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A product with a message
on 19 March 2013
This is a difficult film to judge: very good in parts, poor in others. Let's start with the obvious: the CSNY music is not as good as on their five-star albums 'Crosby Stills and Nash' and 'Deja Vu'. How could it be? So, with respect to other reviewers, I don't believe it can be marked as five-star outstanding - not for the music, at least.
Judging it as a film: it is a product with a message. A powerful one. It is a film of a concert tour interspersed with songs taken from the various performances. The message of the tour is fervently anti-war, and that arouses mixed emotions in the audiences. Some people find the anti-war message unpatriotic. Others find it essential and compelling. The reactions are shown in this film and, to be fair, CSNY don't mind the mixed reception: people are entitled to their opinions and they are expressing theirs through their music. As a film with a message, it works as the group intended, and in that respect it's a very good offer.
At the beginning of the tour it is clear that CSNY are rusty. Things improve as they go on. There are snatches of their former brilliance but some of the shows, as shown, were very much below the standards of their early years.
The film itself is probably a tad overlong for the message it conveys. There are only so many ways that you can say 'we are against war and our audiences may, or may not, agree'.
What struck me, sadly, is how Stephen Stills has aged. He is a shadow of his former self music-wise. Crosby has come through his difficult journey into, and out of addiction, remarkably well. Graham Nash remains on top form and Neil Young - the driving force behind this project - is, well, Neil Young. His status these days is iconic.
In the extras are the videos that CSNY created for the tour: unfortunately (for me) the music is mixed with more of the message, and I found that unsatisfactory: I would have liked to hear the music by itself.
Outstanding? No. With the best will in the world, not a five star outing, no matter how much one may sympathise with the message. Worth a watch? Oh yes: very much so. These are four of the world's best musicians and they have something to say as well as music to perform.
As an overall package, I would say three stars. People who mark it lower than that are missing the underlying quality of the musicians and the music, and the reasons why the film was made in the first place.
If you're a CSNY fan of old, you'll probably enjoy it. If you are coming to them cold, this is not the starting point I would recommend. Listen to the early recordings first.