Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young set out to alleviate the public allergy to Iraq War films with this pic.
Making music, making fun of themselves and making as much political hay as possible, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young set out to alleviate the public allergy to Iraq War films with “CSNY Deja Vu,” a doc that seems quite likely to effect a cure. Helmer Bernard Shakey — a.k.a. Neil Young — has constructed a chronicle of his old band’s “Freedom of Speech” tour of summer ’06 and come up with an aud-friendly, activist musical that seems sure to raise both political ire and major bucks.Thanks to his proclivities for grunge, his political instincts and a timeless fashion sense, Young has never been locked into any particular era or demographic. Similarly, his drollery makes him ageless: From the first shot of an open highway, obscured by the band bus’s window frame, to the citations from critics assailing the band for its left-leaning decreptitude, nothing is taken too seriously. Except the war. Which is front and center. The entire movie is a provocation; for one thing, it’s not strictly a concert film, which was how it appeared to be advertised, at least at Sundance. There is plenty of music — the band, whose intonation has always been a crapshoot in live performance, sounds fairly angelic. But digressions abound: history lessons, Iraq war veterans and the contributions of reporter Mike Cerre (who, unfortunately for the film, sounds a bit too much like sports announcer Jim Lampley), keep the war issue in the audience’s face. And aud’s can rebel, as seen during a CSNY stop in Atlanta, where a small uprising breaks out over an anti-Bush song (“Let’s impeach the president for lying … ,” the band sings). Some concertgoers react with boos, walkouts, a storm of vitriol and vulgarity. They flip off the camera. “How dare they!” is the reaction by some less-than-articulate Atlantans. Given that this was the “Freedom of Speech” tour — and was at least partly promoting Young’s “Living With War” CD –one wonders what such concertgoers expected when they decided to attend. (Of course, Young would likely say that people who don’t know or care what their government is doing probably can’t be expected to know what a rock concert is going to be about.) Throughout the film, a sense of, yes, deja vu abounds: CSNY provided much of the soundtrack for the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era, and four decades later, they’re doing it again. As Stephen Colbert asks Young during a “Colbert Report” appearance, why doesn’t he let someone else have this war? “I tried,” he says, the very unsubtle point of the film being that this war’s generation should grab the baton of resistance and start running with it. The music, coincidentally, is a mix of CSNY standards and the newer Young material, with the occasional startling guitar solo from Stephen Stills and cohesive playing by the quartet. They certainly know the material. And so do we. Production values, especially Mike Elwell’s shooting, are tops.