CSNY: Déjà Vu (Roadside Attractions, R)

csny2.jpgAll four members of CSN&Y show their age, of course, and Stills even takes a tumble at one point, but continues to play the guitar lying down. There’s little trace of the destructive egoism the band is known for, however.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young toured the U.S. in 2006, the country was in the full throes of political debate over the war in Iraq, and you could sense the tide just beginning to turn against the conflict. Democrats won control of Congress (albeit just barely), and the debate intensified on both sides. Against this backdrop, Neil Young rounded up his legendary cronies for a cross-country jaunt that mostly found the foursome playing incendiary songs from Young’s then-current album Living With War. How would audiences react to fiery numbers like “Let’s Impeach the President,” “Lookin’ For a Leader,” and “Shock and Awe”? The compelling new documentary CSNY: Déjà vu provides the answers.

Young, directing under his cinematic nom de plume Bernard Shakey, did numerous smart things in the planning of this film. One was to hire journalist Mike Cerre to “embed” with the crew for the tour, and interview audience members about their feelings regarding the topical songs and anti-war sentiments the band were expressing onstage. Another was to include commentary from young soldiers and others directly involved in the war, to create a depiction of the siege in Iraq from many different angles. It results in a riveting documentary, easily the best film Young’s ever directed (his past efforts included the little-seen Human Highway and experimental Greendale). “You gotta have some fire—you gotta have a reason for being there,” Young says on camera at one point, when asked about his motivations. “Fire” is the operative word here…sure, the band were happy to recreate their Vietnam-era consciousness on stage, playing old favorites like “Military Madness,” “Wooden Ships” and “For What It’s Worth.” But they were also UNDER fire by offended conservatives in the audience, who didn’t take kindly to Young’s “blasphemous” anti-war tunes from his album. The booing can be heard loudly at a date in Atlanta, and several audience members who left the show in anger are shown on camera telling Young and company what they can do with their war-bashing new tunes. It’s hard to believe that anyone could show up at a CSNY concert and be surprised when political songs are performed, but that’s fodder for a deeper discussion.

Depth and poignancy are provided by soldiers like Darrell Anderson, who tells us he fled to Canada after one stint in Iraq because he was tired of “killing someone else’s mom and sister.” And another who survived the war, Josh Hisle, conveys his angst through music—Young, clearly impressed by the young man, joins him in an intimate acoustic run-through of one of his tunes, telling him afterward “what a great song” it is. It’s a touching moment. All four members of CSN&Y show their age, of course, and Stills even takes a tumble at one point, but continues to play the guitar lying down. There’s little trace of the destructive egoism the band is known for, however. They all agree with the mission of the tour, and David Crosby, though saying the operation is a “benevolent dictatorship” rather than a democracy, yields to Young’s leadership by saying “he thinks about this stuff all the time.” Indeed, Young shows a level of discipline throughout the movie that is sometimes missing from his albums. There are old clips of CSNY from the Vietnam era, performances from the new tour that effectively cut away to relevant interviews or news footage, and the steady hand of Young with his able assistant Cerre, showing you just how divisive this whole conflict has been, and how difficult the lot of the musician trying to discuss it. CSNY: Déjà vu is truly a gripping, memorable documentary—adding yet another triumph to the creative resume of Young, one of today’s most deservedly revered long-time rockers. | Kevin Renick

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