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GREENDALE (director/writer: Bernard Shakey aka Neil Young; cinematographer: Neil Young; editor: Toshi Onuki; music: Crazy Horse; cast: Sarah White (Sun Green), Eric Johnson (Jed Green/Devil), Ben Keith (Grandpa Green), Erik Markegard (Earth Brown), Elizabeth Keith (Grandma Green), Pegi Young (Edith Green), James Mazzeo (Earl Green); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: L. A. Johnson; Shakey Pictures; 2003)
“Its strength lies in its rawness, innocence and lack of polish, as it gets the concerned singer’s message out loud and clear to those who are believers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Legendary Canadian folk-rocker Neil Young presents a movie video (much like a home video) shot in three weeks on a handheld German Super 8 underwater camera. It’s something he calls “a musical novel,” a musical feature of Young’s album of the same name. There’s no dialogue, as 10 songs on the album are lip-synched by the actors. Each song is introduced by a hand-drawn, black-and-white drawing.

The experimental film offers healthy doses of the sage’s pet protest issues, libertarianism views and political sanity stances (including Bush bashing and pro environmental sentiments). It’s done in an episodic fashion that chronicles life for the Green family in a fictional all-American town named Greendale, located in Northern California. The family patriarch is the pony-tailed baseball hat wearing Grandpa Green (Ben Keith), who lives on the Double-E ranch with his family (the ranch signifies his positive back to the soil roots). His son Earl (James Mazzeo) is an impoverished painter. The opening song has father and son sitting on rocking chairs on the porch and reading the bad news in the newspapers about government blunders, as they lip-synch Young’s potent but simple lyrics about freedom and America’s moral backslide: ”A little love and affection/in everything you do/and the world will be a better place/either with or without you.”

In his quiet, prophetic way the intelligent, informed and artistic Young beats the same drum he always has, as he voices unhappiness with the media being co-opted by big business interest, the government’s growing intrusions into our private lives and its fear mongering as even more of our civil liberties are being taken away, and the insatiable appetite of corporate greed.

TV images of reactionary politicians (John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge) and unending violence affect the whole town with a growing sense of doom; the Devil (Eric Johnson), done up in a duplicate red sports coat and shoes, struts about town stirring up trouble wherever he can and takes advantage of our confused states to instigate the murder of a cop.

The film reflects Young’s anger at the land being raped and the individual’s rights being trampled on. It’s now the younger generation’s chance to ply their activism, as we witness Green’s spirited redheaded granddaughter Sun Green (Sarah White) pick up the mantle of the family’s activist tradition by departing for Alaska to be an environmental activist against the unsound policies of Powerco that are ruining the wilderness’s ecosystem. While protesting, the FBI raids her home and plants marijuana leading to her highly publicized arrest.

The film concludes on a high note with its most powerful number — ”Be the Rain,” whose chorus (uniting soldier, fireman, policeman and hippie) implores us to ”save the planet for another day.”

Its strength lies in its rawness, innocence and lack of polish, as it gets the concerned singer’s message out loud and clear to those who are believers. Others will find some excuse to scorn the film (in other words, the valid message), by railing about the grainy picture or that the songs weren’t produced in a slick techie package like most other MTV videos.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”