Greendale Movie & Tour Reviews 2004
from Neil Young
From Greendale Movie
Tour and Movie Reviews 2004
and Movie Reviews for 2004
Second Edition: Inside Greendale
Heart of Gold
Neil Young charts his Greendale via "a little love and affection."
Source: Cleveland Scene (OH)
Author: Gregory Weinkauf
Published: March 17, 2004
Copyright: 2004 New Times
Contact: [email protected]
It's "full disclosure" time. Let it be confessed here that I have never been a religious Neil Young fan. Always liked him okay, always appreciated his adventurous spirit, never bought his albums. However, since I've also never met a Canadian I didn't like (apart from Mike Myers), it's great to be afforded a renewed opportunity to consider the art of the worldly, transplanted Canuck, Mr. Young, at what is very likely the peak of his career thus far: a multimedia project and film called Greendale.
"Homespun" is the first word that leaps to mind in connection with Young's charming and moving treatise on provincial America and its deceptively simple denizens. Here we have a collection of rough, rootsy, mid-tempo rock songs (performed with Crazy Horse) that became Young's latest album, which expanded into this film, which has now morphed into a traveling show and will soon become a book. Each offers a path into the eponymous town, and all of it feels as if Young is sitting down with you to share his local and global perspectives over a big slab of coffee cake.
The loose, character-rich story involves the Green family, ranging from pony-tailed patriarch Grandpa (earnest Ben Keith) and his thoughtful wife (spirited Elizabeth Keith) through a couple of generations to feisty teen Sun Green (dynamite Sarah White). We open on what apparently passes for bucolic splendor nowadays, with Grandpa and his grandson, Sun's cousin Jed (Eric Johnson, who doubles here as the Devil and triples as Young's tour manager), reading the paper on the porch of the Double-E Rancho (formerly the Double-L; a sticking point with the locals). Grandpa encourages his charge to employ "a little love and affection in everything you do," but it's also clear that the path to hell winds right through the sticks. This particular homestead, just outside Greendale proper, is owned by Sun's mother, Edith, and struggling painter-father, Earl (Pegi Young and James Mazzeo), and very soon we realize that these congenial white people and their setting are about to be rocked in unexpected ways.
For one, when all of them open their mouths, Neil Young's voice comes out. Weird? Oh, heck yeah. But one does accommodate this lip-synching conceit surprisingly quickly, owing to both the songs' loping, conversational quality and Young's obvious commitment to his cast and craft. (The track called "Bandit" is one of the greatest songs in the history of songs, and "Be the Rain" kicks serious ass.) Thus, Greendale is sort of a musical, a bit like a rock-video album of yesteryear; it has even been likened to a marriage of Thornton Wilder and John Lennon. More to the point, imagine a collaboration between David Byrne (True Stories) and David Lynch (Blue Velvet). Or -- especially given its trenchant consideration of Smalltown, U.S.A., and media madness -- think of Greendale as a kissing cousin to the truly fabulous Shock Treatment, the black-sheep sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
One must hand it to Young for his ambitious achievement. Acting as cinematographer to the film's credited director (Young's alter ego, Bernard Shakey), the rocker shot the whole, sprawling movie over a three-week period in and around his stomping grounds in Northern California -- on Super-8 film! In this age of beer commercials budgeted at a million dollars or more, this impressionistic-by-default cinematic method demands some aesthetic adjustment on the part of the audience. Greendale is definitely an art film --and sometimes barely that. But while most of the world's critics are struggling to dislodge their tongues from Sofia Coppola's backside, hallelujah for a truly independent film made on a real DIY budget.
Although there's plenty to nitpick here (conspicuously glued-on newspaper headlines that don't even stay glued on!) ,and one could find more scintillating cities to explore (Wings of Desire's Berlin, another apt comparison), Greendale grows richer the more one visits it. Sure, the Film School 101 pantomiming is occasionally cringeworthy, but Young's dramatic archetypes are sharp. When cousin Jed steps afoul of the law and favored local cop Carmichael (Paul Suplee) pays the price, a media storm (shepherded in part by living legend Russ Tamblyn) descends upon the Greens, and the town's apple-pie sweetness turns tart.
At the forefront of these changes is young Sun, who sheds her cheerleader identity to become an environmental activist along the lines of the name-checked Julia "Butterfly" Hill. True to his '60s idealism, Young shapes her as a "goddess" in the "planet war." It's not pointless posturing and fighting, but her humanity and art that turn rousing, even for the non-hippies in attendance. By the time she and her beau, Earth Brown (Erik Markegard), are literally racing to beat the Devil to what remains of Alaska, and Young's voice rages through her bullhorn, it's impossible not to feel involved on a fundamental level. There's plenty more to be felt in Neil Young's Greendale -- the result here being that this critic has become a fan.
Young's Flag-Waving Anti-Bushism Achieves Ragged Glory
Source: Village Voice (NY)
Author: J. Hoberman
Published: March 17 - 23, 2004
Copyright: 2004 VV Publishing Corporation
Contact: [email protected]
A bargain-basement musical extravaganza directed by Neil Young under his nom de wobble Bernard Shakey, Greendale is the season's least expected avant-pop funk-fest—blown up from Super 8, entirely post-dubbed, and splendiferously primitive.
Young's last project along these lines was the self-conscious concert doc Rust Never Sleeps. Here, he appears only fleetingly, with his recent song cycle—part topical protest, part garage-rock cantata—lip-synched by the cast in lieu of dialogue. Greendale opens in rural America with Grandpa Green (Ben Keith) sitting on the porch reading about government snoopery, then mouthing a "song for freedom." Inside, granddaughter Sun (Sarah White) watches disasters on TV, then dances around in her room, imagining the summer of love. But it's evil that has come to Greendale. The town is haunted by TV images of John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge, and the Devil (Eric Johnson), a strutting sharpie in matching red sports coat and shoes, manages to incite the murder of a cop.
Less a feature-length music video than an epic home movie, Greendale comes wrapped in flannel and wearing a baseball cap. Young's characters drive big old American cars through a Northwestern landscape all the more sad and lovely for being filtered through a soft fog of grain. The supreme composer of rock 'n' roll dirges, Young displaces much of his angst onto the visuals. After Grandpa ODs on unwelcome media attention, Sun turns activist. Her anti-war crop patterns and fiery speeches—key phrases sung by Young through a megaphone—land her on network news, although as she blows off steam with an exultant barroom boogie, FBI agents invade her room, plant pot, and shoot her cat.
Young's Our Town schematics and eco-libertarian, flag-waving anti-Bushism might strike some as naive, but Greendale is a triumph of three-chord energy. The driving Crazy Horse backbeat achieves an entranced Sufi-like climax with a post-9-11 chorus of fist-waving cops and firemen swaying behind Sun, and Young's disembodied voice exhorting all to save the planet and "be the rain."
Directed by Bernard Shakey
Opens March 19th - Landmark Sunshine
Neil Young Tour Powered by Vegetable Oil
Author: Sheri Linden
Published: March 15, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Reuters
Los Angeles -- Neil Young wants to talk about vegetable oil.
It would be reasonable to expect that the rock 'n' roll veteran has more pressing matters on his mind -- he's just launched a month-long concert tour to complement the theatrical release of "Greendale," his first film in 22 years.
But for anyone familiar with the project's storyline, which tackles such weighty subjects as religious warfare, corporate duplicity, the erosion of privacy and the destruction of natural resources, it will come as no surprise that its creator is eager to discuss not merely the tour itself but the tour's means of transportation.
"I have 17 diesel vehicles, and they're all running on vegetable oil farmed by American farmers," Young, one of the founders of the annual Farm Aid charity concerts, said in a recent interview with Reuters.
Traveling cross-country in that biodiesel caravan with Young are his longtime backing band Crazy Horse and a troupe of friends and family, most of whom are reprising roles they created in the film. In Young's visionary slant on contemporary Americana, they play the residents of an invented California town.
With its rural setting and "down-home" people, Young said, "Greendale" is "almost like Disney at first. It's pretty mellow." But there's a decidedly non-Disney resonance to the fictional story's events -- murder, civil disobedience, FBI surveillance and media voyeurism.
OLD MAN TAKE A LOOK AT MY LIFE
"You can read about it in any paper; it's happening right now," Young said. "They're real people. And they're being affected by what's going on."
Emblematic of that is the character of Grandpa, the outspoken patriarch of the Green family. Cutting to the heart of the matter with folksy and incisive observations, he's struck a chord with American concert audiences.
"He's having a rough time," Young said. "The whole thing that he believed in is breaking down." Young senses that, like Grandpa, his U.S. audiences "don't like America to not be free. They don't like all of this behind-the-scenes stuff," he added, referring to the Patriot Act, a controversial tool in the U.S. government's war on terror.
Young said he supported the act until he saw how it was being implemented. "It gives people who are shown to be untrustworthy -- and unworthy of having power -- way too much power."
But for all the bleak issues that "Greendale" confronts, it's not hopelessness that prevails but a powerful sense of renewal, with 18-year-old protagonist Sun Green (Sarah White) finding her voice as an artist and protester.
"I believe in youth," Young said. "It's eternally going to wash away all of the sins and start over again. It is the great thing that happens."
Young, whose four-decade career has been characterized by faithfulness to his muse rather than slavishness to audience expectations, didn't set out to create a self-described "musical novel."
He followed his instincts to new ground, and "Greendale" has evolved into a multimedia composition that includes the film and concert/stage show, plus two editions of a CD/DVD set, a book to be published in the spring and an intricately detailed Web component (http://www.neilyoung.com), complete with the Green family tree and character profiles.
Performing "Greendale's" 10-song cycle last summer in a solo acoustic tour of Europe, before the album was released, Young prefaced the numbers with explanations of the events linking them, adding and refining details with each telling. The introductions sometimes ran longer than the songs themselves and possessed a vivid visual sense.
"When the story of Greendale came out in the music and I finished the record, that's when it struck me that we could make a film," Young said.
He experimented with dialogue for a long-form video, and found the juxtaposition of dramatic scenes and band performances "no good." But director Bernard Shakey (Young's nom de film) saw "an otherworldly quality" in the acted sequences. He continued working with his cast -- among them Young's wife, Pegi -- who lip-synced to the album's tracks.
Self-distributed by Young's own Shakey Pictures, the film is set to be shown in at least 40 cities so far.
His Kind of Town
Rocker Neil Young makes a movie about a
utopian American community under threat
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Author: David Hinckley
Published: March 14, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Daily News, L.P.
Contact: [email protected]
Even by Neil Young's standards, his Radio City shows this week will seem unusual.
He'll be performing "Greendale," a concept album about three generations of salt-of-the-earth, small-town Americans and their struggles against polluters, greedy corporations, idiot media, warmongers and everything else that threatens what Young has always seen as the simple life of virtue.
"It's about the things I care about," says the 58-year-old Young. "And that hasn't changed much over the years."
At the same time, a high-tech world makes it ever harder to live that simple life. Greendale characters get pushed into serious mistakes, which perhaps raises the question of whether Greendale life will just disappear someday, because evil and stupidity are so pervasive.
Is resistance futile?
"No, I don't think it is," says Young. "There are always changes with evolution, but I think 'Greendale' says there's room for optimism and renewal."
Whatever audiences take away from "Greendale," the message comes at them with greater multimedia force than any of Young's previous work. As Young sings lines like "It ain't an honor to be on TV and it ain't a duty, either," characters on the stage and on film act out the story while lip-synching his words.
In fact, much of the attention for "Greendale" has focused on the film, which also opens on its own Friday for a week at the Sunshine in Manhattan. An expanded DVD package with a book will follow.
Young shot the film himself, using family and friends as actors. It has no dialogue, only his music and a few on-screen notations for time and location.
"To me, it's like a silent movie," he says. "My voice is the organ in those old theaters."
He says he made the film the way he made some of his records, trying to catch raw energy rather than polish.
"The record was done before we started the film, so we knew what we needed," he says. "But you have a concept of what it will look like, and it doesn't always come out like that.
"Sometimes I didn't go to the locations before we shot, because I wanted it to be fresh. So I was working from memory. You shoot what's there, and that's what you've got."
If the result was that he didn't neatly wrap up all the loose ends, so much the better.
"A lot of it came out sketchy," he says. "I think my early records did, too. I like that. I like not filling in all the blanks, leaving some room."
He's well aware that "Greendale" isn't "Harry Potter."
"It's not the kind of film people will flock to see," he says. "We know that. It has to be promoted and presented properly. We probably only made 20, 30 prints. We'll show it in hundred-seat theaters."
And he couldn't be happier.
"It's great that you can make a small independent film and people will see it," he says. "If you're looking to make a lot of money, you're in the wrong game, but that's not what we were after.
"I had a great time. Film will definitely be part of what I do from here." And that will be?
"I don't know," he says. "After this tour, I'll take a couple of months off. I'm always thinking of projects, but I tend to file them away unless I have a commitment. All I know for sure is I'm doing one benefit."
Long active in causes from Farm Aid to the Bridge School, Young is delighted to talk now about how his tour buses burn plant-based biodiesel fuel.
"It cleans the air, puts farmers to work and reduces our dependence on foreign oil," he says. "There's no reason every school bus in America couldn't run on biodiesel."
On the other hand, he also jokes that if he didn't burn biodiesel, the young activist Sun Green in "Greendale" would "never speak to me again."
So Neil Young, who's run through some valleys and made some dark records over a career that's now almost 40 years old, seems to be in a good mood.
Proof: He's even saying a few good things about the media.
"I've been shocked by the [positive] critical response to 'Greendale,' " he admits. "I figured people would just say, 'He's a rock 'n' roller trying to make a movie.' But the reviews have talked about the issues and the message, which to me is the important thing.
"I'm just grateful they realized we weren't trying to make 'Lord of the Rings IX' and saw what it is. For a guy with a $500 Super-8, that's not bad."
Neil Young and Crazy Horse play Radio City, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Greendale Baffling, But a Nice Place To Visit
Source: Plain Dealer, The (OH)
Author: John Soeder, Plain Dealer Pop Music Critic
Published: March 13, 2004
Copyright: 2004 cleveland.com
Contact: [email protected]
Neil Young brought his new concept album, "Greendale," to life Thursday night at the Cleveland State University Convocation Center.
It made for an unusual performance bewildering at times, yet ultimately rewarding.
Young was backed by his stalwart Crazy Horse band keyboardist-guitarist Frank Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina and a cast of thousands. OK, dozens.
"Greendale" is set in a small town inhabited by various members of the Green clan. Jed Green is a cop killer, Sun Green is a tree-hugging activist and Grandpa Arius Green is a pinball wizard who oops, wrong rock opera. Actually, he's a retired railroad worker who strikes a blow for "freedom of silence" by dropping dead of a heart attack when a television reporter gets in his face.
As for the rest of the "plot," sorry, I didn't quite catch it. Put it this way: Neil Young is no Neil Simon. Nonetheless, "Greendale" was an entertaining place to visit.
The drama unfolded on an elaborately done-up stage, complete with a jail, a ranch house and a cardboard Cadillac. Additional scenery was projected on a video screen.
The characters in the songs were portrayed by actors who lip- synced lyrics sung by Young. At 58, he still has the soul of a poet and the quivering voice of molded Jell-O. The cast included his wife, Pegi, and their children Zeke, Ben and Amber.
The true star was the music, performed with devil-may-care conviction.
"Bandit" was done solo by Young on acoustic guitar. The tender ballad ("Someday you'll find what you're looking for . . .") was on par with his finest work.
Young played a mean electric guitar and a bit of bluesy harmonica on other numbers, rocking hard with his bandmates on "Devil's Sidewalk" and "Carmichael."
The material got a fair shake from 5,000 concertgoers actually, 4,999 mere mortals and one Cleveland Browns coach. Who knew Butch Davis is a Young fan?
Young & Co. plowed through "Greendale" from start to finish 10 tunes in 100 minutes.
The finale, "Be the Rain," ended with Young and the entire "Greendale" ensemble flashing peace signs.
As if to say "Thanks for sitting through our bewildering yet rewarding musical," Young & Crazy Horse returned to the stage for an extended encore of old favorites, starting with an unhinged rendition of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" and peaking with an epic "Rockin' in the Free World."
Neil Young's Idealistic `Greendale'
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Author: Michael Wilmington, Tribune Movie Critic
Published: March 12, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Chicago Tribune Company
Contact: [email protected]
Neil Young's "Greendale" is an odd but sometimes lovable little mixture of great rock 'n' roll and charmingly primitive filmmaking. In 10 new Young songs, accompanied by images, the movie tells the story of a beleaguered all-American family in a small California town coping with the perils of today -- drugs, media excess, corporate crimes and ecological disaster.
The family is the Greens of Greendale, a mythical clan and town invented by Young and portrayed by non-professional music-mates, old friends, family and on occasion by Young himself as "Wayne Newton." Watching them fight the power and lip-synch Young's songs is a strange but spirit-raising experience.
The movie was invented to accompany Young's new album and most recent concert tour (also called "Greendale") and it's something of a one-man effort. Young did almost everything on his film: writing the song-cycle script, singing and playing the soundtrack with his long-time band Crazy Horse, photographing it (under his own name) and directing and editing it as well (under the assumed names "Bernard Shakey" and "Toshi Onuki").
What he shows us are a scandal, a tragedy and a crusade. After the deceptively halcyon opening, to the song "Falling From Above," we see outlaw nephew and druggie Jed Green (played by Eric Harris, who also appears as a hammy Devil) break Greendale's peace by killing a cop and getting busted. Then defiant Grandpa and Grandma Green (Ben and Elizabeth Keith) are assaulted by intrusive TV hounds--and Grandpa dies on the porch of a media-induced heart attack.
All this spurs heroine granddaughter Sun (Sarah White) into a battle with corporate villains ("PowerCo") and ecological marauders, until she finally heads for Alaska to mount a movement--bringing down the house and the movie with Young's climactic rendition of his rousing ecological anthem "Be the Rain."
"Be the Rain" should stir your soul, especially if you were around during the social hubbub of the '60s and '70s. But inevitably the one-man band approach (rivaled in recent movies only by Robert Rodriguez ) produces mixed results. You couldn't call "Greendale" a great movie--or even, in most ways, a good one--even though there's something raffishly lovable about the way it's made.
The story's primitivism and Young's excellent songs and playing--that wonderful droning melancholy voice and knife-sharp guitar--are undermined by the borderline technical work and the non-acting of most of the cast. (They simply mouth the words to the lyrical conversations Young sings.)
In a way, the results are comically awful. If you walk into this movie knowing nothing of Young and his music you may think you'd blundered into some home movie being run with the radio turned up. But since "Greendale" is really Young's total creation and since the music itself is so good, this raggedy little movie begins to cast a spell, just like Bob Dylan's self-directed "Renaldo and Clara" or The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour.
Cinematographer Young has a good, if fuzzy eye and the childlike maps and chapter headings are interesting.
Best of all, "Greendale" wafts us back to what now seems a simpler, gentler time: the social activist haze of the late '60s and early '70s, that era when youth really thought it could change the world and post-'80s cynicism and defeatism hadn't yet seized newer generations. So I loved part of it almost despite myself.
When the crashing chords and defiant lyrics of "Be the Rain" close things out, there's a burst of idealism and energy that redeems everything. If you see "Greendale," treat the movie charitably and dig the music.
Directed by Bernard Shakey (Neil Young); written and photographed by Young; edited by Toshi Onuki (Young); production designed (art direction) by Gary Burden, Jenice Heo, James Mazzeo, Eric Johnson; songs by Young; music by Young and Crazy Horse; music produced by Young, L.A. Johnson; film produced by Johnson. A Shakey Pictures presentation; opens Friday. Running time: 1:23. No MPAA rating. Parents cautioned for drug references and mild violence.
Sun Green ............ Sarah White
Jed Green/Devil ...... Eric Johnson
Grandpa Green ........ Ben Keith
Earth Brown .......... Erik Markegard
Grandma Green ........ Elizabeth Keith
Wayne Newton ......... Bernard Shakey
Young Creates a Rock Movie Classic in 'Greendale'
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Author: Jim Derogatis, Pop Music Critic
Published: March 12, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Sun-Times Co.
Contact: [email protected]
Neil Young's "Greendale" is not an easy film to watch. Directed and largely filmed by the vaunted 58-year-old godfather of grunge on grainy 35mm stock with a constantly bobbing camera -- rarely has a pseudonym been as apt as in the credits for this movie, where Young lists himself as his longtime alter ego, Bernard Shakey -- "Greendale" could be the bane of many an optometrist.
The movie was not shot in 3-D but there are times when you might think it was, and if glasses aren't necessary during the viewing, they might be by the time you leave.
Then there's the problem of Young's storytelling. There is no dialogue, and what slim and rather inscrutable tale exists is carried forward only by the lyrics from the songs of Young's brilliant but sprawling album of the same name with Crazy Horse.
Never a particularly linear songwriter, the plot for this "Our Town"-like tale of a mythical rural American burg and a "typical" family called the Greens pretty much falls apart during the first 20 minutes.
Shakey Pictures presents a Neil Young film directed by Bernard Shakey. Written by Young. Music by Young, performed by Young and Crazy Horse. No MPAA rating. Running time: 83 minutes.
Typical is in quotes above because, outside of Young's twisted universe, it's probably not correct to use that adjective for any family that includes a beautiful young woman (Sarah White as Sun Green) who becomes an ecoterrorist, a father (James Mazzeo as Earl Green) who sells his soul to the devil to become a successful impressionist painter, and a brother (Eric Johnson as Jed Green) who shoots a cop and doubles in the film as the aforementioned nattily dressed, soft-shoe-steppin' Satan.
Let's not even get into grumpy old Grandpa Green (Young's buddy and sometimes co-producer Ben Keith), who is given to cursing the mass media while spouting poetic/philosophical nuggets such as, "A little love and affection/In everything you do/Will make the world a better place/With or without you."
But these criticisms are minor when you take stock of what Young has accomplished here: "Greendale" is one of the most potent mergers of music and film that rock has ever produced, easily outshining not only Young's earlier directorial/mixed-media efforts (1972's "Journey Through the Past" and 1982's "Human Highway," both notorious dogs), but other epic musical concept films such as Ken Russell's version of "Tommy" by the Who and Alan Parker's vision of "The Wall" by Pink Floyd.
Given Young's famous artistic perversity and dedicated contrarian nature, the more difficult aspects of "Greendale" may well be intentional roadblocks meant to ward off the sort of people he wouldn't want in his audience anyway -- sort of like when he turned to synth-rock circa "Trans," or when he toured with Sonic Youth as an opener.
In the end, what the movie recalls more than anything else is a lost era of rock moviemaking: the time of the vaunted "pot film," which may have lacked narrative structure but rewarded the adventurous viewer and listener (regardless of whether he or she was aided by illicit substances) by creating a world that was distinctly its own.
In other words, it's a helluva groovy trip, man.
Anyone who is willing to submit themselves to Young's vision will begin to see the beauty in his intentionally homely shots of the simple life in northern California, which are perfectly matched to the music's expansive and hallucinatory grooves -- songs such as "Falling from Above," "Devil's Sidewalk," "Bandit" and "Be the Rain," which stand as the finest Young and the best band of his career have produced since 1990's "Ragged Glory."
After seeing the film, the album (not to mention Young's lovably low-budget touring presentation of "Greendale") takes on profound new dimensions. In fact, it becomes impossible to imagine them existing without each other, making the movie a more successful and complete artistic vision than 99 percent of even the most ambitious videos aired on MTV or VH1, where the music is all too often a secondary consideration to attractive eye candy.
Bravo, Neil, for surprising us once again as a musician and as an auteur.
Long may you run in any media that you choose to tackle.
GREENDALE / ***1/2 (Not rated)
Sun Green: Sarah White
Jed Green/Devil: Eric Johnson
Grandpa Green: Ben Keith
Earth Brown: Erik Markegard
Grandma Green: Elizabeth Keith
Earl Green: James Mazzeo
Edith Green: Pegi Young
It Ain't Easy Bein' Green
Neil Young's Great American Novel
Source: Weekly Alibi (NM)
Author: Michael Henningsen
Published: March 4-10, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Weekly Alibi
Contact: [email protected]
Shows with love and affection/Like mama used to say/A little Mayberry livin'/Can go a long way
— “Grandpa's Interview”
There are two kinds of musician interviews. The first are the kind publicists get paid to sell to music journalists with free CDs, concert tickets and other promotional items in an effort to create some kind of buzz just prior to the particular artist's appearance in Hometown, U.S.A. The second are the kind music journalists hope, dream, struggle and pray for, sometimes for years, before they ever materialize. And sometimes they never do. Other times, they just seem to drift into the laps of unsuspecting writer-types. An interview with rock legend Neil Young falls firmly in the second column. It also fell into my lap after seven years of failed attempts, courtesy in large part to a fictitious family called the Greens, living in fictional Greendale, Calif. In short, Neil Young decided to make a film. And somebody's got to help promote it to Albuquerque audiences. That somebody, praise all that is holy, would be me.
There's no need to worry/There's no reason to fuss/Just go on about your work now/And leave the driving to us
— “Leave the Driving”
Young's latest musical excursion teams him once again with long-time backing band Crazy Horse, but there are a few noticeable differences with regard to this project. Greendale isn't just the title of Young's new record, it denotes a DVD, a live stage performance featuring Young and Crazy Horse with a group of lip-synching actors, and a feature-length film shot and directed by Young himself. Greendale is the whole package—a colossal cross-pollination of media spawned from the simple desire to write a few more of the instantly classic songs that seem to come to Neil Young as effortlessly as deep sleep to a tired farm hand. Some guys have all the luck.
No one can touch you now/But I can touch you now/You're invisible/You got too many secrets/Bob Dylan said that/Somethin' like that
Some guys have all the talent, too, and Neil Young pretty much tops the list when it comes to born-Canadians that have helped redefine the proverbial American Dream through three squabbling, squawking generations of American rock fans who, so far, have been mostly unable to define it for themselves. There's a simplicity with which Young is able to convey his thoughts, observations and ideas that not only makes them easily digestible, it makes them downright impossible to shake free of. He's a purveyor of folklore, a master storyteller and a driving force behind what we call rock music these days, all wrapped up in an enigmatic figure that more often than not looks like he's combed his hair with a pork chop and just witnessed, with otherworldly sadness, the apple breaking through the bottom of his sack lunch. It's clear we'll never completely figure out this Neil Young character, but we can bet money he's already got us figured, broken bones, broken homes and all.
Those people don't have any respect/So they won't get any of mine —
Back to Greendale. Young's previous studio album, Are You Passionate?, got the cold shoulder commercially. But, as his fans—like those close to him—seem to understand through some bizarre form of osmosis or mental convection, Neil Young really doesn't give a shit. His previous work seems to have little, if any, effect on what comes next, whether it be 1992's Harvest Moon, the 20-years-in-the-maiking epilogue to 1972's Harvest, the raucous, live-in-barn rockfest that is Ragged Glory or 1995's Mirror Ball, recorded with members of Pearl Jam while Eddie Vedder was more or less—and willingly—relegated to warming the bench. (Incidentally, Pearl Jam made a second record with Young, Mirkin Ball, on which Vedder was allowed to take a larger role.) Neil Young is famously unpredictable, yet always reliable. There are albums in his catalog that require more intent listening than others, but if you're willing to put in the time, the rewards come back to you tenfold. Usually.
Be the river as it rolls along/Be the rain/Be the rain — “Be the Rain”
Now, really back to Greendale. Young insists that Greendale was written one song at a time, with no preconceived notion of making a “concept album,” film or anything more than a stripped-down Crazy Horse album some folks might enjoy. But, as is often the case when the “Genius at Work” signs get dropped to the pavement, signifying mental lane closures and artistic detours, shit happens. Young says the songs on Greendale were written and recorded one at a time, in the order they appear on the album. The story told itself.
A little love and affection/In everything you do/Makes the world a better place/With or without you
— “Falling From Above”
At what point, exactly, it became clear to Young that Greendale was more than just a record remains something of a mystery, according to him anyway. But Greendale isn't your average record, motion picture or stage production, either. For one thing, there's not a word of dialog to be had during its 83-minute run. For another, there aren't any actors in the film anyone other than Neil Young fans are likely to recognize. For a third thing, the entire film was shot on Super-8 and looks, on the surface, to be some strange family's home movies spliced together in such a way as to tell a story that quite miraculously relates to us all—sums up our culture, our struggles and our yearning for just one small glimmer of hope in a world we're slowly realizing we may not want to belong to. And that's just for starters. Young says the stage version is larger in scope and, of course, benefits from what is perhaps the greatest bar band of all time tearing through the songs live.
Neil Young was kind enough to answer 20 minutes-worth of questions about Greendale—from its inception to its incarnation as film and as a stage production—in an interview with the Alibi last week.
You've said that Greendale didn't start out as a concept piece, rather you simply started writing new songs and they all just coalesced on their own. At what point during the making of the record did you realize you were perhaps onto something bigger?
I didn't really think about [Greendale] being a film until after the record was totally finished. Then we started working on the video part of it that we had planned on doing—combining studio stuff with other things that we would shoot. That was the original idea, but that was before the story was developed. So the story changed everything, and we started shooting a little Super-8 and putting that footage with dialog in with the music and the musicians playing, but it didn't work very well. But the Super-8 footage itself really had a quality to it. So we went with that, and that's how we came up with the film.
So the idea for the story of Greendale came from going back and listening to how the songs fit together?
Well, the songs actually were written in the order they appear in on the record. They were written one by one and recorded immediately. So I'd write one and finish it before I'd even start another song. It was like chapters in a book basically.
It sounds like on some level that the songs themselves told you the story of Greendale.
That's right. That's a good way of putting it.
In general, when you're writing songs, do they take on some kind of visual form in your mind?
Yeah, they do. Almost all of 'em. They do. I have some pictures [laughs].
Why was (Crazy Horse guitarist/keyboardist) Frank “Pancho” Sampedro not involved in the recording of Greendale?
When I made this record I decided that I wanted to really be simple. I wanted to get back to the very core, to the beginning of Crazy Horse—I just wanted one guitar. You know, I'd never done a trio—well, in high school I had a trio and it was fun playing being the only guitar player, and I found that I could control dynamics and tell stories. Writing songs that way was really raw and simple and pure. Everything was just real basic. So that format, playing with just the two other guys that I know really well, in a simplistic way—more simple than the four-member Crazy Horse even—is what opened up the room for the lyrics and the story to happen. I think that's what it was [trails off thoughtfully]. (Sampedro plays guitar and keyboards on the Greendale tour.)
There appear to be several themes at work in Greendale: There's an overt anti-war message, conservationism, an indictment of the mainstream media, and how all of that relates to current culture in America and the evolution of the proverbial American Dream. What specific statements are you hoping to make through the film?
I think the film is about renewal, and it's about the cycle of life and the turning of the generations—the way youth can take anything and start making a positive action on it. I have a lot of hope for the youth of today and tomorrow to make the right decisions. I think we're at a point where the political situation and the governments that we have now on the planet are making a ripe, fertile ground for revolution—not a violent revolution—but a revolution of caring and of taking care of what we have.
The character Sun Green, I think, has a lot of energy, and she represents turning things around and changing things. The first three-quarters of the film is all about old people and their problems, then Sun comes along and ...
You filmed the entire movie yourself, to your own soundtrack. What did you take away from that experience that was different than what you get out of simply touring to support a new record?
Well, I love being behind the camera. It's a joy to operate the camera and to direct my actors and the action and the scenery. It was a very rewarding way to complete the project and to tell the story. First laying down the story in audio format and then putting a picture on top of it is probably the blueprint for a form that I may continue to use.
For those who haven't seen the film, how would you say Greendale differs from a long-form music video?
The main thing I would say is that you're not gonna see me in it (Young himself actually does appear in the film, albeit minimally), and you're not gonna see me lip synching, and it's not about selling my image or how cool I am. It's not about selling clothes or fashion or any of that, so it's not really a video. It's more about telling a story about people—a family—and in that way it's a real film. The only thing that would make you think it might not be a real film is that it's a lot like a silent film inasmuch as you don't ever hear any of the actors actually talk. They talk through my voice.
Had you long aspired to break into filmmaking or is it something that resulted from having sort of accidentally written what turned out to be the script for Greendale?
I've always loved film as a medium for communication, and I've tried it before with some projects I've done—some with more success than others—but I've evolved my outlook and my talent with the camera and other aspects, and now I feel that I can use them. And if I can use the content of my music as the basis for a film, then I'll be able to make more films.
Is Greendale, the film, an indication that you've done most of what you wanted to do as a recording artist and have decided to expand permanently into different mediums?
I think you could say that, but you could also say that music is a major part of everything that I do and it will continue to be. But this is a new form, and I don't think I'm going to go back to the old form. The old form is really a part of the new one, sort of under the same umbrella.
Besides family members and those in the cast close to you, how did you go about casting the film?
That's pretty well it—just people who are close to me and people who work with me. Sarah White is from my daughter's high school. I saw her in several high school productions and liked her, so I cast her as Sun Green, and she worked out really well.
What are the major differences between the screen and stage versions?
The stage version is much broader, with broader movements by the actors, where the film is sort of subtle. The acting is much more exaggerated on the stage, and, of course, the scenes are portrayed differently. There's still no dialog on the stage version, just the actors miming their parts to the music being played live.
No One Knows This is Everywhere
Neil Young's Greendale
Neil Young's latest turn behind the camera is completely free of name-actors, pretentiousness and, to the delight of fans of Young's music, dialog. It's also mostly free of appearances by Young, unlike director Jim Jarmusch's 1997 Young biopic, Year of the Horse, in which Young's presence, along with that of Crazy Horse members Frank “Pancho” Sampedro, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, serves only to make the viewer uncomfortable for inexplicable reasons. In Greendale, Young and his Crazy Horse cohorts tell the tale of the Green family off-camera in song—10 of them, some clocking in at the signature Crazy Horse minute mark of a dozen or more—while actors mime the story, occasionally lip synching to Young's third-person lyrics. As a movie experience, it's bizarre, yet fully engaging, like a silent film with a soundtrack instead of subtitles.
Shot by Young himself entirely on Super-8, Greendale has that slightly disconcerting home-movie look, and filmgoers are never patently certain whether the events are taking place in the not-so-distant past, the present, or in some kind of incredibly lucid dream we're privy to courtesy of Young's incredibly broad vision and the camera he probably got for Christmas a couple of years ago. According to Young, the songs were written individually, coming together in story—and later, script—form only after the Greendale album was finished. Once the idea for the movie came about, the approach was decidedly straightforward. Young simply ran around northern California for three weeks with a camera, directing and filming his actors as the record spins.
Ultimately, the whole affair isn't as haphazard as it sounds. The resulting film is pure cinematic ecstasy for Neil Young fans, and it represents a breathtaking departure in indie filmmaking that should intrigue even movie lovers who can't stand Young's music. Greendale is part family saga, part political protest, and part social commentary on the sad state of current corporate America and a whole lot of spontaneous creative combustion, distorted guitars, feedback and a plodding rhythm section. What's not to love? What begins as a film that boggles the movie-processing part of the brain ends as a sweet testament to the strength of family and community that's as simple to digest as the fables and tales we all grow up on.
Greendale: A Film by Neil Young; Starring Sarah White, Eric Johnson, Beth Keith, Pegi Young; Unrated; Opens Friday.
Forever Young: Going With The Grain
Karaoke night with Neil Young's "Greendale"
Source: Newcity Magazine (IL)
Author: Ray Pride
Published: March 10, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Newcity Communications, Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
"Greendale" is a splendid example of an older man sent to do a young filmmaker's work.
Neil Young uses the simplest and also the most advanced tools to build a self-enclosed narrative world and offer up a hearteningly pissed-off commentary on the mucked-up world around us. Something so oddball and so personal, in fact, Young's characters--old, young, female, male, in the remote fictive California hamlet of "Greendale"--all sing in Young's voice. It's haunting, and within its eighty or so minutes of dancing grain and powerful music, some kind of masterpiece. It's not for everyone, but those who tumble into Young's allusive, passionately political fable are in for an adventure.
Directing under his customary pseudonym (shared by his previous four features) of Bernard Shakey, Young also edits as "Toshi Onuki" and shot much of the movie himself on Super-8 film, using a small, easily handheld underwater camera. Young then avails himself of the most modern of digital post-production techniques, tweaking the dancing grunge of his filmic image into something even more forceful.
There are parallels in the elliptically told story of the Green family, to be drawn from other work--Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," a hint of Brecht, and Lars von Trier's forthcoming "Dogville." Several days--and lives--pass within the Green clan, which includes a disenchanted grandfather, a failed artist father who inadvertently shoots a state trooper, a comically broad trickster-Devil figure and a contrary figure, twentyish Sun Green. Sun, an idealist-activist modeled after eco-activist Julia "Butterfly" Hill who hits the highway in hopes of saving Alaska, is the fresh-faced embodiment of youthful optimism, and takes over "Greendale"'s narrative in its anthemic, thrilling final fifteen minutes. Her refrain courses with what seems an older person's learned simplicity: "Be the rain." Talking to Young, I ask him why he shows such faith in, well, the young. "It's just an eternal optimism. I think it comes from youth. Idealism, optimism, all those things are there," he says. "They're naturally there. They're put there to help us to make it over each generation change. Sun Green typifies that."
There's something special about the handcrafted idea. Writing, you can pick up a pencil; music, a guitar. Most movies aren't made that way. It's especially inspiring to see someone who's older breaking from expectations. "It's a beautiful form, or medium, Super-8," he says in the tones of the true believer. "It really is just a quarter of a 35mm frame and it's got a look. It makes it possible for you to get into the picture, to enjoy it--the colors, the saturation. I really love that quality. It's not an imposing format, it's almost like it's not there when we're doing it. It's like, `When are you going to bring in the real camera?' It's like a photo shoot, when they use the Polaroid. We were able to be very versatile and very agile to move from one scene to another without having these huge setups, which are sometimes counterproductive to the actors. It may be right for everything else, but I try to make the actors to feel that basically they could live in their characters and they wouldn't have to wait around a long time. They just got the feeling that they'd never have to redo a scene for a technical reason. When we got the feeling that I wanted, the performance, everything else was secondary."
Young says the final form of the movie surprised even him. "It started by me writing the songs. I recorded them all, in order, one at a time. Finish each one before I start the next one. I hadn't even written the song that would follow a song when I was finishing it. I just went along like that. When the whole thing was done, we started shooting the visuals of the dialogue. With the characters. Just for something to oppose the filming of the sessions that we'd done. We thought we were going to cut around it, create a long-form video or something out of it, with me playing my guitar, the actors back-and-forth between one scene and another. We had green screens. But that was all terrible. It didn't work. It was very distracting, going back-and-forth. After seeing the Super-8, that world was perfect. I just loved the way it looked. So we just abandoned everything else and filmed the entire thing in Super-8."
And he was surprised again by positive critical reaction to the film of "Greendale." "I'm very happy with the reception we've gotten. Actually, I was stunned by the reaction to the film. I was wondering if, like you talked about the form of people all mouthing to my words, and the Super-8 camera. I thought it was cool, but I just didn't know if anyone else was gonna. I didn't know if it was going to pass muster. Whether they were just gonna walk out, going, "This is the fucking movie? What's this shit?"
"This is all we get for ten lousy bucks?" I joke. "Yeah!" he says, laughing. "'What is this? A cheap imitation of a real picture? What are these people trying to perpetrate on us here?'"
"Greendale" starts perpetrating Friday at Landmark Century.
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