festival but a nationwide release date hasn’t been announced. He’s one of the few “older guys” I really want to see live. Hopefully this film comes out soon to tide me over.


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