If any working musician deserves a full-scale concert film, Neil Young has to be near the top of the list of worthies, but I'm pretty certain that Jim Jarmusch wasn't the man for the job. Actually, I can't think of anybody LESS suited to the task than Jarmusch, whose low-voltage directorial style is more John Cage than rock 'n' roll.As a fan of Jarmusch's breakout hit Stranger than Paradise, it pains me to say this, but Year of the Horse, a record of the 1996 tour of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, is almost a complete disaster. (Young tells us that the band should be known simply as Crazy Horse, but you don't need to know that, and quite frankly, I didn't either.) It's nearly two hours of poorly directed concert footage interspersed with poorly directed behind-the-scenes puffery.
The plan seems to have been to go for grungy, warts-and-all immediacy, and so the film is largely recorded in 8mm. This is to say that the movie looks like absolute crap. The concert segments are badly lit, and thanks to inept camerawork, Young's head keeps disappearing from the frame. After each song, we're treated to lots of trivial backstage business in which Young and company tell one another bad jokes and argue about no discernable subject. And it goes on--and on, and on--for around 110 minutes.
Jarmusch displays no imagination. During the concert sequences, we tend get lots of closeups of the lit candles lining the stage, and sometimes exterior shots of rolling clouds and suchlike--in other words, he doesn't have the slightest idea how to make this movie visually interesting. You begin to wish that he had called MTV for advice. At least Jarmusch has the good sense to show each song in its entirety, but this is rather small praise.
This film seems to have been made for the rabidly starstruck--the average fan does not care to see the band lolling around a convenience store. I think we're supposed to be charmed to learn that even Neil Young puts on his pants one leg at a time, but most of us knew that already. An old workhorse like him doesn't need this kind of anti-mythologizing treatment.There's no sign that Jarmusch is planning to make a career out of this sort of project. Fortunately for us, and fortunately for him.