August 4, 2004 - Mike Restaino,

It looks like something your uncle filmed back in 1965, with grandpa's old 8mm camera (at lest until the door to the beat-up old Winnebago slammed shut). It's true - for the first 90 seconds of Neil Young's Greendale, a filmic riff on his 2003 concept album of the same name, even diehard Neil lovers have no idea exactly what is happening. But once the clunking majesty of the music revs up, we see the truth: Greendale is arguably the most bizarrely effective and ambitious film of the year, a motion picture that literally draws its innate and wondrous charms from the fact that its production quality lies somewhere between crappy old home movies and student-film aesthetic provocation.

Because Greendale isn't shot using even slick Super-8 film, it can't even manage the bohemian chic that accompanied Young and Crazy Horse's 1996 tourfilm in Year of the Horse. Greendale constantly ebbs in and out of focus. It sometimes allows for seamless transitions from shot to shot - and sometimes it abandons any kind of cinematic geography whatsoever.

But, truth be told, Neil Young and his Greendale team don't give a fuck about technological polish. They've got a story to tell and they're telling it. Case closed.

But this D.I.Y. approach is what makes Greendale such an inimitable masterwork. Some critics have challenged that the film's loosey-goosey narrative structure and borderline cheesy actor lip-synch gives the film an amateurish, uneducated grotesque quality. The great thing about that sentiment, though, is that it's true - and the film is all the better because of it.

Greendale plays like Young and his producing collaborator, Larry Johnson (who also co-produced the Greendale record), are making it up as they go along, and this seat- of-the-pants momentum makes the film punchy and sharp. But don't be fooled into thinking that Young doesn't have his wits about him with all this low-rent presentation: The visual scope - and, more importantly, the narrative structure - of Greendale is expansive and symbolic. There have been half-concert/half-dramatic films (Pink Floyd's The Wall) and there have been pictures that could be called feature-length music videos (Koyaanisqasti), but art houses haven't come across a lazy gem like Greendale before.

It's a story about an America in dangerous, compromising flux trying to figure out what's important and, conversely, where the source of evil in the world today truly lies. It's the vision of an artist confident enough in his own expansive talent to accurately and truthfully put the artistic magnifying glass up to the issues close to his heart and fuse this exposure with a hopeful, optimistic desire for truth and love to reign supreme. Greendale is a volatile, exemplary piece of American filmmaking that might just be the first honest-to-goodness masterpiece our decade has seen. There's nothing like it.

ANd with this short, exquisite film, Neil Young has broadened his artistic palette and verified his stature and prowess as an honest-to-goodness storytelling master in ways his seminal music only hinted. Greendale the record still sounds like a million bucks - even if you think the visual style of the film is overcooked, the music behind it is some of Young's best stuff since Silver and Gold - but this film legitimately adds more coals to his already-blazing fire.

Video: How Does The Disc Look?

At screenings of the film during its brief theatrical release, the fact that the whole thing was really and truly shot with Super-8 film (with the exception of a handful of digital effects here and there) got to some people. I caught the film twice in theatres, and both times certain members of the audience would groan and complain about the film, wondering whether the projectionist had let the film print roll out of focus. (At least twice during each projection, someone in the theatre yelled toward the projection booth, "Focus!!!")

Grainy, ugly and amazing, this 4:3 full frame transfer looks like, well, Super 8. But that's part of what makes it such an inimitable experience: While the aesthetic decision to shoot in such a low-quality performance might leave some home viewers frustrated, this transfer preserves the you- are-there immediacy of the format with punch and vibrancy. Yes, there are hairs in the gate on some shots and I'm pretty sure the majority of the picture was shot just out of focus, but screw it: This DVD manifests Greendale the way it was meant to be seen. Although it might be a hair more interesting to watch it projected on a screen at Neil Young's ranch - I'll just hold my breath on that.

Audio: How Does The Disc Sound?

This one is a moot point: Greendale sounds like a steam train. Presented in DTS 24/96 and Dolby 5.1 surround, this mother sounds like it's about to explode at any given time. The DTS mix is especially goose-pimply: Neil and Crazy Horse may be just a lowly three-piece band, but the fidelity and clarity with which this DTS mix gives them heft is a wonder. Frequency response is excellent, with rich highs and sweet midrange. Channel separation is expertly employed and almost subliminal, and surround use surprisingly active. You could turn off your TV set and just listen to the music for a while. A+.

An alternate English Dolby 2.0 surround track is also included, although there are no alternate subtitles or captions included.

Supplements: What Goodies Are There?

Well, it's not a completist's Greendale, but that's okay. Here's the history: The first CD release of the Greendale album included a bonus DVD of Neil performing an acoustic concert of his Greendale songs at a lovely venue in Ireland. The second CD release of the record included an "Inside Greendale" DVD, in which we see the band recording their actual tapes with segments of the Greendale movie projected on various green screens behind (and sometimes in front of) them. Unfortunately, neither of these are included here.

This isn't all bad, though (since most of the people buying this DVD have one of the above CDs anyway): We get a twenty-minute featurette Making of Greendale, that incorporates a bit of the footage from the second CD release's bonus DVD as well as some excellent behind-the-scenes merriment. Two text extras, Family Tree and Characters, that take a look at some of the mythology behind the Greendale legacy.

Finally, there's a live performance of "Be The Rain" from Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Greendale tour. Very cool.

DVD-ROM Exclusives: What do you get when you pop the disc in your PC?

There are no ROM extras on the disc.

Parting Thoughts

A quintessential film, Greendale's inaugural DVD release is wonderful. The audio and video transfers are breathtaking, and the wealth of unique extra features only sweetens the deal. Fans of Neil Young might be a bit disappointed that the DVD footage from the two CD releases of the Greendale album aren't included here in their entireties, but that's the worst thing that can be said about this one. Non-fans might have trouble getting into it, but anyone with an open mind and a leaning toward rock and roll will not be sorry about getting through this picture. Highly recommended.