Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rust Never Sleeps

"Rock and roll will never die" sings Neil Young during two separate versions of "My My, Hey Hey" in the 1979 concert film RUST NEVER SLEEPS.  I agree, but I would also add that "rock and roll will also survive despite poor attempts to capture it on film" and "ill advised theatrics to accompany said music."  It is a testament to Mr. Young's talent as a musician that RUST NEVER SLEEPS is well worth seeing even with those two elements working against it.

The movie was recorded at San Francisco's Cow Palace in 1978.  Young plays a few songs acoustically then plugs in to join the members of his band Crazy Horse for some seriously electrifying tunes.  There is not a weak number in this set list.  I can't rave enough over how engaging, exciting, and inspiring the music is.  Young and the guys in the group are really into it, truly enjoying themselves.  As you watch, I'll bet you wish you had been there.  But....

I have to wonder what they were thinking with the action in the peripheries.  A group of guys in brown cloaks with glowing eyes scurry about the stage with oversized microphones and tuning forks.  These "roadeyes" look like Jawas, seen in the then-recent first STAR WARS movie. This would've been a cute idea in small doses, maybe just even for an introduction for the evening.  Instead, they amble out between numbers and are often seen at the back of the stage.  They don't do anything interesting.  They are not interesting.  For some reason, their footsteps are miked to the point of irritation.  Every move they make is amplified.  I don't get it.

Was Neil trying to lighten his image? Is that also why some sleazy guy comes out wearing 3-D glasses and tells the audience to sit back and enjoy "Rust-o-vision"? Or how about the use of announcements from the Woodstock festival, the one with the guy warning the audience not to eat the brown acid?  None of this nonsense is necessary.  Many bands whose music is lacking resort to gimmicks like these.  Young and company rivet us with their repetoire.  A spare stage would've been just fine.  The extras are just gratuitous.  I did like the use of Hendrix and Beatles tunes during the introduction.

Then there's the matter of the film itself.  Director "Bernard Shakey" is Young himself, and based on the ragged product here it does not show even the most rudimenatry understanding of how to shoot or edit a motion picture.  The camera always hesitates, never knows where to focus.  The film stock looks like Super 8 blown up. A mess.  The law of averages does allow the occasional effective shot of Neil Young shredding away, face filled with concentration.

Many years later Young would work (on HEART OF GOLD, as yet unseen by me) with director Jonathan Demme, who created what I consider the greatest concert movie of all time, STOP MAKING SENSE.  Too bad they hadn't met to collaborate on RUST NEVER SLEEPS.  It might've been an all around classic.  As it is, I still recommend the film, 'cause despite it all rock and roll is here to stay.

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