When I started Journey Through the Past, I remember wanting to do something other than records and touring. I was sure that spending time away would be good for my music. I think it was.
Actually, making JTTP was a pure joy for me. I was not trying to impress anyone with my film making prowess and I succeeded. Filmed with David Meyers as Director of Photography, it was a joy! I was just trying to paint a picture, a non linear expression with my friends, Larry Johnson, Jeanne Field, Mazzeo, McCracken and others. Carrie Snodgress , my partner, was supportive as ever and we were not trying to do anything other than follow the muse - exactly what I had always tried to do with my music.
Nothing was off limits. My own imagination was the guide, just as with my songwriting. I was not aware that I had opened myself up to criticism any more than I had with my songs. It just didn’t matter. I was new then and nobody really knew me. I had not been analyzed and pontificated upon. I was just doing what came naturally - having a great time with my friends, spending my own money because I had no script and did not want to present my ideas to anyone for approval. I was never at that stage.
Film making for me was just another form of expression, another way to pass the time in the vibrancy of my young and innocent life. I put it all in, everything that mattered to me, with no attempt to judge or manipulate to tell a story.
‘Journey through the Past’ will screen in the Hearse Theater
Hoping to Journey Through the Past again!
It's been almost 30 years since I've seen this, so my memories are very foggy. It's comprised of lots of footage of Neil Young and band members (including Crosby, Stills and Nash) in concert and rehearsing (I can clearly remember them rehearsing the song "Alabama" in a barn somewhere in Alabama). But the film is mostly a cornucopia of Neil Young's eye view of the rural South circa 1972. Lots of rainy footage from the band's bus: that sort of thing. There's footage of an American Legion meeting with a rather healthy, corn-fed, white audience singing "God Bless America". That's interspersed with footage of the poverty-ridden conditions of the neighboring black towns (the South was still very segregated, and there were still significant numbers of people living in what was akin to Third World living conditions). There are two other scenes that I can recall. One is a scene with Neil and his wife (girlfriend?) eating strawberries, which is only memorable because it's so lonnnnng! The other scene is a very trippy one, with guys dressed up as Ku Klux Klan members riding on horses on a beach, while the soundtrack from "King of Kings" is playing. Outrageous and fantastic! As memory serves, I don't think it was a great film, but it was a rare opportunity to see glimpses of America not shown by Hollywood or on television. And if you're a fan of Neil Young, it's a chance to see him performing relatively early in his career. I think the film would be more essential to audiences today, because while the new young generation is always putting down on the "hippie" generation of the sixties, they've no idea what it REALLY was like, and how much it has changed - thanks to activists who fought the system and demanded change.
I had the soundtrack record to this back in the seventies. It was quite good! It's a shame it was never released on CD. A CD of that, and a DVD of this film is long overdue!
Any fan of Young's artistic waywardness will find this enjoyable.
Having been a fan of Neil Young for several years, I never thought I'd get the opportunity to see this rare film. However - a bit of online sifting is all it takes nowadays, and Journey Through The Past is out there as a BitTorrent. Not sure if this is something IMDb condone, but I'm sure they'll let me know by deciding whether to post that or not! The copy I've found is clearly from an nth generation videotape (how it found its way on to any videotape I'm sure is a story in itself, as the film never found commercial release outside of the few cinemas that showed it) and the picture is washed-out, occasionally wobbly but essentially watchable. Basically no worse than finding a vintage first-issue Chainsaw Massacre tape, or any video nasty of a similar age.
The film itself has had a reputation over the years for being poorly conceived and poorly received; an incoherent navel-gazing exercise that probably didn't even make much sense to Young once the pot wore off. What must be considered, though, is that much the same was said of Young's '73-'75 album releases in their day, and much of his music from that "Dark Period" is now held to be among his strongest work. Hence my summary headline above; if you appreciate the myriad tangents that Young went off on during his 1970s recorded work, then you'll at least know where this film's coming from.
In more detail then, Journey Through The Past is part-documentary of Young's first five-six years as a recording, touring artist; and smaller parts road movie and surrealist fantasy. If you consider these three aspects together, you might get a sense of why this film reminds me on more than one occasion of Werner Herzog's late 60s-early 70s work, particularly Fata Morgana (there's even some brief desert scenes here among the fantasy sequences). That is, of course, if Herzog suffered a serious whack on the head and lost all of his directorial and editorial talent in a month-long amnesia; Young was no great movie-maker at this early stage in his career (and judging by Human Highway a decade later, probably wouldn't learn much more).
But therein lies a lot of the film's charm; when you hold this up against, say, Led Zeppelin's rather pompous Song Remains The Same, Journey Through The Past does have a lot going for it in its homespun unpretentiousness and intimacy. The countercultural-political sequence of the film, about 45 minutes in, might be clumsily handled, but you kind of get the idea. There's a fair amount of goofy comedic material here too, from a grinning Buffalo Springfield camping it up in a TV spot, to Graham Nash in a dapper gold waistcoat calling for the legalization of marijuana (after identifying a drummer-rolled joint at first sight), to a hard-hatted Young clambering around in a scrapyard then later giving some Jesus Freaks a pricelessly deadpan baiting.
And of course, if you want some electrifying footage of early CSN&Y, it's here providing arguably the highlight of the movie; you'll wish this footage went on for much longer. Much proof is provided that Stephen Stills was possibly the coolest human being in the universe during the early 70s. The 'Harvest' rehearsals do drag on a bit (thankfully not to the sheer tedium that they went to on the soundtrack album) but are still an interesting snapshot of Young's work-in-progress at the time. And if you're left bemused by the bearded wanderer/junkie, black hooded Klansmen, and the bishop, the general and their chauffeur in the fantasy sequences, I wouldn't take it too seriously. Young did pass it off as "No plot. No stars". Enjoy this film primarily as a great rock documentary. Seek it out!
Early Neil Young as Reality TV
This is an odd film to digest. Fans of Neil Young will appreciate it for its historical value, but it's very mundane in parts. It actually has the feel of Reality TV, but of a mostly wordless variety.
The camera follows a very long-haired Neil Young and his band riding an elevator, it shows them walking around in hallways, it shows them talking with sound-engineers. You see him walking around a junk-yard. You get to see Neil park his car and sit on the front-fender with a woman smoking a cigarette and eating berries and not talking for at least 10 minutes, just staring at the countryside. For some reason you also see Richard Nixon speaking at a Billy Graham Crusade.
Then again, you also see him playing some great early live concerts with Crosby, Stills & Nash, which is reason enough to see this film. But then the film becomes sort of a music-video, showing what appear to be black-robed Klansmen riding horses on the beach, and then what looks like a red-robed Catholic Cardinal riding in a limousine, all of which apparently has zero connection with the rest of the film. It's all edited together in a sort of stream-of-consciousness, which is perhaps the whole point, as that style of narrative was common in the early 70's.
If you can find it, view it for the concert-footage plus an example of Neil's fascination with disjointed imagery which sometimes flows together like a visual non sequitur.
For hardcore Neil Young fans only
As much as I've always enjoyed the music of Neil Young (starting with his stint in Buffalo Springfield, thru C.S.N.Y & (most)of his solo out put, I found this curious little film a head scratcher. It seems to start out as a documentary about...well...um, Neil Young in various phases of his career. Starting with some blurry video footage of Buffalo Springfield, in a television appearance, thru some sparse footage of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (gee...who would have thought?). If this film had pretty much stuck to this premise, it would have made for a satisfactory documentary. The problem is that Neil opted to let his film go totally out of control, careening into some abstract episodes that even most midnight movie fans would have found utterly confusing (no matter how much Marijuana they're behind). Now, don't get me wrong. If you think I'm some typical old fart that can't deal with anything out of the ordinary (I list films such as Eraserhead & El Topo as personal head movie favourites), guess again. Part of the problem of personal vision films is that sometimes the vision is so personal, the only ones that could grasp the message is the artists themselves. I'm not saying 'Journey Through The Past' is unwatchable, it's just that there is a treasure trove of much better stuff out there. It's still worth at least one look (for those who were not born yet & want to get a better idea what the 1960's & 1970's Hippie counter culture was all about). Originally slapped with an R-rating by the MPAA, this film contains much pot smoking & salty language. Pretty tame by today's standards.
Not made to watch under the influence
Yes, about 30 years since I've seen this film but some images from that night in Knoxville, Tennessee are crystal clear. My crowd and I had driven the 3.5 hours to Knoxville from Nashville (on other business) and had partied all the way. So, when somebody suggested we go check out this flick, the group was rather pliant.
If memory serves, it opens oddly enough with CSNY doing an in-studio, call-in interview at, I believe, WMC in Nashville. Trippy. Other random images, drawn through the years from a night of robust teenage drug experimentation:
Neil and somebody else sitting on the fender of an old, old car deep in the woods on a summer night right in front of an ancient country bridge. I seem to recall they were drinking moonshine from a jug and the headlights of the car were on, providing the only illumination. Looked like a good way to spend some time.
A close-up of a man's feet walking on a sidewalk, which went on interminably. Then, the film reverses and the feet walk backwards for a long time. THEN, the camera inverts and we see the feet walking backwards and upside down. Not good visual stimulation for anyone under the influence of hallucinogens. I remember we almost cried.
All these years I've wondered what it would be like to see the film again and with a clear mind. If you're a CSNY fan like me, it would be worth it. But, at the time, it was rather hard to stay awake, as I really had no business even attempting to watch anything that required something more than infantile concentration. The film turbocharged our stupor.
Deadman in the South
Given how brilliant this film could have been, Neil - as Bernard Shakey - is about as exciting as watching Bob Dylan tune a guitar (which doesn't want to be tuned) between songs and, eventually, Mr Dylan in/with/directing one of his own movies.
"Greendale", the DVD of Neil in Ireland presenting his acoustic interpretation of the work/text, shows just how amazing his talent is. However, brilliance aside, being stoned and self-congratulatory about CSN&Y (which at the time wasn't happening) does not forgive this almost illusive, unintelligible, allusion (for so it is) to the South that he hates - "Alabama" is a paean to this. All must be forgiven when Lynyrd Skynyrd reply most sincerely to his claims.
And yet, one wonders what would have happened had Jimi Hendrix taken Neil and the boys through the same landscape. Even with Stephen Stills as escort, the geography of the "Chitlin' Circuit" would have been alien to say the least. Still, long-haired hippies and weird musicians wasn't the way to go. There is a sense that the whole thing was set up as a battleground that really didn't happen.
Bernard has done much better things than this. Consider, for instance, the soundtrack to "Deadman". Then, perhaps, listen to the soundtrack and watch "Journey Into The Past" at the same time. It's surely better than watching paint dry. Hmmm... almost. 'Course I love Neil and Johnny both. Next!
Saw original print back in 1974
Was discussing the film this afternoon with a friend who hadn't seen it. I told him I was in a slightly altered state of mind when I saw it, and that it was the kind of film that you think afterwards you might have better understood with a clear mind. Not necessarily and probably unlikely. Our college film club was showing it on a Saturday night. It wasn't the sort of movie you'd see at the local theatre. The fact remains that one particular remark Neil made somewhere during the film hit me like a divine revelation. It totally changed my understanding of reality.
Might sound pretty far out, but I've often wondered about that film. Couldn't remember the title. If anyone tracks a copy down, put me on your list of people who are interested in seeing it again.