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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Comment of the Moment: Jonathan Demme Double Feature Weekend: Neil Young's Complex Sessions + Trunk Show

Neil Young and His Band
via Jonathan Demme's Concert Film Trunk Show

This past weekend on Screen #2 in Hearse Theater of Neil Young Archives, a Jonathan Demme Double Feature was streamed of the films Complex Sessions (1994) and Trunk Show (2009).

Jonathan Demme's concert film Trunk Show from the 2007 tour has been long sought for years for a proper re-release and folks were not disappointed judging by some of the rapturous comments. But before getting to the Comment of the Moment, a couple of runnerup CotMs to mention.

Photo by Larry Cragg

First, a comment by Scotsman who compares Tim Pope's London Hammersmith concert film with Demme's Trunk Show.
No Hidden Path (with extended fizzling guitar solos that sound like fissures erupting in the Earth) is a highlight of both shows, but whatever it sacrifices in pure unbridled energy at the penultimate London show is made up for in musical sharpness and focused intensity - the sense that the guitar solos have their own story to tell and journey to take us on. Thankfully we now have had the chance to enjoy both films, on their own merits. But for me, Tim Pope's London is the most captivating of the two films.
Definitely an interesting an analysis of the two filmmakers and their approach to capturing Neil Young in concert, so be sure to check out Scotsman's full comment.


Second, a response to Scotsman's analysis by Dan S.:
I agree with Scotsman that London creates a more compelling concert experience. Yet Trunk Show manages to create a slightly more intimate experience, although in a truncated fashion. I actually loved both films equally but for different reasons, and extremely happy that Neil plans to release both films commercially.

Trunk Show's Mission: "To blow your eardrums out"

Now the Comment of the Moment on Jonathan Demme Double Feature Weekend: Neil Young's Complex Sessions + Trunk Show by Mister Henry:
Who Is Watching

"We are not souls dwelling in a body. We are bodies dwelling in the soul."

--Tiokasin Ghosthorse

When my grandsons are older, I can watch Trunk Show with them.

I can tell them how we saw the show in Boston just a few days before this was filmed, when Pegi opened for Neil and then sang with the band. When Ben and Rick rocked like kids in the garage and No Hidden Path was even longer and more glorious than this one, or maybe it was just me and their uncle being there to see it and hear it and be there.

I can tell them how the man who directed this film was a charming and creative person, how he came to Boston to show the film he made and talk to everyone there about it, tell them about being there when he talked about his decision to put more cameras there and that he was one of the people filming the show. About how he illustrated his method by having his friend Robyn Hitchcock perform a song and asking anyone with a camera--back then it was not that common and often forbidden to have one at a concert--to film Robyn's performance and send the video to him, he'd try to include it with his own film of the performance using lots of his own cameras to get a feeling of how people experience live music.

I can tell them this was a different way to film music, before live streams and DIY shows and whatever else has happened since then. That they were doing something a little bit different that maybe caught on and gave us a chance to see how it was. That every film is really a bit of time travel but mostly it's what you're seeing right now and how that can be a part of the present and the past. That I sat one morning thinking of them and our family while trying to find words to describe how it felt to be there.

I can tell them how wonderful and also sad the songs about Carrie seemed then and even more so now. How watching Neil with Pegi and Ben and Rick can make you happy even when you're thinking that they're gone. How knowing that Jonathan and Elliot were such a big part of this and they're gone was part of my reason for appreciating this now while I'm thinking of them and what we might do later. How Neil had this film that lots of people wanted to see because the music is great and the performers were amazing and he decided to show it at just the right time.

Sometime later I can tell them how it was dedicated to a friend who was part of so many wonderful films, how he was a great buddy to Ben and his family. I can tell them about the people who are gone and are still here when we watch and think and talk about them. How music is like love and life is our song. Then we'll watch and listen and be there again.
Thanks Mr Henry, Scotsman, Dan and all for sharing your thoughts and comments!

And what did we think?! Well, we were there for the filming of Trunk Show both nights for Neil Young @ Tower Theater, Philadelphia, PA Concert Reviews on Dec. 9 & 10, 2007 and here's our concert review.

Neil Young @ Tower Theater, Philadelphia, PA Concert Reviews on Dec. 9 & 10, 2007
Concert Review by thrasher

photo by thrasher

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


At 5/19/2020 03:40:00 PM, Blogger Kevin D. said...

Interested thread with well thought out comments regarding Trunk Show and other JD NY concert movies. Thrasher I also find your Blue-Ray compromise offer to be a good one also. For me as far as these films are concerned while good and great to watch to me seem to lack a certain something. To be honest I find this with all of JD concert movies including Stop Making Sense which is often mentioned as the best concert movie ever.

I fully accept I am likely in the minority here but to me I find Rust Never Sleeps and Silver and Gold the most enjoyable NY concert movies. Maybe it could be argued that I am comparing apples and oranges but to me both these films hit the sweet spot. Rust Never Sleeps pulls me into the arena and feel part of the audience. The film includes shots from the back, the front, above, the stage out to the audience, behind the massive speakers and from the side lines. For Silver and Gold there are no shots of the audience but you know they are there and I find Neil's solo set full of feel. Like a previous thread a little while ago I agree Neil's Silver and Gold album and tour is somewhat under rated.

Going back to JD NY films Journeys is a great set as is Heart Of Gold but the close focus on Neil included in Journeys while interesting for me gets in the way of the show. Again this is just personal preference but I hope you find an interesting counter point to this whole discussion.

Lastly one final point since I mentioned JD Stop Making Sense, I would argue that The Last Waltz is the greatest concert movie again for similar reasons I like Rust Never Sleeps. Kevin D. in Morro Bay

At 5/19/2020 03:54:00 PM, Blogger Devan said...

"What makes a good concert film" is an interesting question with no clear answers. As someone more invested in the filmmaking side of things, my #1 criteria is "is this a good piece of film art?" to which Demme, I think, succeeds wildly when he's good; I'm in the camp that thinks Stop Making Sense is the height of the genre for this reason. Trunk Show is a great example of this, too; it's a film where the creative process behind it and final structure are the work of someone who's put a whole lot of thought into creating a captivating piece of film art that expresses the essence of his subject. It's not about documenting the concert, but about creating an art object.

On the other hand, Rust Never Sleeps, London, and Silver & Gold are good examples of films whose purpose is to (more or less) faithfully document a show as it happened. I personally find these less captivating, but I can also totally understand where folks who prefer these are coming from. I think Rust Never Sleeps is the best live performance Neil ever put on film, but I think Trunk Show is the best film ever made out of a Neil live performance.

At 5/19/2020 10:58:00 PM, Blogger Gary A. Lucero said...

I'm usually a bigger fan of Neil's rock than his more acoustic stuff, not that I don't love both, but I'm definitely not much of a fan of No Hidden Path or Spirit Road, and didn't care for Like a Hurricane in The Trunk Show either.

What really hit me hard were the acoustic numbers and the softer stuff. Some amazing playing and singing by all involved. The LOOOONNNGGG wait was worth it for the handful of amazing songs played.

At 5/20/2020 05:00:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...


I agree with much of your comment, but the point is that the art of this tour was already right there in Neil's music. Art on top of art doesn't necessarily make more art. Two plus two sometimes equals one.

And for an artist like Neil where the sometimes-tense interaction with the audience is part of his art, essentially deleting the atmosphere of the venue and the audience from the film (to the point where the direction sometimes makes us feel Neil is completely alone in the room) is a bit like taking a goldfish and putting it in a tree. Does it really capture the essence of the subject?

I think the essence was there in the room, and Trunk Show (and Journeys, even more so) mostly eliminates it.

That doesn't mean I think there is no place for re-ordering the setlist, but in this case I think the original shows with their sense of build-up and atmosphere were a stronger work of art than the re-imagined version as presented on Trunk Show.

Most high-profile, mainstream-targeted concert films mix up the setlist because the director doesn't think an audience has the attention span to watch 14 acoustic songs in a row and then 10 electric ones. It needs more variation.

I disagree, particulary if the audience is mostly hardcore Neil Young fans. And anyone who has the patience to read any of my comments will find watching a 2 hour+ concert film no problem whatsoever.

So we largely conclude in the same way. Tim Pope's London might not be as good a film as Trunk Show, but I think it is a better Neil Young film. Tim Pope has his own artful methods, but he also doesn't lose the essence of what was there in the Hammersmith Odeon to start with.


At 5/20/2020 05:13:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Gary: Like A Hurricane is my favourite of Neil's electric epics, but it sort of went MIA for a decade between 2003 and 2013.

In most instances, Neil seemed to be struggling to really connect with it. Perhaps starting a new relationship inspired its renaissance, or perhaps listening to an old version in the Archives re-inspired him. But either way, there have been some back-on-form versions with Crazy Horse and POTR (who I think are a far more engaging band when one of the guitarists moves across to the keys) in the years since then.

You bring up an interesting point. I'm a big fan of No Hidden Path (although the sharp London version has the edge on Trunk Show, I think), but this band were more suited to the rest of the electric material when Chad Cromwell returned in summer 2008.

I think you are right, the intimate solo acoustic performances were the highlight of these earlier shows.


At 5/20/2020 05:21:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

A lot of good points I think Kevin. I imagine a lot of people agree about Rust Never Sleeps in particular.

The Silver And Gold show is quite beautiful, and there is a decent audience audio recording of this show out there that has numerous other songs that didn't make the final edit. The audience tape captures some of the reverb in the room, giving the tape a dream-like sound which suits this style of music.

I'd like to see a Director's Cut of Silver And Gold (with you being the director and preferably including every song).


At 5/20/2020 09:10:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Times Contrarian has a new Fireside Sessions Barnyard Sessions post dated 5/20/20 with a link to the Hearse Theater Screen 1 but it still takes you to Sessions IV

Here on the east coast I have noticed that new Hearse Theater stuff appears at 10:00am east coast time...interesting

At 5/20/2020 09:18:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Barnyard Edition sorry...can't wait

At 5/20/2020 10:30:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

hell yes! another 30 minutes with Neil & Daryl!

At 5/23/2020 02:57:00 PM, Blogger Mister Henry said...

Thank you for everything, always an honor to get a Comment of the Moment!

Rock the little babies with one two three four
--Sleater Kinney


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