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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…