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Greendale and the Damage Done

If Neil Young’s upcoming movie strikes you as artless and abit avant-garde, that’s intentional. “You can’tfind a film that looks cheaper than Greendale,” saysthe ornery godfather of grunge, describing his first cinematiceffort in more than 20 years. If, however, you think it looksamateurish, don’t blame Young–blame Bernard Shakey, hisoccasional alter ego and the film’s nominal director.”He’s responsible for all my mistakes,” saysYoung. “He’s like a pincushion. I blame him foreverything that goes wrong.”

Based on his 2003 album of the same name, Greendale(which begins its multicity run on March 12) tells the story of theGreens, a fictitious California family whose tranquil existence rapidlyunravels when Cousin Jed is busted for drug possession. The movie wasinitially conceived as a living document of the album’s recordingsessions, intercut with dramatizations of the songs, but, says Young,”That really sucked. We liked being in Greendale, and we werebored with seeing the musicians. It was a whole lotta nothing.” So thein-studio sequences were scrapped, and, over a period of about twoweeks, Young shot Greendale in coastal cities throughout theSan Francisco Bay Area, cast mostly with friends from his recording androad crews and filmed entirely on a Super 8 camera designed forunderwater use. Needless to say, the end result is a little weird, butit’s also a sad and sprawling denunciation of almost every modernAmerican institution, from faceless utility companies to the mass mediato the Bush administration. “I can’t help but say what I want to say,”says Young, who has pissed off everyone from Richard Nixon to MTV inhis 35-year career. “But what can they do–put me in Cuba? I thinksomebody would notice that.”

Greendale is also easily the most coherent film in Young’s catalog (which includes his contemplative self-portrait Journey Through the Past and the indescribably bizarre Human Highway),but viewers can decide for themselves when these cinematic curiositiesare released on home video. “Eventually, everything’s gonna come out onDVD,” says Young. “Bernard Shakey won’t rest until every coin has beencollected.”