Greendale (2004)

Genres - Avant-garde / Experimental, Musical  |   Sub-Genres - Americana, Musical Drama, Political Satire, Rock Musical  |   Release Date - Mar 19, 2004 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 87 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Josh Ralske

Singer/songwriter Neil Young, in the guise of filmmaker Bernard Shakey, has referred to Greendale as a "musical novel." While the film, shot on 8 mm and grainy to the point of abstraction, has its moments -- and should please connoisseurs of lefty DIY cinema, along with Young's most ardent fans -- Greendale doesn't quite work on movie terms. "Show, don't tell" is the cardinal rule of filmmaking as a visual medium, and Greendale breaks that rule on a conceptual level, with actors lip-syncing Young's often trenchant lyrics, while we see an overly literal visual representation of same. The music tells us everything, and the lo-fi images seem superfluous. The folksy, broadly acted tale and muddy visuals come bracingly to life only in two sections. In one, Young integrates news footage of John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge into a plaintive outcry against fear mongering and the erosion of our individual rights. And in the film's jubilant environmentalist finale, "Be the Rain,"Young finally does away with his "Shakey" narrative and ends things on a joyously hopeful note. While it's seriously flawed, sometimes to the point of being hard to take, Greendale shows an audacious artist grappling with the important issues of the day in a heartfelt and boldly original way.