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Sanctuary Visual Entertainment presents
Greendale (2003)

"A little love and affection,
in everything you do
Will make the world a better place,
with or without you"

- Neil Young

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: July 29, 2004

Stars: Sarah White, Eric Johnson, Ben Keith, Pegi Young, Patricia Molino
Other Stars: Elizabeth Keith, Tim Foster, James Mazzeo, Erik Markegard, Paul Supplee, Doug Jordan, Ben Johnson, Bernard Shakey
Director: Bernard Shakey

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:23m:16s
Release Date: July 27, 2004
UPC: 060768838093
Genre: music

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

God, I love Neil Young. Tell him his latest album rocks, he'll do a follow-up with gentle acoustic-based tunes filled with images of warmth, love, and family. Throw roses at his feet in gratitude, he'll toss them right back and answer with 10 to 12 distortion-laden offerings (usually in partnership with Crazy Horse) instead. He's the once and forever king of musical unconventionality and I hope he never stops. Who else but the man that went from AOR cult folk hero to top of the charts success with the dual triumphs of Harvest and Heart of Gold would dare to head "for the ditch" with commerciality-be-damned successors like On the Beach and Tonight's the Night); records so dark, they should have included either warning labels to advise against playing in low light or a mail-in coupon for a Ray-O-Vac flashlight.

At a period in rock music's existence when most historians and experts have labeled it extinct, Neil Young dared to bring back a left-for-dead, front-to-back artistic statement: the concept album.

Being the long time fan, I became intrigued in the spring of 2003 when I heard rumblings talking up the Canadian's latest offering in the works: a suite of songs based on a short story he'd began putting together shortly after his last effort, Are You Passionate?. Sometimes, such grand undertakings with interconnecting storylines or musical themes in conjunction with characters can come off as bad Broadway or a notch above your local community chorus (think Waiting for Guffman). Only once in a blue moon do the likes of The Wall, Tommy and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band come into our lives.

Now, before shouts of biased fanboy emerge from the jury, I will say that not everything the acknowledged Godfather of Grunge has preserved for posterity has enraptured me, and I can sum it up in one word: Trans. Remember that almost instant cut-out bin relic with the high-tech disco remake of Mr. Soul?

Anyway, back we go to Greendale, a fictional California town that has its roots in small-town America. Cities with small populations, where everybody knows everybody else; where high school sports are the only games in town and the traditional values ring true. But just like the best neighborhoods where you fear nothing can hurt, shock, or harm you, darkness is capable of making its presence known.

Together with long time collaborators L.A. Johnson and Bernard Shakey, Greendale the movie became reality in the fall of 2003. But in the spirit of the artist's long time, occasional Shakey Pictures sideline, this wasn't a scripted, based-on-the-lyrics-of, Hollywood sanctioned adaptation (king of nonconformity we're talking about, here). Instead, it's like an elaborate, humble, and spirited home movie that's extremely faithful to the words and music that served as the basis for its conception.

It's surprisingly moving, especially given that the stylistic elements may take a little getting used to, especially if you're not a Neil-o-phyte, a fan of old-fashioned power-trio rock, or don't instantly warm to his flair for creative roads. Like a combination of karaoke and music video, Shakey's cast lip syncs and acts all the songs in character, a rather unusual move even in these days and times. Once you get used to Young's vocals coming out of everybody else's mouth but his, however, the passion of the characters and their personalities take over, just as they did on the album. It's a gutsy act to take a collection of terrific songs and present them in such an ambitious form, for there have been times during similar acts of music-to-film adaptations when the target audience has certain visions and expectations in mind, only to have their memories of the material altered.

Don't get the idea that this is just some gothic tale of good and evil in the traditional sense. Young also gets a chance to vent his disdain for most media (check out some of the wicked scrolling headlines as local television crews locate Grandpa for an interview on Jed's predicament), voices his concern for the environment (which takes centerstage in the Be the Rain finale), and discretely expresses mistrust of governmental watchdogs like John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge (speaking of the latter, is it any surprise that Neil gave thumbs up to the use of Rocking in the Free World over the closing credits of Fahrenheit 9/11?).

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Filmed in Super 8 format under wildly varying exterior conditions, pickiness goes out the door with Greendale as far as visual supremacy, doesn't it? Despite the amount of expected and unremovable grain, this is probably the prettiest this type of film stock is ever going to look.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Those who have followed Young's diatribes against the advent of digital audio advances know he is extremely particular about how his music is reproduced. In sharp contrast to compact disc technology, Neil has been very warm and receptive to the aural advantages of DVD (as the well-received concert discs Silver and Gold and Road Rock #1 sonically attest). Greendale is the smoothest sounding DVD project from the artist to date with its power trio attack sounding like Young, bassist Billy Talbot, and drummer Ralph Molina have temporarily moved the singer-songwriter's infamous barn-based studio into your living room. Warm distortion, crackling snare drum and cymbals and bass so up front, you may have to tweak your subwoofer just a touch, but it's worth the quick adjustment.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 10 cues and remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01:00m:45s

Extra Extras:
  1. The Making of Greendale
  2. Greendale Family Tree
  3. Characters
  4. Extra: Live Performance of Be The Rain
Extras Review: A great, sometimes tongue-in-cheek Making Of (22m:58s) highlights the bonuses. Featuring thoughts from virtually every cast member, producer L.A. Johnson and even Young himself, the enthusiasm, good vibes and life enriching aspects of Greendale's production wonderfully capture the spirit of independent filmmaking. Would have been nice had reclusive director Shakey (completely absent save for his amateurish cameo as Wayne Newton during the Carmichael sequence) had bothered to join the merry band with his take, but that's his problem. Two highlights I truly enjoyed included the curiosity of Young's recording studio personnel who couldn't wait for additional developments in the storyline as sessions for the album progressed (What's happening with Grandpa?, etc.) and Pegi Young's delight in watching her husband handle his Camera "A" duties with such aplomb and zeal ("That was just great, let's do it ONE more time").

The curiously titled Extra turns out to be a special treat: An 8-minute live version of Greendale's memorable coda Be The Rain recorded at Denver's legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater. Over the last year, Young plugged the album stateside with a creatively designed stageshow that incorporated the characters into a concert setting complete with dance choreography by West Side Story hoofing legend Russ Tamblyn (I kid you not; Twin Peak's Dr. Jacoby, himself) whom you can spot if you look hard enough; he portrayed the tour version of ship captain John Green. Hopefully, this appealing snippet hints at a future, full-length Greendale in concert release complete with the mini-greatest hits encore set (if its okay with Shakey).

A Greendale Family Tree (including fascinating details on characters that don't even appear in the film or album) and a Characters guide complete the musical keepsake.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

In an era when most rock veterans are merely content to go the quick cash, greatest hits tour route relegating new material as afterthought, Neil Young continues on his own way, defying convention while putting out some of the best work of his over 30 year career in the last decade alone. Greendale marks another musical crest and his best film to date.


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