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In a fairer world, it would have been the great Neil Young, not U2, given the honour of TIFF’s opening night gala. The man’s one of our own and his new concert film, Neil Young Life, was even shot here.
This past May, Young played a solo show at Massey Hall, one of the music world’s most treasured venues (and this scribe’s favourite). On hand, filming the performance for posterity, was famed director Jonathan Demme, the man behind one of the best rock concert movies ever, Talking Heads’s Stop Making Sense.
At times in Life, it seemed Demme himself had stopped making sense, by being fixated on close-ups. Shots solely of Young’s mouth and chin occupied the full screen for long periods, as if Demme was trying to bring gravitas to the singer/songwriter’s grizzled features. Similarly, the distorted camera work to metaphorically accompany all the drug references as during the song “Hitchhiker” was a mite trite.
Far better were shots of the exterior of Massey Hall. Also integrated nicely into the film was footage of Young exploring old haunts in Omemee, the small Ontario town in which he grew up. His recollections were full of characteristic sly humour. Citing the time he “killed a turtle by sticking a firecracker up its ass,” current enviro proponent Young admitted, “I guess I wasn’t quite green, then.” Demme’s decision to return to Omemee as the credits rolled to the sounds of “Helpless” (which notably mentions “a town in North Ontario…” ) was a master stroke.
The music itself was typically riveting stuff. Early iconic numbers like “After the Gold Rush,” “Down by the River,” and “Ohio” (accompanied by footage of the Kent State shootings) were all revisited, though the bulk of the set came from Neil’s Grammy-award winning 2010 album, Le Noise. The fact that the man’s writing new songs on a par with 40-year-old classics is truly remarkable.
As well as attending TIFF to do promo for Life, Neil caught up with his pals Pearl Jam, joining them onstage at the ACC for his anthemic “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.” Long may he rock. Not sure if Neil looked up John Lydon here. After all, Johnny Rotten has a key role in Young’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” a late-’70s tune reprised in Life. Johnny was being rotten to journalists here, cancelling interviews because he was “tired.” Price of anarchy, I guess.
Few TIFF films could have boasted a stronger trio of lead actors than The Eye of the Storm. Directed by Australian Fred Schepisi (Plenty, Six Degrees of Separation), it features Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine), fellow Australian star Judy Davis and Charlotte Rampling. The latter plays a domineering matriarch on her deathbed, jousting with her expatriate offspring (Rush and Davis). The high-society Sydney scene of 1972 is depicted with insight and humour, and the performances of stars and supporting cast alike is exemplary. Schepisi likely has fond memories of TIFF, having premiered his early feature The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith here back in ’78. He and Rush have a new Toronto connection, as they’ve just signed on to, respectively, direct and star in the film version of T.O.-spawned musical The Drowsy Chaperone.
For disgraced entertainment impresario Garth Drabinsky (Livent), TIFF has been the best and worst of times. Days after strolling the red carpet here at the premiere of Barrymore, a film he produced, his earlier conviction for fraud was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal and he’s reportedly headed to the slammer. Sounds like a good script for a movie!
Image courtesy of TIFF.