Cinema Signal:

Neil Young
The Book

. "Greendale"

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.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Grandpa telling his story to a Young lyric
That's probably Neil Young the cameraman on the right

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