DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on Jonathan Demme’s terrific Neil Young documentaries

Neil Young in Heart of Gold

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In 2005, we almost lost Neil Young. Diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, the then-59-year-old songwriter went in for surgery, which was successful, but a few days later he collapsed in the street due to complications from the procedure. (He had to be revived by emergency personnel.) In interviews, Young tended to downplay the severity of what happened, but for anyone who’s loved his music, it was an alarming reminder that one of rock’s most prolific artists someday was going to stop producing new music.

Whether as a solo artist or with one of his side bands, Young has put out a new studio album or a live disc just about every year since 1966. But while many of them have been terrific, Young’s legacy isn’t defined just by the quality of his work but by the endless restlessness of his muse. Young’s health scare has prompted a lot of fans to appreciate him while he’s still around. Even better, it’s inspired director Jonathan Demme to produce three terrific Neil Young concert documentaries in the last six years that sum up his artistic importance as neatly as any biography could. The third installment opens on Friday. Even if you’ve seen the other two — especially if you’ve seen the other two — this one is a must.

It’s called “Neil Young Journeys,” and it’s superficially similar in format to the first two editions. 2006’s largely acoustic “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” and 2010’s mostly electric “Neil Young Trunk Show” focused on Young the performer, and while “Neil Young Journeys” does as well, there’s a healthy serving of Young off the stage, as he drives around his small Canadian hometown reminiscing about his youth. It’s not as if Young delivers devastating insights into his creative process during these drives, but they’re nonetheless incredibly valuable because they help paint a portrait of this somewhat loopy, entirely enjoyable oddball who seems to do everything with the same scruffy nonchalance. Like his music, the interviews are deceptively candid yet contain mysteries into the deeper meanings behind his plainspoken language.

But as with the earlier films, “Journeys” is chiefly about the music, and it’s a constant wonder. Each documentary has been built around a tour for a particular album — “Prairie Wind” in “Heart of Gold,” “Chrome Dreams II” in “Trunk Show,” “Le Noise” in “Journeys” — and while none of these records would be considered masterpieces, Young’s insistence on focusing on new music during these shows speaks volumes about his commitment not to live in the past. But at the same time, there is an undeniable sense of looking back in all three albums. (“Prairie Wind” was a response to his discovery of the brain aneurysm, and some of the material on “Chrome Dreams II” — which itself is a sequel to a 1970s album that he never ended up releasing — was written in the ‘80s.) By following Young on his trip home, “Journeys” feels the most complete in terms of suggesting his humble origins and the long road he’s taken to get to where he is now.

Demme’s secret weapon with this project has always been his willingness to emulate Young’s instinctive, organic approach. As well-intentioned and valuable as music documentaries like “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan” or “Marley” are, they tend to treat their subjects as deities, playing up their cultural importance while draining them of their vitality. Demme’s films have gone the complete opposite direction, living in the moment as Young shows us a different musical persona in each documentary. To match the gentle, elegiac quality of “Prairie Wind,” “Heart of Gold” is a polished, serene presentation of Young’s sentimental songs. For the bruising garage-rock of “Chrome Dreams II,” Demme turned to lower-grade video cameras for “Trunk Show,” which complemented the music’s rough-and-tumble immediacy. Now with “Journeys,” he’s made what could almost be described as a home movie — cozy but direct — that marvels at Young’s onstage presence, which remains as volcanic as ever. (It should be noted that Demme isn’t some novice when it comes to the concert film. His “Stop Making Sense,” a chronicle of the Talking Heads performing in 1983, is widely regarded as one of the greatest music documentaries of all time.) Demme and Young have known each other for a while — the musician contributed a song to the director’s “Philadelphia” — and there’s an unmistakable intimacy between the two that lends a casual richness to these movies. This is not easy to achieve: Young doesn’t do a lot of interviews and isn’t particularly warm and fuzzy when he does agree to one. But Young is relaxed and confident as he performs, barely noticing that the cameras are there. It’s like observing a wild creature in its natural habitat.

There’s an argument to be made that the world doesn’t need three Young concert documentaries. (After all, director Jim Jarmusch made his own Young documentary back in 1997, and Young himself has directed concert films as well.) But as Demme’s project has rolled along, I’ve been struck by the wisdom of the filmmaker’s decision to keep revisiting the musician. “I’m as predictable as a Holiday Inn when you really look at me,” Young told a reporter back in ’05. “I keep doing the same thing all over again. I just make records, and the records are usually some sort of turnabout from the last record.” In the same way, Demme’s films have honored Young’s tireless creativity, portraying his artistry as an ongoing process, an ever-evolving project that will only stop when Young is physically incapable of picking up an instrument. Demme isn’t trying to deify Young: He wants to depict him in all his messy, rumbling humanity. “Neil Young Journeys” is believed to be the final chapter for Demme. If that’s the case, he’s given all of Young’s fans a wonderful memento of a life lived for the joy of honing one’s craft. “All I know is, I don’t want to die,” Young said in that same ’05 interview. “I have a lot left to do. I don’t feel like people are giving up on me, and I won’t give up on them. So I’m just going to keep on doing whatever it is I do.” We’ve been lucky to have been along for the ride.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.