CSNY: Deja Vu

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Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- Ageless rock bands and musicians play a teasing game of nostalgia with concert audiences, performing their golden oldies while slipping in new songs and trying to recast themselves for younger listeners. "CSNY: Deja Vu," a film record by Bernard Shakey (aka Neil Young) of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 2006 Freedom of Speech tour, catches a band headed in the opposite direction. Always one of music's most impassioned political activists, Young first put out his "Living With War" album in reaction to the disastrous conflict in Iraq. He then reformed the band -- again -- to perform those songs, plus a few dating back to its anti-Vietnam period such as "Ohio" and "Find the Cost of Freedom."

Young took along an "embedded" journalist, Mike Cerre, who has served as a correspondent in Afghanistan and Iraq, to smoke out the reaction of audience members and others to the music and its message in towns across America. So this is anything but a concert film like "U2 3D," which screened at the beginning of the Sundance Film Festival.

There should be a considerable audience for this film on both the nostalgia and political fronts. Such is the band's popularity that the film will play to folks who do not agree with its political content, as evidenced by the young man who challenged Young at its premiere here, telling him that as far as Iraq is concerned, "You don't know what you're talking about."

That is a mild comment compared to what audience members, radio talk show hosts and music critics have to say in the movie. Young gives Cerre -- the two share writing credit -- the freedom to report on the tour, seeking out those who praise and condemn CSNY for its activism. The film generously quotes music critics who take dead aim at the sloppiness of early performances -- band members agree some shows were bad -- and others who take umbrage to an anti-war rally masquerading as a rock concert.

The most interesting reaction in the film comes in Atlanta, a progressive city in a conservative region. Everyone seems to enjoy the concert until the band strikes up Young's anthem "Let's Impeach the President." Boos cascade over the stage, followed by cheers that drown out the boos. The booers rush from the auditorium, where cameras catch their vehement anger.

By contrast, Iraq vets embrace band members at smaller concerts.

The film catches a country in conflict with itself. The right to disagree has been brought into dispute by this administration, which has broadly hinted that any disagreement with its war is synonymous with treason. That notion is strongly questioned in Cerre's talks with people in the street.

If you breathe deeply enough, you might catch a whiff of self-promotion. Young and his mates probably see this film as a means to establish their legacy of commitment to political ideals and anti-war movements. But the band has earned that right: No one intended to earn a dime on this tour or with this movie. And the tour happened just as the country turned against the war and the administration, as evidenced by the 2006 election during which Stills campaigned on behalf of several congressional candidates, the majority of whom won. Young clearly hopes to keep up the pressure with this movie.

The average age of the band's members is 62. They don't even bother to disguise that fact. These men look like your grandfather, right up until the downbeat. Then the magnificence of their playing sweeps away all concepts of age.

Rock on.

CSNY: DEJA VU
Shangri-La Entertainment presents a Shakey Picture production
Credits:
Director: Bernard Shakey
Writers: Neil Young, Mike Cerre
Producer: L.A. Johnson
Director of photography: Mike Elwell
Music: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Editor: Mark Faulkner
Running time -- 96 minutes
No MPAA rating
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