Jim Jarmusch has, throughout the years, made a number of films (such as the recent "Ghost Dog", or a couple of other previous films) that are genuinely enjoyable and well-done. "Year Of The Horse", the director's documentary on the band Neil Young and Crazy Horse is a very large, very bright (neon, perhaps) sign pointing out that the director should not do a documentary - ever again.
Filmed in 16mm and Super 8, the notes about the film talk about these formats having a "raw beauty". I certainly couldn't disagree more with that, as I've seen home videos look better than some of the footage that's included in the film. As for the film itself, I didn't think that the director did a particularly good job at informing the audience about the history of the band, nor does he really show them in the best light. He gives them questions that signal that he's simply a fan of the band and chatting with them over what he wants to hear rather than actually getting to any sort of root of what inspires Young.
The concert segements are annoyingly presented as well; the camerawork is often shaky, and the director decides to occasionally cut away to various other footage from the road that feels out-of-place in the middle of the concert scenes, but then he comes back to the show. There are some concert films or even DVD concert presentations where the camerawork is wonderfully professional and keeps up with the musicians perfectly. This is not one of those films.
The interview segements are uninteresting at best. The band and Young seem like a nice bunch of people, but one that has known each other for long enough so that they have formed their own short language for talking to one another, and don't seem to particularly want to let another person into their group. Their answers to the director's questions are of the...well, quick variety and give us really very little insight into the history of the group. At a couple of points throughout the film, they even seem to express dislike towards the director's attempts to try and put their history into an "arty" movie. There's even older interview footage thrown in at various points.
The film itself has a thrown together quality that's tolerable for about an hour's worth. The unfortunate part is that the film is nearly two hours in length - and towards the second half, the movie becomes annoying. Really an example of a director who should stick to telling stories of his own rather than documenting the stories of others.
VIDEO: Also out this week is a restored version of the 1970 Rolling Stones film "Gimme Shelter", which is presented by Criterion, and is anamorphic. USA Film's non-anamorphic presentation of "Year Of The Horse" often doesn't look as good as the 30 year old "Gimme Shelter" does. With "Year" being shot in Super 8 and 16mm, the concert footage (with some rather shaky camerawork) comes off looking the best, although that's not saying particularly much here. Sharpness is problematic, with some scenes looking terribly soft, then some scene looking passably well-defined, with fair detail.
Grain is heavy in some of the non-concert segements to the point where it became irritating and sometimes light to mild even in the concert segements. Some scenes look rather harsh, and occasional pixelation does appear, only in brief and light amounts. Colors vary from some deeper colors from the stage lighting to some more subdued colors during the interview footage. Some of the older interview footage that is occasionally thrown in looks particularly bad, with heavy grain to the point where I found it hard to watch, but these segements are pretty brief.
SOUND: USA Films has a first here; they offer both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 versions of the film. The only problem? The audio for the film is not a very strong production in the first place. The concert sequences adequately present the music from the front speakers, but don't do a particularly remarkable job showcasing the tunes. The non-concert footage is even less pleasant in quality, with some of the interviews sounding muddy and hard to hear at times. The DTS version does sound better in the musical sections than the Dolby version, with a stronger, smoother, warmer sound that is noticably more pleasing and clearer than the Dolby Digital version. Nothing outstanding, although the DTS version did sound noticably better to me.
MENUS:: The main and extras menus have clips from the film playing in the background, and the rest offer basic images from the movie. Nothing too interesting.
Interview of Jarmusch and Young: This is about a 26 minute interview of both the director and the singer by someone off-camera. It's a particularly dull affair, with the opening moments of the piece having the two talk about their favorite "t-shirts" and where they have ended up. They spend way too long on this subject before actually moving on to talking about the film. Like the movie itself, you don't get much of an idea about the band or the purpose of the movie. Jarmusch talks about being accepted by the band, when in the movie it looks like the situation is otherwise. He talks about it not being a very insightful or deep documentary, and he's right. Neither are particularly lively participants in this interview, and after a while, it goes pretty darn slow.
Interview With Crazy Horse: More of the same as the interviewer throws some easy questions to the band, and they respond with some easy answers that are occasionally interesting, but more often than not run off the track into other subjects.
Theatrical Trailer: The trailer for "Year Of The Horse".
Other USA Films Trailers: Suprise! Not only do we also get the trailer for the upcoming video release of "Where The Money Is", but we also get a teaser trailer for director Steven Soderberg's "Traffic", which comes to theaters in December. Both are in 2.0 audio.
Also: DVD-ROM - original website.
Final Thoughts: USA Films deserves praise for including the DTS audio version. And although I like Young's music, I didn't much care for "Year Of The Horse" and can't recommend it.