Last week we went to see Greendale in Half Moon Bay at the Coastside Film Society. This is Neil Young’s film of his most recent album.

I’m a long-time big-time Neil Young fan, but I’ve drifted away in the past few years. I haven’t liked the music, I have found some of his last couple of albums a bit forced and not that enjoyable. I can’t stand CSNY, so I’ve avoided the stuff he’s done with them lately as well. I haven’t seen a concert, I’ve not attended the Bridge Benefit (I went many many years in a row). Before the Greendale album came out, he did a tour in Europe where he performed the music acoustically. I downloaded some of it, and didn’t really get into it, and so I had never heard of any of it.

I’ve seen other Neil Young film efforts such as Muddy Track (though never had the chance to see Human Highway or Journey Through the Past, but understand they are silly and self-indulgent and just…bad…) and I had pretty low expectations of the whole thing.

Okay, bad stuff outa the way.

I absolutely loved it. The music was excellent – it was pretty grooving Crazy Horse stuff, of course lots of familiar tones and riffs from the stuff he’s been doing for many years, but great songs, great lyrics, very enjoyable head-bobbing stuff, on first listen.

The movie itself was pretty interesting. Greendale was filmed in and around HMB, so attending a screening locally was neat. The first shot in the film was of the sky. The second shot was an exterior of a church – the very building we were sitting in to watch the film. That was pretty cool. And it’s a story, there’s events that happen and some evolution and progress of a narrative. It’s enough to follow along and enjoy and feel some sense of closure by the end.

The “thing” is that there is no dialogue, it’s all just the Neil songs. The actors lip-sync, but not as if they are singing, more as if they are talking, which makes for an interesting visual effect since of course Neil is singing on the soundtrack. And really, what this produces is one of the most post-modern things I’ve ever experienced (can there be varying degrees of post-modernity or is that a contradiction in terms?)…Neil’s narrative voice in the songs tells the stories, but when the lyrics include “And Grandpa said:” then the words are lip-synced – or spoken if you will – by Grandpa. And then sometimes the characters speak other parts of the song. And sometimes the characters play musical instruments for the solo – as if they can actually hear the music that we hear – which supposedly is in the soundtrack. And then at one point the film transitions to a rehearsal for a Neil Young Greendale concert where the story of the film and album was staged. Recursion, or something.

Lotta funny deliberate frame-breaking moments, for example, the regular use of newspaper headlines, that were printed on white paper and taped onto an actual newspaper. White paper – gray newsprint. One was even peeling off.

In one shot a bug lands on the camera lens. Another shot is badly trimmed so we see the half second of non-motion before “Action” was called.

But I think it’s a bit disingenuous to believe Neil’s “one take and that’s it” approach too much – there’s a lot of planning here, there’s a lot that was really well thought out (and well considered in the editing) in order to create such amazing synergy between the characters and the music and the story.

Our screening was attended by various people responsible for the film, including Neil himself, looking very local and just-off-the-ranch. He took questions after, stood onstage with LA Johnson (sp?) and various other members of the cast – most of whom said nothing, except for one guy who played the eccentric painter who appeared to be just that – a local eccentric dude, who is in fact the painter of all the artwork his character painted. Anyway, Neil was very gracious, even when people asked cringe-worthy questions. I guess the aging hippie contingent in town is more comfortable than I with “Neil you have painted gorgeous melodies all your life and we want to thank you.”

The political and environmental message of the movie is obviously very important to Neil; he spoke to the crowd about “getting the word out.” It was the first time I’d seen him speak in a non-musical-performance setting.

All in all, a very cool and satisfying only-on-the-coast event!


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