When reports surfaced that Kevin Costner was shooting unprecedented amounts of film while making his directorial debut, Dances With Wolves (1990), wags coined an alternate title for the project: Plays With Camera. Yet it’s unlikely that any actor-turned-director ever approached the levels of self-indulgence unique to rock stars experimenting with cinema. Just as Frank Zappa did beforehand and Bob Dylan did afterward, Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young used his directorial debut to create a phantasmagoria blending dream sequences, performance footage, and shapeless narrative vignettes. Despite a title that promises a chronological rundown of his musical adventures, or at least an informative biographical sketch, Journey Through the Past is an irritating movie that starts out like a straight rock doc—backstage antics and concert clips—before degrading into the sort of pretentious silliness one normally associates with first-year film students. Toward the end of its brief running time, Journey Through the Past stops dead for an interminably long slow-motion shot featuring black-robed KKK riders driving their horses along a beach. Why? Your guess is as good as mine, and considering how much weed Young smokes onscreen during the picture, it’s possible he didn’t know, either. That said, Journey Through the Past isn’t as aggressively dumb as Zappa’s 200 Motels (1971) or as maddeningly vague as Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara (1978). The simple stuff in Journey Through the Past is fine, especially Young’s onstage guitar duels with Buffalo Springfield/CSNY partner Stephen Stills. Watching CSNY’s David Crosby engage in a pot-fueled rant against The Man is entertaining, as well, although Young seems determined to reveal things about everyone except himself. That is, unless viewers are meant to parse something meaningful from the recurring motif of a scruffy college graduate wandering the world—because, like, there’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear. Heavy, man.
Journey Through the Past: LAME