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Film review: Year of the Horse: Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live

Published: Friday, Nov. 21 1997 12:01 a.m. MST

Rock stars are not role models. Despite their popularity and the adulation of fans, they're simply rock stars.

And oddball director Jim Jarmusch ("A Night on Earth," "Dead Man") does his darnedest to prove that Canadian rocker Neil Young — the 52-year-old "godfather of grunge" — and his bandmates in Crazy Horse are very human rock stars. He shows them bickering, taking drugs and even being arrested in his new rock music documentary "Year of the Horse: Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live."

At least, that's what Jarmusch appears to be saying with the film — which speaks volumes when it's concentrating on live performance footage (taken mostly from a series of 1976, 1986 and 1996 concerts) — but otherwise says little else.

To be fair, Jarmusch made some effort to get to know the band members, who are interviewed backstage, on the road and in hotel rooms. But it's hard to get a grasp on their individual personalities when the questions tend to be lightweight. (In the film's most inadvertently funny moment, the filmmaker tells Young that it "must be pretty heavy to be in Crazy Horse.")

As mentioned, Jarmusch does a good job of capturing the essence of the band's electric live shows — performances include the songs "Stupid Girl," "Like a Hurricane" and "Tonight's the Night". That alone will probably make the film a must-see for Young fans.

But it may be much harder sell to others. The film is a far cry from some of the better "rockumentaries" out there — especially "Stop Making Sense," Jonathan Demme's 1984 concert film on the Talking Heads.

Most irritating is the fact that the movie was "filmed proudly" in Super-8 mm, which looks as grainy as the band's music is raw. When it's blown up to 16 mm, however, it just looks blurry.

"Year of the Horse" is rated R for scenes of drug use (the band is shown smoking marijuana), profanity, some vulgar jokes and references, and a brief glimpse at some nude drawings.

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