year of the horse
neil young and crazy horse live
dir. jim jarmusch
now showing at dendy cinemas
Below & Below Right: Jim Jarmusch and Neil Young
This documentary about Neil Young and his band of 30 years, Crazy Horse, is definitely one for the fans of 'the Horse', offering substantially more to them than it does to fans of Jim Jarmusch and his quixotic-quotidian, America-from-the-outside films. "Proudly shot on Super-8" Year of the Horse is for the most part, grainy and murky, which is a novelty that barely outlasts the band's charisma. Sadly, there is little behind the scenes to differentiate this rock group from all the other 60's dinosaurs still banging around. The raw beauty of Super-8 seems designed to cloak the ugly pores of present reality, to appeal to sentimental memories of the group and their music, which in my case, was distinctly lacking.
One gets the feeling Jarmusch embarked on this project as a deal or favour for his friend, Young, who provided the jarring soundtrack to Jarmusch's Dead Man. Unfortunately, the rest of the band have little to offer the camera besides bad hairstyles, inflated egos and a repetitive claim to 30 years of "maverick rock'n'roll". The subjects of this film have more paunch than charisma or charm. They strike a lonely trio on stage, so wrapped up in their music they seem to be playing to each other. Their audience is rarely glimpsed, seemingly trapped in an off-screen vacuum - unseen and unheard. The bass player Frank 'Poncho' Sampedro is an insanely proud yet insecure man, three times rebuking Jarmusch for being a trendy New York filmmaker, as if this somehow made him unqualified to document the band's 30 years together. Sampedro's resistance to Jarmusch seeds an equally resistant reception of the film. You come away with the perspective of an invited but intruding outsider rather than that all-important intimate insider's view.
The concert footage is unremarkable, shot mostly from bad angles allowing little movement. The simple cross-cutting and lack of tight closeups invites yawns in comparison to the interested, excitable camerawork of Pennebaker-Maysles rockumentarys. The candle-lit, blue smear of a stage matches the empty shots of the balding Horse determinedly strutting and stroking their equipment like masturbatory teens. Whilst I appreciate the distinctive look of this documentary, its essential failure as anything other than fan fare is its lack of spectacle beyond the scaly haze of Super-8 and the off-kilter opening credits. Towards the end of the film, Jarmusch splices some attractive footage of the 60s Young crooning Like a Hurricane, with a present-day performance of this signature song, but this brief glimpse of beauty only served to highlight what the film could have been, and signalled a half-hearted attempt on the filmmakers part, to give the film anything of himself. Overall, the screening was an impersonal experience that put a few to sleep, and failed to lift the back of youthful heads off the top of their seats.
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