The old warhorse's socio-political eco-musical in miniature
For those who survived the grinding tedium of last year’s live Greendale gigs, Young’s accompanying film at least attempts to contextualise his three-generational “musical novel” centred around the titular farming community in northern California.
Written and directed by long-time alias Bernard Shakey, it charts the human fallout of one “split-second tragic blunder” on the old coast highway, when Jed Green (played by tour manager Eric Johnson) shoots dead a cop during a routine search of his coke-laden car. With Jed awaiting trial, the Devil?also Johnson, in flash-red shoes and jacket?takes residence in the town. The effect on Grandpa (pedal-steel legend Ben Keith) is catastrophic. Stunned by Jed’s deed and with TV crews camped on the lawn and news ‘copters whirring overhead, he flips, firing a shotgun into the air before fatally collapsing on the porch. Galvanised by the horror, 18-year-old grand-daughter Sun Green (Sarah White)?scion of struggling painter Earl (James Mazzeo) and Edith (Young’s wife Pegi)?sets off into the world as a socio-political activist. Armed with megaphone and daubed in war paint, she first chains herself to the 16ft lobby statue of uber-industrialists Powerco, before emerging as an eco-warrior in the Alaskan wilds.
Shot on Young’s favoured underwater Super 8mm camera, it’s a humanist endeavour that ultimately falls short, less for its narrative trick (no dialogue, just actors lip-synching the lyrics of Greendale throughout) than for the plodding mid-tempo monotony of the songs themselves. Had he delivered an inspired suite of material, this could have been something. A pity, since many of the larger themes (media invasion of privacy, global planet rape, political power-broking, social revolution) are more strident echoes of Young’s early film work?Journey Through The Past (’73) and Human Highway (’82). The moment when slowly-mouthing Grandpa lies dying on the porch is more telling than Young perhaps envisioned in his deadpan lyric: “This guy who just keeps singin’/Can’t somebody shut him up?”