Does recording images on film make it a film?
This is one question posed by singer Neil Young's album staging he calls
"Greendale." As a story, it doesn't any more follow a dramatic linear
structure than most songs do. Song subjects meander, evoke thoughts and
feelings and have little restraint on the topics they embrace. Ballads,
being songs that tell a story, are somewhat more disciplined in outlining a
scenario, but much liberty is taken and allowed.
Neil Young, balladeer, is no different. His new album of the same name as
this piece of film creates characters to express his sentiments about a thing
or two, like getting involved in the environment issue, and he gets behind
the camera to shoot an enactment of his song imagery. The result, make no
mistake about it, is an album on film. Nothing more; nothing less. Which
makes it marvelous for Young fans, morbidly curious and rejectable for those
who definitely aren't.
While you may not get it all from the visual rendering, it tells about a
family that voices much opinion about the vagaries of political realities and
injustices, railing in particular about environmental issues. It goes into
the murder of a cop and the laments of a harmonica-toting perp as he's put
behind bars. It brings in a dance crazed, crazy garbed devil, the supposed
evolution into a sexy thing who goes by the name of Sun Green and becomes a
heavyweight envionmental guerilla chick. It's presented in dislocated
fragments building in its last track to a cohesive, chorus staged cry for
reform. "Save the planet for another day... Be the river as it moves
along... Be the Rain", cries Young through his enacting personnel.
The device is a cast of enactors who mouth Young's lyrics. The effect is
curious but not boring so long as you're into the energy on the exceedingly
good soundtrack by Young and his exceptional band, Crazy Horse.
This style and technique devised by the songwriter cum super-8 camera
operator, may not be a new amalgamation of art forms but it makes for a
potentially enjoyable entertainment for the right folks.
Within that context, even the high grain, low res, the dislocating cuts and
moves, the erratic continuity, incohesion and intelligibility are all besides
the point. The synthesis of the whole has everything to do with the
distinctive voice quality and signature phrasing of the songmaker and the
opportunity to see what images lay behind his musical creation. It's
probably the first time a singer-songwriter employed this medium to make
visible his internal ideas behind an album of 10 tracks.
If he's nothing else, Young is an innovator -- a creatively restless one whose
voice is one-of-a-kind and whose dominant motifs include love, kindness and
endurability for the planet. What was that? Be the rain.
~~ Jules Brenner