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Case Number 22134: Small Claims Court

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Here We Are In The Years: Neil Young's Musical Box

MVD Visual // 2011 // 118 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // August 27th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia has made sudden shifts in his career. Unfortunately, they're not as admirable because he's not a musician.

The Charge

Traces the astonishing musical journey of Neil Young from the day he first heard Elvis to his most recent offerings.

The Case

In the pantheon of unauthorized MVD Visual music DVDs, Here We Are In the Years is squarely in the middle. It's not as overlong and tedious as their Brian Eno title, The Man Who Fell to Earth, nor is it as slight as Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List. However, it's also not as important as their best titles like Robert Plant's Blue Note and Frank Zappa And the Mothers Of Invention In the 1960s. It's at least a nice manageable length (a little under two hours) and, as usual, has plenty of great music. Still, it's not nearly as revelatory as MVD's best DVDs have been, and it leaves out some fairly important stories. It's OK for what it is, but it's not essential viewing.

At least Here We Are In the Years doesn't skimp on interview subjects. Though Young himself is only visible in archival clips, the cast of interviewees is vast: Rolling Stone editor Anthony DeCurtis, Young biographer Nigel Williamson, Ken Smyth, who played in Young's first professional band the Squires, various critics and journalists who have interviewed Young, and members of bands like Kaleidoscope and the Fireballs who had a significant influence on Young's work. They all discuss Young's career, from his time in the Buffalo Springfield to his time as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young to his wildly varied and influential solo work. The overriding trait in Young's work, of course, is how easily and frequently he jumps from genre to genre, often confounding some listeners and gaining new ones, and the documentary definitely addresses this by examining how his wide variety of influences in various styles of music laid the groundwork for these sudden shifts.

The best aspect of the documentary is Chrome Dreams' (who produce all of MVD Visual's unauthorized music DVDs) insistence on spending the time and money to license crucial pieces of music. It's how you can hear just what the interviewees are trying to explain for yourself. When one critic points out how Young covered Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" (on 1970's After the Gold Rush) and turned it from a jaunty anthem of survival into a morose dirge, the documentary includes both versions so you can hear the difference. When someone notes that Young lifted the melodies of some of his favorite songs to make his own, you'll get to hear Bert Jansch's "Needle of Death" and the Rolling Stones' "Lady Jane" to compare them to "Ambulance Blues" (from 1973's On the Beach) and "Borrowed Tune" (from 1974's Tonight's the Night). In this regard, Here We Are In the Years is at least worth praising.

The main problem is that it doesn't really add much to what most music fans already know about Young's music and influences. Even the most casual music fan could have guessed that Young emulates Bob Dylan, loves the Rolling Stones, is fascinated with Elvis, and listens to punk and grunge. These are not revelations-Young cites many of these artists by name in his lyrics and collaborates with them in concert and in the studio. If anything, the fact that Young can move so effortlessly from genre to genre is what makes this DVD somewhat redundant-no one even vaguely familiar with Young's music would be surprised to hear that he loves country, folk, R&B, and rockabilly, since he's made several albums in each of those styles.

What's more, the documentary is woefully incomplete as a Neil Young biography. When the documentary spends a substantial amount of time covering Young's early career and his fascination with R&B, it's hard to see why the producers left off the fascinating story of the Mynah Birds, the band Young played in the mid-'60s that included Rick James and that actually recorded an unreleased album for Motown. The documentary also leaves off or glosses over various crucial events that had a huge impact on Young's music, such as the drug-related death of Young's guitar player Danny Whitten and the birth of his children with cerebral palsy, to name just a couple. These are significant omissions in any discussion of Young's life and work. The disc also ends in 1993 with Young performing "Rockin' in the Free World" with Pearl Jam at that year's MTV Music Video Awards. There are brief mentions of some of his mid-'90s records, but there isn't any discussion of anything past 1995. This is a fairly significant omission, since such albums as Greendale (2003) and Living With War (2006) have, for all their flaws, proven that Young can still write and record interesting and ambitious music in this decade.

Ultimately, it's these flaws that make it hard to recommend Here We Are In the Years. Longtime Young fans will not see or hear much they don't already know and neophytes will not get the full story, which doesn't do them any favors in understanding how Young's influences affected his music. It's not a bad documentary, and if you're at all interested in Young's music you might find it worth a look, but it's highly unlikely that you'll want to watch it more than once.

The fullscreen transfer and stereo sound mix are both acceptable, depending on the quality of the archival footage. The only extra, apart from text bios of all the interviewees, is "A Brief History of the Squires with Ken Smyth" (7:23). It consists of a longer interview with Smyth where he details the formation and dissolution of Young's first professional band, and is of mild interest.

The Verdict

Guilty of not really adding much to Neil Young's biography.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: MVD Visual
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus Footage
• Text Extras

Accomplices

• Neil Young








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