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Still Singing His Own Song



Source: Times Online (UK)
Author: Mark Edwards
Published: August 22, 2004 
Copyright: 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Contact: [email protected] 
Website: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/

Never conventional, Neil Young has made a film of his album Greendale and created a new art form in the process, says Mark Edwards.

Anyone who bought Neil Young’s Greendale album last year was rewarded with the man’s best collection of songs in a decade. But that, it turns out, is only half the story. Next month, you’ll be able to buy the Greendale DVD, and far from being just a collection of promo videos or a “making of” documentary, Greendale is a real movie. “There are a lot of variations on Greendale — live shows, the album — but the real mother lode is the movie,” says Young. “That’s the essence of the thing.” 

Now, you may be wary of anything that sounds like it might be a concept album, rock opera or multimedia experience; and you would be right to be wary. But Greendale is a little different. Actually, Greendale — and this will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Young’s nearly 40-year career — is quite a lot different. In fact, the only thing stopping me from claiming that Young has invented a new hybrid art form of his own is that then I would have to give it a name, and I haven’t got a clue what that might be. 

You could think of it as a silent movie, with the album serving as the soundtrack, except that the cast lip-synch the song lyrics (which do, in fact, comprise the characters’ dialogue) as they act out the narrative that is explored in the songs. To make it even stranger, the film is shot entirely on a handheld Super 8 camera, then blown up to 35mm, giving the whole thing a distinctive fuzzy, shaky appearance. (Young directed it under his frequent nom de plume, Bernard Shakey.) Greendale tells the story of a small town in America, concentrating on three generations of one particular family. A moment of panic and a sudden death lead to rebirth and the promise of revolution. When Jed, the black sheep of the family, kills a cop, the media descend on the family’s ranch. Then something happens that, in a contemporary film, is a lot more unexpected than a murder. Grandpa (Jed’s father) refuses to talk to the media. “It ain’t a privilege to be on TV. And it ain’t a duty either,” he says (or, if you prefer, Young sings). 

It’s a theme that is explored as the movie progresses — the superficiality of what Young calls our “Entertainment Tonight civilisation” — but it could also be his personal motto these days. Disgusted with the way the nascent video medium — a potentially exciting art form — mutated into a series of extended commercials, Young turned his back on the conventional music-industry channels (and, of course, you may argue that, given his age, the conventional music-industry channels were, at the same time, turning their backs on him). But, as he explains the evolution of Greendale, you can’t help thinking that he’s having a lot more fun creating and promoting his music in his unique, decidedly home-grown and resolutely low-key way. 

Greendale wasn’t planned or plotted in advance. “What happened was that characters started showing up again in other songs,” says Young. “When Jed showed up again in the third song, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting — he came back.’ From then on, I just let it go where it wanted to go. And the characters kinda surprised me. I liked Grandpa. I thought he was pretty funny.” 

He called on his long-standing backing band, Crazy Horse, to record the songs. His aim, he says, was “to keep them as simple, as roots and as pure as possible. Few, if any, adornments, so the production wouldn’t be a distraction. 

“I didn’t want it to sound like a record,” he adds, making a telling distinction, “just like music.” The result is a series of gently chugging narrative songs that call to mind the simple but irresistible Chicago blues of Jimmy Reed, or perhaps the laid-back groove of JJ Cale — except loaded with Young’s trademark distortion, of course, and liberally scattered with those blissful falsetto hooks, of which the man seems to have an endless supply. “We had a blast playing it,” he says, and you believe him. 

Young was committed to an eight-week tour before the Greendale album release date. Again, he scorned industry wisdom, which would have been to play a greatest-hits set and hold back the Greendale songs until his audience had time to buy the album and get acquainted with the new material. 

“I don’t like to be a rewind thing,” he says. “I had the songs and I was going on the road, so I didn’t even have to think about it. I was going to play ’em.” He began rehearsing a set comprising the entire Greendale album from start to finish. It was only as the dates drew near that he thought: “Oh, God, I’m going to do all these new songs and people are going to throw food at me. So I came up with the stage play — lots of things to look at.” 

So it was that his audience was greeted with a set of new songs performed by Young and Crazy Horse, while a cast acted out the story around them. “Even the first night was great,” he says. “They wanted to hear something new. People like to be challenged. My audience is intelligent. They may be rowdy and crazy, but they’re smart.” 

The concept of the Greendale movie evolved from his original plan for a more conventional “making of the album” film. For this, Young installed giant “green screens” in his studio, then went out filming landscapes. “The idea was that we would shoot us playing the music,” he says, “while all the time, the landscape footage on the screens would be changing, so we could keep changing where the studio was with each shot. First, it could be in Africa, then in the Midwest.” 

Innovative, certainly, but not entirely successful. “It was okay,” he muses, “but kinda boring. It was just a bunch of guys playing. We were grooving to the music, but...” He sighs. “Then it all became more of an experience for us. It was more fun and more intriguing as it went on.” 

He decided to introduce the characters onto the screens: “We did all the dialogue sections, cut it in, put it in the windows. This was much more interesting. Then we knew we needed to fill the story out some more.” Eventually, they shot the story as a movie, and that’s what you get on the DVD. 

The result is typically homespun, and not just because of the fuzzy quality of the pictures. Young eschewed professional actors, calling in friends, employees and even his daughter’s school friends to play in the movie. “I didn’t want any show business,” he says. “I just got people I knew could act, and made sure they were comfortable.” 

The resulting film was critically acclaimed on its theatrical release, and — in its portrayal of a family who are puzzled and disgusted at what has happened to their country — Greendale was widely seen as a parable for post-9/11 America. “It’s not so much that, it’s just real life,” says Young. “It’s a change of generations in a little town. It’s not specifically about right now.” 

The crucial moment in the film is when Grandpa dies. (Young has suggested that the death of his own father-in-law may have prompted the writing of the songs.) At this point, Grandpa’s granddaughter, Sun Green, is reborn as an environmental activist, bringing a youthful idealism to the second half of the album that stops the serious message getting weighed down in “grumpy old man” territory. 

“Sun Green is the only ray of light in the first part of it. Everything else is pretty screwed up,” he admits. “They don’t look real happy. Things aren’t easy. They’re all hung up. Life gets like that. Then, when Grandpa dies, off she goes.” 

Sun Green cleverly hijacks the media with her own message to become a leader of a new youth movement. “She was a character I’d had in my head for a while,” says Young. “Or, at least, I had an inkling of her. I didn’t know what she was called. But she really grew during Greendale. She’s very conscious of the planet and of politics, and she uses her power for good, rather than just to make her house bigger or to have more people hanging around,” he adds, in a sideswipe at the generation of pop stars who have followed him. 

“Sometimes, when you watch TV or read the papers, it’s kind of hard to imagine someone with a conscience coming along, but, you know, this would be a good time for it.” His theory is that George W Bush presents the best target for youthful revolution since Nixon, that an extreme right-wing government will act as a lightning rod for a new generation of young activists. “It’s a very fertile ground for a social revolution,” he says. 

Perhaps you might think that these are just the dreams of an old hippie who wants to turn back the clock to the 1960s, and the heyday of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but, somehow, they sound rather convincing when they are backed up by Young’s guitar, propelled forwards by Crazy Horse and transformed into his high-pitched mantras. The lyrics that jump out at you on Greendale are hopeful and optimistic: “Some day you will find what you’re looking for”; “You can make a difference if you really try”; “Save the planet for another day”. 

“Oh, I’m a big advocate of the fact that you can make a difference,” he says. Not that he expects Greendale itself to help foster a new generation of environmentally and politically aware youth. He can’t see how they would even get to see or hear it. If, however, you’re a little closer to Young’s demographic, you should probably give it a try. 

Greendale DVD is released by Sanctuary Visual Entertainment on September 6 

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Neil Young Movie Shows New Side



Source: Poughkeepsie Journal (NY)
Author: John W. Barry -- On The Record 
Published: July 2, 2004 
Copyright: 2004 Poughkeepsie Journal
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/

Neil Young's smile can seem more mad scientist than rock star. 

But the activity in which he engages the most during a behind-the-scenes look at his new movie, ''Greendale,'' is smiling like a child who has just won a baseball game for his Little League team by hitting a ninth-inning, two-out, full-count home run. 

The DVD version of ''Greendale,'' which in April played at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck, includes an intimate and personal look at this timeless rocker, who has composed a legendary catalog of songs and who wrote and directed ''Greendale.'' 

The film viewed on its own can at times be tedious and drawn out. ''Greendale'' may not hold the interest of someone who doesn't care for Young's music, offbeat personality or unique perspective on culture. 

But the story of a California coastal community, several generations of the same family and a teenager battling corporate greed and war while trying to save the environment is touching. This movie, which contains no dialogue, only songs written by Young that are featured on the ''Greendale'' CD, features characters and settings with depth and will likely touch a nerve with anyone who follows daily headlines about Enron and Iraq with even a passing glance. 

Director more than musician 

The DVD's behind-the-scenes footage captures Young as movie director more than musician, though he and his long-time band Crazy Horse perform several songs. Most of us, fans or not, are familiar with the side of Young that strangles the strings of a Gibson Les Paul guitar. 

But most are unlikely to know that artistic side of Young that treats a hand-held, German, Super-8, underwater movie camera like an appendage of his body. 

This is the side we see on the DVD's special features -- Young scoping film angles by lying on the ground, explaining to a road manager-turned-actor how to work a scene in which he plays Satan and shouting because someone is making noise while a scene is being shot. 

We also see Young as a human being, father and husband. His wife, Pegi, speaks about the film and his daughter, Amber, talks tenderly about her dad. The behind-the-scenes feature of ''Greendale'' grants an all-access, laminated backstage pass to the world through which Young moves when not on stage. 

With thick, gray sideburns and a receding hairline, Young looks old. But his long hair recalls the songs he wrote in the 1970s that changed contemporary music, like ''After the Gold Rush.'' 

You won't find any mad scientists living in ''Greendale.'' But the Pacific Ocean -- with its mighty roar -- is not far away from Main Street. Or is that the roar of all those screaming fans who, over decades, have learned much from Young's music? Perhaps it's just the buzz of baseball fans spilling over from the Greendale Little League Field, where young Neil has just cracked another one over the fence. 

''Greendale'' is scheduled for release on DVD July 27. 

For information, visit:  http://www.neilyoung.com/

John W. Barry is the music writer for the Poughkeepsie Journal. 


 

 

Forever Young



Neil Young's Greendale is refreshingly naïve,

 unprofessional and idealistic.


 

Source: Tucson Weekly (AZ)
Author: James Digiovanna
Published: April 22, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Tucson Weekly
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.tucsonweekly.com/


Greendale: Directed by Neil Young. Starring Eric Johnson, Ben Keith, Elizabeth Keith and Erik Markegard. 

Last year, Bob Dylan emerged from his silky cocoon and released Masked and Anonymous, a pretentious muddle of a film featuring more stars than a summer night. God only knows what Dylan was trying to do, but all the big-name performers and professional film equipment only showcased how amateurish and ill-conceived the whole thing was. 

Neil Young, probably learning a lesson from Dylan's folly, gives up any pretence of professionalism for his charmingly amateurish Greendale. Shot on super-8 and video, with a cast of complete unknowns and a notable absence of sync-sound, Greendale looks like that movie you would have made when you were 12 if you'd had the time, a stack of Kodachrome 40 cartridges and Crazy Horse backing you up. 

All of which somehow works--which is weird, because by the usual standards, this should be a terrible film. What Neil Young has done, in his cinematography, directing and lyrics, is to capture something that is almost impossible to fake: naivety. Yet I've got to imagine he's faking it, because, well, he's what? A year shy of being 60, an internationally famous rock star and a veteran of what is no doubt an enormous pharmacy of fun. 

The story, such as it is, is the tale of the Green family and the town of Greendale. Tragedy strikes when Jed Green, the bad seed of the family, kills a police officer. Grandpa is then hounded by reporters; officer Carmichael's widow feels the pain; and 18-year-old Sun Green goes on a quest to save the world from pollution and evil. 

There's no actual dialogue, just the words to Young's songs, which are occasionally lip-synced by the performers. In that regard, this is more like a set of music videos than a movie, but it's far more engaging than watching MTV for 90 minutes. The sloppy camera work is pretty like a unicorn, and the message of fighting back against evil has the childlike charm of a hippie's first love-in. 

To spice things up, the devil dances throughout the town of Greendale in red shoes, giving gifts of art and purpose to the downtrodden residents. Constant updates from the TV news tell us, in text scrolls beneath well-coifed anchors, about the loss of liberty, land and faithful government. And throughout, Neil Young and Crazy Horse do that thing they do. 

Actually, that may be the weakest element. At a live Neil Young concert many years ago, a fan shouted at Young, "It all sounds the same!" to which he replied, "It's all the same song." 

And it really is. It's that bar-room blues riff with Young's sing-talking over it, and most of the songs suffer from this. However, Young comes through in the final number, a rousing anthem with a chorus of mountain girls singing "be the rain," as the whole world is exhorted, by a megaphone-bearing Sun Green, to save the Earth, which, as we all know, is in dire need of saving. 

Can this kind of '60s idealism still work? Well, it works a lot better than the crusty faux-cynicism that Dylan put forward in Masked and Anonymous, and it's more emotionally gratifying than watching the Punisher murderize his enemies for their sins. 

Who knows? Maybe old-fashioned innocence and activism are just what's needed in cinema. The amateur format works with the concept, and it's a lot easier to take the message when it's delivered by the just-plain-folks actors than when it comes from mega-millionaires whose hearts are in the right places but whose Hummers are idling in the parking lot. 

And really, shouldn't we save the Earth? Last time I checked, which I do compulsively about every 30 minutes, even the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army are admitting that global warming is going to radically change the world in our kids' lifetimes. When I hear that, and then see what's being done about it (roughly nothing), I feel like I'm going crazy. Maybe holding hands and singing a song of empowerment makes sense in light of the untreated schizophrenia that seems to have afflicted the people we didn't elect to lead us. 

Of course, that's beyond the scope of a movie review. All I can say is that if you're a Neil Young fan, you'll definitely want to see Greendale. And if you want to see what can be done on a minimal budget that doesn't involve torturing teenagers in Maryland, you should also check out Greendale. And, also, if you want to see why film doesn't need 60 edits per second or a lot of explosions to be visually appealing, you should check out Greendale. On the other hand, if you hate bar-room blues, beautiful sunsets and the hope that the children are the future, then you should probably stay home and tend to your bitterness while watching Fox News and eating mad cows. But when the end times come, don't say you weren't warned. 

 

 

Edgy 'Greendale' a Place To Be



Neil Young turns the camera, and music, 

on politics and the environment.



Source: Poughkeepsie Journal (NY)
Author: John W. Barry, Poughkeepsie Journal
Published: Friday, April 23, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Poughkeepsie Journal
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/

Trustworthy like a tired old tractor turning over on one click of a key, his guitar growls and groans, spewing distorted dissonance through a crusty amplifier plastered with peace stickers in the same way that a reliable piece of farm equipment smiles and sings through a rusty radiator. 

Neil Young sings songs as a holy man might chant -- towering over and teetering along a fault line where old meets new, as the birth of breath fuels the monotony of repetition, whispering and wailing, songs from the past and of the present, addressing that which is timeless. 

But Young is more warrior than warlock. For decades, he has brandished his black electric customized Gibson Les Paul guitar, attempting to beat back those he considers criminals guilty of corporate greed and government corruption, high society sellouts and environmentally-indifferent elected officials. 

Young indicted Richard Nixon in the song, ''Ohio,'' which told the story of four Kent State students shot by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970, during a rally protesting the Vietnam War and U.S. invasion of Cambodia. 

Familiar themes 

In his new film, ''Greendale,'' which opens tonight at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck and runs through Thursday, Young: 

-- Slams the media and satirizes CNN. 

-- Mocks Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Attorney General John Ashcroft and the FBI. 

-- Addresses the California power shortage of several years ago. 

-- Pays tribute to Julia Butterfly Hill, who several years ago lived in the canopy of a California Redwood tree to prevent it from being cut down and to raise awareness of clear-cut logging in the Northwest. 

''The themes are very central and they're very similar to what he's always done,'' said WDST on-air personality Greg Gattine, a Neil Young fan who saw the infamous ''Rust Never Sleeps'' tour at Madison Square Garden in 1979. ''As a Canadian and as a man who has traveled the world, he obviously has great insight into American politics and American society and looks at it with that Neil Young slant.'' 

Young has never backed down from a battle with anyone he sees pounding away at the environment -- ecological or societal -- in much the same way that the Pacific Ocean pummels the California coastline near his home, south of San Francisco, or along the shores of Greendale, the mythical town that provides the title and setting for Young's new film. 

The legendary rocker wrote, directed and shot the film with a Super 8 underwater camera. His family and friends are the stars. The project was done in conjunction with a CD of the same name. 

The songwriter's values, musical legacy, characters, approach to music as a venue for storytelling, environmental stances and anti-war opinions, which were rooted in the social activism of the 1960s and which weathered the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, remain relevant when placed in the context of current issues. Young might as well have been singing about the Vietnam War, the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s or Watergate when, in ''Greendale,'' he invokes the war on terrorism and the U.S. invasion of Iraq and alludes to environmental issues such as the Bush administration's wishes to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. 

''Greendale'' focuses on a 21st-century family and community, traditional values and contemporary conflicts. The personalities of Greendale, a coastal town holding steady against suburban sprawl, are Grandpa and Grandma Green; Earl Green, a Vietnam veteran and painter who never sells any artwork; his wife Edith; and their 18-year-old, environmentally conscious, eager-to-leave-home and Greendale High School cheerleader-daughter, Sun Green; Captain John Green, who rarely leaves his boat; Cousin Jed; and Carmichael the Cop, whose tussle with Jed during a traffic stop leaves one dead. 

Working his way through the movie and touching just about everyone's lives -- as he does in real life -- is Satan, who lives in the Greendale Jail. 

Fans will 'love it' 

''Greendale'' might seem tedious and drawn out to the casual film-goer who typically spends his movie money on films like ''Lord of the Rings'' or ''Hellboy.'' But this film will thrill anyone who is a fan of Young's music. This film is also likely to appeal to anyone who enjoys cinema that is more fine art than high action. 

''This record to me is, 'I'm Neil Young, I'm going for a ride to Greendale and I'm going to take my camera. If you want to come along, fine, but it's my trip,' '' Gattine said. ''You have to put it into context. As a movie, I'm sure it's going to get slammed. As a concert movie, it's not a concert movie. As a cult classic, it's great. As a Neil Young fan, you're going to love it.'' 

Michael Chipak of Tillson has yet to see ''Greendale,'' but said he would likely check it out because he enjoys Young's music and the mystique. 

''I love Neil Young,'' Chipak said this week, while sitting on a bench and eating lunch at the intersection of Route 32 and Main Street in New Paltz. ''I like the old-school, blue-collar vibe he pulls off.'' 

''Greendale'' contains no dialogue. Sound in the movie consists solely of the 10 songs that make up the "Greendale'' CD, with actors and actresses mouthing the words that Young sings. Young makes a cameo in the movie as Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton. 

The film is entertaining, but it is a vehicle for the songs of ''Greendale'' the CD, which drive the entire enterprise, slash their satirical victims and give Young, still the musical maverick he always was and will always be, an opportunity to talk to, look at and assess himself, through the eyes of his characters. 

Young's catalog of songs, dating back through dozens of albums and hundreds of songs, falls within a sonic storyline shaped by a voice that bounces between the cry of a child and the roar of a lion. He can rock your baby to sleep with a lullaby or song recalling his own childhood, growing up in Canada. But he can also scare you out of your own dream and into his nightmare, with songs and sounds that are more urgent warning than gratuitous gore. 

The CD is built around the song ''Bandit,'' whose opening chord conjures Joni Mitchell's ''Coyote.'' Young's tender side assumes center stage on ''Bandit,'' promising, ''Someday, you'll find/Everything you're looking for.'' 

But the sonic centerpiece of the movie is ''Be the Rain,'' which closes the story and the CD, showcases Young's grungier guitar playing and could be considered a challenge from Young to the listener -- his attempt at building an understanding of the toll that pollution has taken on the environment. 

''Greendale'' -- as seen through Young's film and heard on his CD -- might be a place to which you would like to relocate or it could be a locale that you will want to avoid altogether. But as Greendale is built around the political satire of a Pulitzer-Prize winning editorial cartoon, the tragedy and conflict of a Shakespeare drama and the wild innocence of a third-grade Earth Day pageant, this town is definitely worth passing through, at the very least. 

 

Where Neil Young Lives



Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Aaron Wherry, National Post 
Published: March 26, 2004
Copyright: 2003 Southam Inc.
Contact [email protected]
Website: http://www.nationalpost.com/

Greendale isn't so much a fictional town as it is an artistic interpretation of Neil Young's brain. As such, it's complicated, detailed, not at all conventional and sometimes quite vague.

Greendale isn't so much a movie as it is a long-form music video. And the accompanying music doesn't constitute an album as much as it does a soundtrack. Of course, it's not really a music video. And it's not really a soundtrack, either. And then there's Greendale, the traveling musical. And, of course, the theory that the film is to the music what a soundtrack is to a normal film.

Young himself has never been an open book, so it's not entirely surprising to see his latest project is something less than a straightforward read.

But against all odds, Greendale, the record -- a concept album of sorts with long pieces (it's tough to consider most of them "songs" in the popular sense) about the Green family and this fictional town of Greendale -- actually worked. In fact, it was much better than you may have heard.

Recorded with Crazy Horse, it's an equal-parts caustic and dreamy narrative carried by some remarkable music. The album also became a musical; a purposefully ragtag show meant to echo a high school musical, which received a lukewarm response from audiences and critics alike when performed as part of Young's last tour.

This film represents the full-formed melding of these theatrical and musical tangents. Shot on Super-8 film by Young himself with no dialogue -- characters only mouth the words Young sings -- it tells the story of a seemingly pleasant and wholesome family in a seemingly pleasant and wholesome town ripped apart by the sin and vice of the modern, urban world (represented here by a rather hokey devil character who appears to be wearing red Nikes).

A drug-addicted Jed Green shoots a cop. The ensuing media frenzy leads to Grandpa's heart attack. With the family falling apart, and the whole town slipping slowly into the devil's clutches, granddaughter Sun Green becomes a megaphone-wielding peace activist, protesting the military industrial complex and marching off to Alaska to save the wilderness.

The ideas are fairly clear, if not entirely foreign to fans of the director. The rural, pastoral world is idyllic and sacred. But its enemies are many: corporations, the media, government and military. And where urban meets rural, the old ways of "love and affection" are most often the unfortunate victim of so-called progress.

Music would seem to be the answer in Young's world, or at least the rallying cry for change. So the movie concludes with an ensemble performance of Greendale's "humanist anthem" Be the Rain.

It is intentionally (we hope) cornball at times. The actors are all friends of Young. The film is shot in and around his ranch in Northern California. And the Super-8 film and his own "shakey" work behind the camera give it a home-movie feel.

It is, in a sense, mired in the past but raging against the present. And remember here that Young still grouses publicly about the CD format. He is most certainly a believer in the good ol' days. But at the same time, he holds no illusions. For all his hope, there is an equally powerful cynicism.

And those two conflicting forces come wrapped in the mind of a famously eccentric artist (on his Web site, Young has created an intricate back story for the Green family, and his map of the town is used throughout the project).

When all of these things are mixed poorly, we get something like last year's Bob Dylan project Masked & Anonymous -- an arrogant, ridiculous film of epic folly. But here all those things mix quite nicely, for the most part. The result isn't so much a film, but a compelling something all the same.


 

 

Greendale



Directed by: Bernard Shakey (a.k.a. Neil Young) 

Starring Sarah White, Eric Johnson and Ben Keith 

Classification: PG 

Rating: * * *

Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Author: Jason Anderson
Published: Thursday, Mar. 25, 2004 
Copyright: 2004 The Globe and Mail Company
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.globeandmail.com/

With its grainy images, amateurish acting and homemade sets, there's nothing slick about Neil Young's new movie. Then again, that's the beauty of it. As passionate as it is primitive, Greendale has all the brio of the two-note solos its creator plays on his guitar.

Directing under his long-time alias Bernard Shakey, Young conceived Greendale as the cinematic companion to his like-titled recording of last year, which itself was termed a "musical novel" rather than an album. Like the songs Young recorded with his band Crazy Horse, the movie tells the story of the Green family, the genial residents of a Northern Californian town called Greendale. 

The Greens fall prey to the chaos, paranoia and greed that Young perceives in American society at large after Cousin Jed (Eric Johnson) kills a local policeman during a drug bust and the ensuing media frenzy gives Grandpa (Ben Keith) a heart attack. All this trouble inspires 18-year-old Sun (Sarah White) to hit the road and become an environmental activist.

The piecemeal plotline suggests that Young has never been within a country mile of a Robert McKee screenwriting seminar, but it's not like this production has the backing of a Hollywood studio — quite the contrary.

Shooting with a Super 8 camera near or on his Broken Arrow ranch, Young enlisted his friends and family members as his cast. It didn't matter much if any of these people had any theatrical training because they don't really speak their lines. Instead, they mouth the words sung by Young, a tactic that further accentuates the movie's thrift-store surrealism.

In a long career filled with crackpot schemes, Greendale surely counts as one of Young's nuttiest. What's more, his past forays into experimental filmmaking — 1972's Journey Through the Past and 1982's Human Highway — were more intriguing than watchable. (Young also directed the superb 1979 concert film Rust Never Sleeps.) 

But Greendale is something else entirely. Actually, it's a lot of things — home movie, rock musical, folk-art curio, political manifesto, karaoke video.

This strange brew is heated through by the rage that Young feels about the rightward direction his adopted country has taken. It might be Jed who kills the cop but the real villains here are the TV crews who exploit the family's troubles, the federal agents who shoot Sun's cat and the corporations whose greed is devastating our planet. ("Mr. Clean, you're dirty now too" goes the eerie refrain of the song Sun Green.) 

Young's not so happy, either, about the Patriot Act, the new U.S. anti-terrorism laws being used against American citizens: Attorney General John Ashcroft's image accompanies the acerbic lines "we'll be watching you/ no matter what you do/ and you can do your part/ by watching others too."

Young's approach to the visuals can be astonishingly literal-minded — the phrase "a crow flew across the sky" is accompanied by just what you'd expect — yet he also brings clarity to songs that were bafflingly cryptic in their audio-only form. 

Likewise, musical performances that seemed excessively sloppy or meandering (yes, even for Crazy Horse) turn out to be just perfect for the ragged and dyspeptic nature of the work as a whole.

While this is hardly the first time that Young has made a virtue out of roughness, Greendale still transcends its limitations with great success. Unlike anything you've ever seen (or maybe even wanted to), Young's movie is furious, fascinating and utterly fresh.

Special to The Globe and Mail 

 

 

Young Makes Joyful Noise



Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Author: Geoff Pevere, Movie Critic
Published: March 26, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Toronto Star 
Contact: [email protected] 
Website: http://www.thestar.com/ 

Somewhere between a home movie and home-made one, Neil Young's self-shot, Super 8 family saga Greendale grows so organically from this veteran singer-songwriter's bare bones, lo-fi musical esthetic, it feels like it should be projected directly through a stack of amplifiers.

Shot over three weeks last year near Young's Northern California ranch, Greendale is intended as the movie incarnation of a multi-media experience that includes an album as well as both electric and acoustic concert versions. 

The story is about a multi-generational Northern California farming family, the Greens, whose tenuous roots to tradition are ripped up when a policeman is murdered and the media descends on their property like an invading army in suits. The Greendale project seems at once the 58-year-old performer's response to Bush's America, a lament for diminishing values, a plea for intergenerational bonds, and an indictment of a world being devoured by rapacious corporate greed monkeys. 

Against this threat of encroaching, mass-market mediocrity — which Greendale articulates as a contrast between the fuzzy, first-person images of Super 8 and the slick coldness of TV — Young responds with a veritable high-decibel, low-tech paean to rough-edged individualism: If musically this means the traditional, wrapped-in-flannel onslaught of Young's reedy voice backed by his veteran electric noisemakers Crazy Horse, on film it means grainy, handheld Super-8 images of actors mouthing the lyrics to Greendale's songs sung by Young himself. 

While the sentimental side of Young laments the passing of a grandpa who can't understand how the world fell into the hands of such despicable coyotes, his idealistic side celebrates a granddaughter's struggle to take it back. Binding them together is not just blood but music. In Greendale, Young's songs provide more than the narrative and dialogue: They represent the spirit of joyful noise that makes everyone rise up and dance.

If this sounds idiosyncratic, discordant and decidedly off-the-beam, it is, but then again so is Young's music — and Greendale is nothing if not a pure Neil Young experience. (It's simple: If you don't dig the music, pass on the movie.) Uncompromisingly amateurish, alternately naive and spooky, Greendale revels in the rough-textured images of Super-8 in the same way that Young and Crazy Horse have always exalted in the tumult of electrified guitar noise. 

It's a way of being heard in a world filled with meaningless noise. In this sense it is a uniquely and even inspirationally personal work — particularly if you're down with the movie's message that personal expression is mass culture's Public Enemy No. 1. Keep on rockin' for a free world.

Greendale - ****

Starring Sarah White, Eric Johnson, Ben Keith, Erik Markegard, Elisabeth Keith. Directed by Bernard Shakey (Neil Young). 87 minutes. At the Carlton. PG

 

 

 

Going With The Grain

Neil Young's movie 'Greendale' looks like his music sounds



Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Author: Steve Morse, Globe Staff
Published: March 21, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Globe Newspaper Company
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.boston.com/globe/

Neil Young is notoriously hard to reach for an interview, but he's not hiding out this time. He has a new film, "Greendale," and he's going full speed ahead to make sure it gets seen, as if he were some kind of Hollywood super-agent.

"The film has only one chance, but that's the cool thing about it," says Young, speaking by telephone from Philadelphia, where he had a show the next night. "It gives me somewhere to go where people are talking about the film . . . and not talking about my place in musical history."

Young's place in musical history is pretty firm at this point -- he certainly needs no introduction -- but in the movie world, he's grappling to find some respect. "Greendale," which opens at the Kendall Cinema Friday, is an allegorical, post-hippie/new age message film based on the rock musical of the same name that Young has toured behind for the past year. He performed it twice in Boston last summer and repeats it tonight at the Mullins Center in Amherst with basically the same cast.

"This will be our 80th show, or something like that," Young says. "We're getting better at it."

"Greendale" is about a small northern California town where Earl and Edith Green live a cozy, close-to-nature life with their daughter Sun Green, who later stages a protest at a power company and then goes to Alaska to help preserve the environment. Her cousin, Jed, on the other hand, kills a police officer in Greendale after being caught with drugs in his car. That shocks the sleepy town, and Sun Green's grandfather suffers a heart attack when confronted by media hordes, including a news helicopter flying overhead.

The aerial prop is a surprising inclusion for such a low-budget production, one that came courtesy of a friend of Young's.

"Yeah, we knew a guy who had a helicopter," says Young, laughing. "He's kind of a cowboy helicopter operator, and he was based in the town of Half Moon Bay, where we got just about everything else we needed [for the film]. We just worked with what we had."

The film "just sort of developed from the songs," Young says with typical nonchalance. "When we finished the record, we had told a story, and then it seemed obvious that we could turn it into something more than that. So we just went for it."

Young filmed it with a Super 8 camera, which yields grainy footage that makes "Greendale" look like an old-school art-cinema flick. If you're looking for the latest technology, you won't find it here.

"It's a German underwater camera called a Eumig Nautica," Young explains. "My partner, Larry Johnson [who also co-produced the "Greendale" album], gave it to me."

So did Johnson create a monster?

"Yes, he did," says Young. "But if you really take your time and you got all the right situations and everything is good, then you can actually get a picture that's kind of half-clear."

Young jokes that the grainy pictures from the camera "look the way that my music sounds."

"Yes, the pictures are as distorted as the guitar is," he adds. "It's basically breaking up, but I like things that are on the edge of breaking up. So they do go together, though I wasn't thinking of that when we started. I was thinking that, first of all, Super 8 is portable and easy to use. And since I was doing a lot of the shooting myself [Young goes by the name of Bernard Shakey in the credits], that was important to me. I didn't want to be bogged down by having an assistant that had to tell me how to do everything."

There is no dialogue in the film. The actors lip-synch Young's lyrics -- and he never planned it otherwise.

"A whole soundtrack was finished before the first frame was shot. So at that point, you don't have to worry about what the actors are saying or whether they remember their lines. And you don't have to worry about the rhythm of the scene or how long should it be, because it has to be a certain length or it's not going to fit."

Young has been a tireless booster of the "Greendale" album, even during the making of the movie.

"We got to listen to it all the time when we were filming," he says. "And the music really held up. There was nothing that made you feel, `I'm getting tired of it already.' I think [this is because of] the music form that we were using. It's based on the blues and if you get immersed in it, you don't ever have to leave it."

To the untrained listener, the music may lack variation because much of it deals with improvisation on some basic riffs. Not everyone has Young's appreciation for subtlety.

Regardless, he put his heart into the project, working 12- to 16-hour days for close to three weeks. "We just kept rolling. I'd get up at 6 o'clock in the morning and go until 9 o'clock at night," he says.

When was the last time he put in such long hours?

"I'll put in 12 hours a day sometimes when I'm making a record, but this was just so much fun," Young says.

And, like Alfred Hitchcock, Young briefly put himself into the film. He's shown with the hand-held Super 8 camera taping the West Coast band EchoBrain, which is lip-synching one of his songs, and in a short scene in which he plays singer Wayne Newton getting into a limousine. "Wayne wasn't available on 10 minutes' notice when we decided to put him in the film," Young says with a laugh. It was also a way for Young to satirize pop idols: as Newton, he wears a huge dollar-sign necklace purchased in a novelty shop.

"Young never worries about taking a risk," says Terry Stewart, the president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. "He is all about expressing himself, and that's what a real artist does. It's not whether the public will accept it or not, but it's about getting his point across, which is why he has remained relevant to many generations."

Young definitely expresses his point about the out-of-control tabloid media in "Greendale"; the press stops at nothing to hound the family in the film. "Obviously, it reflects the things that I feel," he says. "I find it hard to watch TV without getting upset. You wonder, why are we hearing about Martha Stewart ad nauseum and not about Halliburton?"

Young isn't sure if he'd like to make a "Greendale" sequel, but he does hope to get behind the camera again.

"I would love to make other movies," he says. "but I have to have a subject. There are a lot of subjects out there, but I'm waiting for them to all coalesce and become something that I can put down on tape."

 

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