Greendale Bernard Shakey

"I come from a different place," said Bernard Shakey (aka Neil Young) at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival. "Most everybody here thinks music adds another dimension to film. But for me, it's the other way around — I think film adds another dimension to music."

That sums up Greendale, Young's celluloid adaptation of his album of the same name. The post-9/11 political climate has inspired Young to record some of his best music in years; however, he fails to translate this vision to screen.

Greendale is a "musical novel" about the Green family of northern California. In the opening chapter, Grandpa Green laments the state of the world and wishes for "a little love and affection in everything you do." Soon after, his cousin Jed guns down a cop. Later, Grandpa chases the probing media from his home with a shotgun. However, inspired by her grandpa's idealism, granddaughter Sun Green turns political activist and protests a big energy conglomerate.

Young's songs play throughout Greendale, serving as narrator. Unfortunately, his lyrics describe action we already see on screen. Any film student will tell you that narration and images should always be different so they complement each other, like two instruments playing in time. Another problem is the lack of dialogue — the actors mouth snatches of Young's lyrics instead of dialogue and it looks clumsy.

Young avoided writing a script and embraced low-technology, shooting Greendale with a $500 Super-8mm underwater camera. The results are a murky storyline, vague characters and grainy footage.

Young's creative process thrives on spontaneity, recording raw, unpolished music. Applying the same attitude to filmmaking, Young overlooks the basics of character and story. His songs, "Tired Eyes" and "Crime In The City," are more cinematic than Greendale because he invests them with character detail, structure and a clear story. Only then does a storyteller, whether with a guitar or a camera, command an audience. (Filmswelike/Sphinx)