The release of the Greendale DVD is a further development of Young's ongoing project, which has now seen an album, stage show and film. The story of a family in rural America, the film has grown out of the idea of visually depicting Young's songs - thus reversing the importance of the roles of film and soundtrack respectively.
The album was released last year to mixed reviews - many critics disliked the 'concept' nature of the album and the minimalist delivery adopted by Young. This format might dispel some of those criticisms; the film illuminates the songs not just visually but also lyrically (though at times the lyrics are depicted a little too literally, replicating rather than enhancing).
Having said that, the songs do stand up in their own right and there are some Young classics to be heard. With the quirky dance-hall style Double E, the beautiful acoustic Bandit and rousing final track Be The Rain, there are some fine tunes here delivered in a lo-fi, haphazard style by Young and Crazy Horse rhythm section, Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot. It's easy to see how Young inspired a generation of grungers, Dinosaur Jr in particular.
Though flawed in many ways, one of the film's greatest triumphs is its lo-fi cinematography and delicate portrayal of the ambience of the town itself. With a Lord of the Rings-style map to contextualise each song, the film brings the idea of Greendale - a small coastal American town, removed from and yet affected by events going on in the outside world - convincingly to life. Being shot in super-8 with a grainy but vibrant colour gives it a nostalgic feel: fitting since the film's main commentator is Grandpa Green, an old hippy whose family the film focuses on.
In essence the film is about the 'growing up' of the hippy ideal, seen through the generations of the Green family. Grandpa comments on the state of the world from his front porch; his bohemian artist son Earl struggles to sell his work, while clinging desperately to his daughter Sun Green, a self-styled eco-warrior who eventually breaks free of her family ties to go out and protest against corporate and government corruption.
As is the danger with any piece of art with an environmental theme, the message is a little trite and unfocused, and at times Young places too much emphasis on his principal female character as a representation of all that is good. Conversely, the role of the harmonica-playing devil in the film, and what he represents, is frustratingly unclear.
Still, the DVD format does go a long way to explain many elements of the film. A comprehensive family tree and biog of all the characters are two useful extras, as is the amusingly self-deprecating 'Making of' documentary (also directed by Young), in which those involved in the project look a little blank and bemused when asked what it's actually about. What it does explain however, is how much of this film is Neil Young's own creation, from writing and performing to directing and actually pointing the camera.
For Neil Young fans, this DVD is a must. For non-fans, it's a fascinating introduction to an old master who continues to invent and pioneer well into the autumn of his career. Well worth a watch.