[Jonathan Demme talks about his new film and how to shoot Robyn Hitchcock at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, March 1, 2010. Photo by Michael Piantigini]
So hand-held camera fan-shot concert films are a thing now, but most of them aren't directed by Jonathan Demme.
Neil Young Trunk Show isn't strictly speaking fan-shot (well, they're probably fans too, right?), but the effect is similar. Last night at the venerable Coolidge Corner Theatre (who are honoring Demme this year with their 2010 Coolidge Award), speaking before what was described as the final print of the film (though it has been kicking around for nearly a year since it premiered at last year's SXSW), Demme talked about his minimal direction to his camera crew, who he said were all musicians. Shoot what you want for as long as you want. What Demme put together from what they shot can only be described as intimate, trite as that sounds. It is, though, intimate in all the right ways: sometimes you're pumping your fist in the third row, sometimes you're backstage watching the tour doctor help Young out with an errant fingernail, and other times, you're there on stage with him.
Ultimately, though, it's all about that tone. That particular alchemy that Neil Young teases out of his fingers on his strings (he's usually not using a pick), through that mysterious magic industrial pedal board, and through that amp at the back of the stage tha that looks like part of an old console stereo you used to see in your grandparents' attic. There's a good mix in the film of Young's acoustic balladry ("Ambulance Blues,") and, yes, there's a few obvious hits ("Like A Hurricane"), but the centerpiece of the film is the 20 minute "No Hidden Path" from 2007's Chrome Dreams II, which stands up to any of Neil Young's epic guitar orgies. Wish I was at the show.
Demme re-created his Trunk Show approach last night by bringing previous documentary subject and pal, Robyn Hitchcock along with him and inviting anyone in the audience with a video camera to record his performance. We got some decent footage of his one song set of "Born On The Wind" from the new album by Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3, Propellor Time. There doesn't seem to be a US release planned for Propellor Time at the moment, but the UK version is being done by Sartorial, so you can check it out over there. It isn't clear how or where to send the footage, but I'll certainly let you know if it gets used!
When was the last time you sat in a theater and watched a whole concert film, by the way? Been awhile for me. For a long time, it seems, these sorts of things are experienced on DVD at home, while you're half paying attention. Worth trying again, I say.
ALSO WORTH YOUR ATTENTION: The radio station that is everything that radio stations are supposed to be, WFMU of Jersey City, NJ, is heard around these parts and worldwide on the internets and on their incredible new version 2.0 of their iPhone app - is just starting up their once per year two-week fundraising drive. Unlike most fundraising drives, WFMU's are a blast to listen to and the swag you get for pledging is nothing short of mind-blowing. I personally can't wait to get my hands on Tom Scharpling's Best Show on WFMU premium the "Chump Steamroller Fun Pack" that features an all-star DVD among many other things (and tune in tonight to hear Ted Leo among other guests), and the CDs curated by Boston-area native Evan "Funk" Davies, and Cherry Blossom Clinic hostess Terre T., among so many others. Oh, look! You can give right here: