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LAFF: Jonathan Demme Talks 'Passion for Filming Real Life,' Neil Young as 'Wandering Troubador' in 'Journeys' (VIDEO)

Features
by Anne Thompson
June 19, 2012 2:18 PM
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'Neil Young: Journeys'

New York flmmaker Jonathan Demme is showing at LAFF the latest film in his Neil Young concert trilogy, "Neil Young Journeys" (June 29), which debuted at Toronto. Demme likes alternating the long gestation and production periods necessary for fiction films with micro-budget documentaries. But good features are hard to find. "I can't dream up tentpole movies," he says. "I see these movies, many of them wonderful, like 'Iron Man.' I could never do that! It's a question of the necessity and passion for filming real life."

His latest music doc, picked up before Toronto by Sony PIctures Classics, follows 2006's "Heart of Gold" and "Neil Young Trunk Show" in 2009. SPC also released Demme's "Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains" and "Rachel Getting Married." "I've known them since the Orion days," says Demme, with such films as "Married to the Mob" and "Miami Blues."

Demme's love relationship with concert films began with the 1984 Talking Heads classic "Stop Making Sense." He saw the Talking Heads tour and tracked down David Byrne. "I was in the right place. We did it. The Heads never played live together after those shows."
 
And Demme's love of Neil Young goes back to the start of his music-making in the late 60s. Young wrote the end-title song for "Philadelphia"; Demme met the musician soon after, who told him he'd love him to shoot a music video someday. "Then I saw 'Greendale,'" says Demme, and contacted Young, who called him again six months later. He wanted to turn "Greendale" into a film, but Demme was already in pre-production on "The Manchurian Candidate."
 

Later Young called Demme and told him he was finishing his album "Prairie Wind," which became the basis of their moving Nashville concert movie "Heart of Gold." "That show was never performed anywhere else, only the two nights," says Demme. "The whole thing was hand-crafted. It was just magic." The costumes and backdrops in the show were custom-made. Demme also shot four shows of the 40-city Chrome Dreams world tour for "Trunk Show." Warners has yet to release the DVD, says Demme: "It's frustrating."

Demme and Young reunited at Toronto's Massey Hall in May 2011. Young performed a mix of old and new songs solo with an acoustic and an electric guitar and three keyboard songs. "There was no nobody," says Demme.

But the director wanted to shoot more than a concert doc, so he took Young on the road in his 1956 Ford Crown Victoria from his home town of Omemee, Ontario to Toronto. "He makes me think of what wandering troubadors must have been like," says Demme. "Like a Shakespeare company going around with new material by the same author. He has an amazing team of people who make it possible. He's an authentic creator, confident performing; he doesn't censor himself."

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