Rock and roll isn't pretty

November 07, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

The very first thing we see in "Year of the Horse," the Jim Jarmusch documentary on Neil Young and Crazy Horse, is a grainy, black-and-white image of a German fan, outside a show. He goes on at length about how much he adores Young and Crazy Horse, entirely in German.

Next we see the Chinese characters for "horse" and "year." Accessibility, it seems, is not an issue for Jarmusch.

But that's the whole point. This isn't a safe, mainstream, pop-friendly music film. This is rock and roll, maaaan. It's wild, crazy, dangerous stuff. It's on the edge. It's out there.

Or Jarmusch wants us to think. Why else would he have chosen "#in Up" as the film's first musical number? A seven-minute grind through the grungiest corners of Young's self-doubt, it boasts a sludgy hook, an unprintable chorus and the sort of nTC energy that can only be described as Bic-flickin' heavy. As filtered through Jarmusch's jittery super-eight camera work, what we get is as raw and unvarnished as a bootleg concert video.

Clearly, we're meant to see what an uncompromising band Young and Crazy Horse are. So instead of giving us the greatest-hits treatment, the film swaps the likes of "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cortez the Killer" for such lesser-known recent tunes as "Big Time" and "Music Arcade."

Had Jarmusch kept the focus there, "Year of the Horse" would have been an honest but slow-moving documentary -- artier than what turns up on MTV or VH1, but a little closer to the truth as well.

But no. Jarmusch has his heart set on a full-blown gonzo portrayal of the band and has to make sure we get all the rock and roll craziness our little minds can stand. So we see them smoke dope. We watch them set fire to a hotel room centerpiece. We even suffer through a badly lit sequence in a convenience store in which bassist Billy Talbot seemingly shoplifts snack cakes.

Notably missing from this cavalcade of rock excess is sex. There are no groupies; backstage or on the bus; in fact, there are no women at all among the principles in the film and barely any in the audiences. From what Jarmusch lets us see, Crazy Horse's world is a total boys club.

But these aren't boys. And frankly, the spectacle of four 50-something guys trying to come on like crazy kids is pretty sad. Jarmusch may want to leave us screaming "Rock and roll!," but "Year of the Horse" is more likely to make us mutter, "Grow up."

'Year of the Horse'

Starring Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Released by October Films

Rated R (profanity, drug use)

Sun score: * 1/2

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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