Tuesday, November 29, 2022

film review: Harvest Time



Directed by Bernard Shakey

ChinoKino score: B (for Neil Young fans: A)

Review by Allan Tong

When Neil Young released the album Harvest in early 1972, he became as big as Taylor Swift or Drake today.  He was already in the biggest band at that time, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and already recording solo, but Harvest catapulted him to superstardom. That's ironic, since Neil Young fans regard Harvest as a good, but flawed work. However, Harvest includes Heart of Gold, which shot to number one and made the album that year's biggest seller. This new documentary takes audiences behind the scenes to show Young recording Harvest, whether inside his northern California barn (you read that right), in a studio with his famous ex-bandmates, and with the London Symphony Orchestra (you also read that right).

Fans will feast on Harvest Time. Much of this footage has never been seen, and it is gold, capturing Young in unguarded moments of creating his music. Special scenes involve Young with CSN harmonizing on Alabama. It's early 1971 and the on-again, off-again band are in good spirits, not bickering which would later plague them. Neil gently coaches his bandmates at a piano to go over a particular phrase. As they perform the song Words, surprisingly it's Graham Nash who coaxes the singers. Isolated on the soundtrack, their voices soar.


It's jarring, but thrilling to see Young record live with the LSO. Fans have long detested how the orchestra smothers this plaintive ballad, A Man Needs A Maid, but it is fascinating to watch Young struggle to get the entire orchestra to make their cue. They keep coming in a half-step too soon, he complains to arranger Jack Nietzsche during a break before Young sings a beautiful verse of the title song, Harvest. It's also cool to watch Young hop into a portable recording studio (belonging to the Rolling Stones) housed inside an unmarked truck parked outside to listen to a playback.

Another key moment finds Young playing Journey Through The Past alone at a piano. It's shocking to cut from the orchestral session to this solitary, but melancholic moment, but effective. This is one of Young's finest performances anywhere on film.

The handheld, grainy work lends the movie a homemade, voyeuristic feel, while the audio is crystal clear and rich. For instance, when the band launches into the protest rocker, Alabama, to kick off the film I jumped in my seat. There are only brief interviews of Young, along with producer Elliot Mazer and a few others. Really, Harvest Time is a fly-on-the-wall document, directed by Young. What's sorely missing is footage of him recording Heart of Gold with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor on harmony. Also missing is the heart of gold herself, Young's partner at the time, actress Carrie Snodgrass. Snodgrass inspired several songs on the album, but appears in one only shot of the film without speaking.

Casual fans of Neil Young will enjoy Harvest Time, though may bristle at seeing one too many aimless jams recorded in Young's barn and with the film's lack of structure. Rather, it's a chronicle of the making of the most important album in Neil Young's career. Sit back and play loud.

Harvest Time opens in cinemas in select cities, dates and times, beginning December 1. Check your local listings or here for schedules and tickets.