Friday, August 30, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Year of the Horse (1997) ***

R, 106 min.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Neil Young, Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot, Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro

I was informed yesterday that “Year of the Horse”, Jim Jarmusch’s documentary on Neil Young & Crazy Horse, has the distinction of holding the number one spot on Roger Ebert’s list of the Worst Movies of 1997. That was saying quite a lot. Let’s look at some of the other movies that were released in 1997—“Beverly Hills Ninja”, “Booty Call”, “Jungle 2 Jungle”, “B.A.P.S.”, “Turbo: A Power Rangers Adventure”, “Anaconda”, “8 Heads in a Duffle Bag”, “Father’s Day”, “Trial & Error”, “Speed 2: Cruise Control” (which Ebert liked), “Batman & Robin”, “George of the Jungle”, “Nothing to Lose”, “Spawn”, “Steel”, “Leave It To Beaver”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation”, “Rocket Man”, “Starship Troopers”, “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”, “Alien: Resurrection”, “Flubber”, “Home Alone 3”, and “Mr. Magoo”. Not only is every one of those movies a better candidate for “worst” of that particular year, but also “Year of the Horse” is actually a very good representation of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse.

The movie takes a kind of garage band approach to the music documentary. It has the concert footage and the behind the scenes footage that are traditional for such projects. It even has the talking head segments traditional in the documentary format, but Jarmusch chooses to film on Super 8, 16 mm, and Hi-8. These film formats give the movie a grainy, thrown together look that kind of matches the music produced by this band. The interviews are interesting, the rehearsal squabbling even more so, but it is the music that is front and center, as it should be.

I don’t know what Roger Ebert saw in this movie that was so terrible to him. A friend suggested that he just doesn’t like Crazy Horse. While type of bias never seemed to be part of Ebert’s make up, it just might be the case. The truth is, if you like Neil Young and Crazy Horse, there’s no reason you shouldn’t love “Year of the Horse”. If you hate their music, there are a thousand reasons you won’t like “Year of the Horse.” As a fan myself, I have to recommend it.

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