CSNY Deja Vu DVD Review: Neil Young On Fire

Not nearly as much about entertainment as conviction, famed anti-war ’60s, sixty-ish folk rockers Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are a rare breed these days. Unlike say, The Stones, who fretfully cultivate a fantasy agelessness in order to stay current, as caught by Martin Scorsese in the music doc, Shine A Light.

CSNY Deja Vu by contrast, is more interested in focusing on the darkness of our times, and sustained celebrity body image is a concept that band could care less about. In other words, call me stuff like geriatric and bloated – as various malice-minded talking head reporters do in the movie – but whatever you do, don’t diss my peace activism.

Musician/filmmaker Neil Young, alias Bernard Shakey, directs himself and the group unself-consciously and obliviously jamming away with an utterly refreshing, disheveled and paunchy lack of personal vanity, to the tune of their own collective musical nirvana on stage during their 2006 cross-country Freedom Of Speech Tour. The legendary group reassembled for this combo creative and political mission, to respond as performers to the brutal Iraq conflict. Young also mixes and matches this energized collaboration with dynamic and gritty CSNY greatest hits ’70’s concert footage.

And that jarring contrast between this tale of two concert sensibilities, becomes all too apparent. While the stinging anti-war rhetoric of CSNY’s musical mobilization against the Vietnam War stirred their young followers down emotional and activist paths in passionate unison, to say the least, the response of frequently irate concertgoers nearly four decades later who showed up to be entertained not educated, is verbally nasty enough to have earned this doc an R rating.

And it’s to CSNY’s credit that they don’t hold back on filming any of it for the sake of cosmetic spin, which correlates completely with the band’s homespun honesty, however unwelcoming by some. On the contrary, these hostile incidents in the film spur the group to even more dedicated determination to the difficult task at hand. And Young’s reaction to the bitter response to their anti-war message is simply, ‘we’re not here to make people feel warm, fuzzy feelings, but to feel. Period.’

Not that CSNY is in any way too stubborn or proud to evolve with the times, though in their own unique way. They’ve incorporated a resounding chorus of young voices into the mix as accompaniment, as well as former marine and now hugely CSNY-inspired folk/protest musician for his own generation, Josh Hisle. There’s also on hand at these concerts to infuse the proceedings with a impassioned verbal eloquence, Gold Star Mother Karen Meredith, a single mom whose son, Ken Ballard, was killed in Iraq. Her grief for her child and by extension a nation, to the musical backdrop of CSNY’s rekindled Find The Cost Of Freedom, is not a scene in the film that’s easy to ignore, no matter what your political persuasion.

Urged on to connect to their audiences, however resistant, and ‘it should be a cause that smacks you in the face,’ CSNY fires up this rousing rockumentary – in contrast to the frivolous obsessions of your basic fame junkie – and the camera’s rough cut tendencies not withstanding. And while the movie gets it that the Internet is the magical inter-generational missing link discovery between ‘men returned from one war and those going off to another,’ CSNY jubilation mounting ever steadily in the film, also clearly lies in the sense of creative rejuvenation that ‘made us believe in ourselves again.’

Neil Young’s website Living With War Today serves as an open gathering, performing and listening space for aspiring musicians singing about war and peace. Living With War Today is online at: www.neilyoung.com/lwwtoday/index.html

Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Rated R

3 stars

DVD Features: Exclusive Interview with Neil Young; Music Videos from the Living With War Album; Music Video/Promo; Theatrical Trailer.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.