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Scarecrow on Seattle: YEAR OF THE HORSE

In appreciation and recognition of Seattle's long and illustrious film history, we are proud to partner with the Seattle Office of Film + Music to bring you reviews of movies made in the Pacific Northwest with an emphasis on how these films showcase the region's many filmable locations.

 

Year of the Horse (1997)

Have you ever been in a movie? I'm not talking about being an extra, or even a featured player. I'm taking about the experience of sitting there, in the darkness of a movie theater, and having the very real, palpable feeling that you actually lived that moment, or some semblance of it. That happened to me in the summer of 1997 in the Varsity Theatre. Jim Jarmusch's documentary about Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse was playing, and once the concert footage started, I had a weird feeling of deja vu. I'd seen them at The Gorge the previous summer, where a friend had noted he saw a guy with puffy white hair hopping around the cheap seats with a Hi-8 camera. It never occurred to me that that guy was Jarmusch doing his own camera work, or that they'd feature the concert in a film. But as I sat in the Varsity at roughly the same distance from the screen that I had been from the stage, I slowly started to remember what the band was wearing that night (Neil in t-shirt, baggy shorts, black socks and boots, Frank Sampedro in a Jimi Hendrix shirt), the songs they did, the huge candles on the stage, and the energy they brought to the venue, and started to wonder. Then, 20 minutes in, during the song "Slip Away," Jarmusch turns his camera on the beautiful landscape of Eastern Washington and I instantly knew it couldn't be anywhere else.

As the song hums along, we see low, long cloud formations through the rainy windows of the tour bus going up and down the inclines of I-90 and then, finally, arrive at The Gorge Amphitheatre as the sun is setting and the show is about to begin. But Year of the Horse is not a slick, multi-camera concert experience with canned audience reaction shots. It's a gritty portrait of a hard working, sonically organic unit of rockers. The opening credits state it was "proudly filmed in Super 8" (and 16mm and Hi-8 video), so most of the footage is grainy, grungy, and raw, reflecting perfectly on the setting and the performers. The interviews, which run throughout the film between songs, are similarly of the no-nonsense variety. All four members of Crazy Horse talk about their long, tangled, complex but unpretentious history, and at one point even give Jarmusch grief for being an "artsy-fartsy" filmmaker. The concert footage is not limited to the Gorge; there are also hilarious and disturbing scenes from previous Crazy Horse tours to Amsterdam, Germany, Japan, France and Italy. But the heart and soul of the movie is clearly in Washington. This is never more evident than late in the film, on stage, during the last song. The rain has returned. Neil and the band are soaking wet, seemingly feeding off the weather during "Like A Hurricane", creating a soundscape of storm noises as the rain beats down, egging them on, challenging them to meet its energy. And they do, in spades, giving it all up, owning the night and the venue and the atmosphere, and the audience.

-Mark Steiner

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