Neil Young’s never been known for being predictable. A veritable musical chameleon, he has defied expectations repeatedly throughout his 50 year career merely by following his own muse. With few exceptions, no two albums have ever been alike, and in fact most have been dramatically different. For fans, it has been a source of both fascination and frustration, given that they never know quite what to expect.
The same could be said for his films, although admittedly there are far fewer to ponder. Produced under the aegis of his production company Shakey Pictures, two of his better known big screen epochs reflect the quirkier side of his ambitions.
That said, Rust Never Sleeps is primarily a concert film, the visual accompaniment to Young’s remarkable career-encompassing live album of the same name. Taking its title from an offhanded lyric in a Devo tune, it finds Young and Crazy Horse reprising songs from every phase of his career, giving them a sweeping dynamic that only these particular musicians can muster. The roadies, dressed as hooded aliens with luminescent eyes, add an unlikely visual effect, but it’s the songs themselves — “Sugar Mountain,” “I Am A Child,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “The Loner,” “Cortez the Killer” and the like — that are alone worth the price of admission.
Human Highway, on the other hand, is an off-kilter allegory disguised as a comedy disguised as… well that’s anyone’s guess. The plot — or what there is of it — revolves around a group of unusual individuals who while away their time at a remote gas station and diner adjacent to a nuclear power plant. Young plays a goofy rock star wannabe who interacts with an equally bizarre set of characters (played by Russ Tamblyn, Dean Stockwell, Dennie Hopper, Sally Kirkland and the late folk singer David Blue) as the sequence of events segue between the present and a post apocalyptic world. A dreamlike sequence, an oblique reference to “The Wizard of Oz” and the obligatory musical moments are woven in as well, making any attempt to comprehend the action a severe challenge at best. Young allegedly spent $3 million and four years bringing the film to fruition, but ultimately Human Highway is best left for diehard devotees who can appreciate a cult classic of weirder proportions.
– Lee Zimmerman