Disheveled and a bit paunchy, with a bulging forehead framed by scraggly hair and demonic eyebrows, Neil Young, who once looked like a darkly handsome Cherokee prince, is now, in his early 50s, undeniably ravaged — he could be a grunge-hippie version of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Year of the Horse (October), Jim Jarmusch’s old-fashioned concert movie, shot during Young’s 1996 tour of Europe, makes no attempt to gloss over what the aging process has done to Young or the other members of Crazy Horse, his on-and-off ensemble of more than 30 years (the film keeps intercutting clips of Young and the band from 1976 and 1986). Longevity is the movie’s theme: Young, who already seemed a grand old man of rock when he recorded his ballad of gritty defiance, ”Rust Never Sleeps,” in 1979 (amazingly, he was only 33), has proved that he has no intention of either burning out or fading away.
Unfortunately, he now seems intent on proving that during every song. In contrast to his own far livelier concert film, Rust Never Sleeps (1980), Year of the Horse shows Young leading his band in one interminable drone anthem after another. The Crazy Horse sound is, as always, stunning — a cataclysmic wall-of-guitar buzz. You can hear why an entire generation of nihilist rockers fell in love with it. But the songs themselves are samey and formless. Bluntly put, Neil Young’s music now has too much ”integrity” and not enough hooks, and so does Year of the Horse. The rough-grain Super-8 images, while a nifty visual correlative to the Crazy Horse sound, deny us the fundamental pleasure of a concert movie — a sense of intimacy with the band’s performance. Year of the Horse wants to be a testament to Neil Young’s passion, but you have to wait until the closing minutes, when Young, in a 1976 clip, performs ”Like a Hurricane,” to hear why that passion mattered. C-