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Release "Time Fades Away"

Film: Neil Young's Rock

By John Rockwell

 New York Times, August 16, 1979

 Rock films come in two categories. More common is the film designed solely for an act's fans. But some appeal beyond the cult to the general public, as in Richard Lester's two Beatles movies. Neil Young's 'Rust Never Sleeps,' which opens a limited run at the Palladium today, might seem to be in the latter category. In fact, it's very much a fan film.


Its credentials as a message beyond the cult rest largely on its extra-musical conceits. Instead of being a straight concert documentary, 'Rust Never Sleeps' calls itself a "concert fantasy." As he was during last fall's tour at which this was filmed, Mr. Young is discovered "asleep" on top of one of the loudspeaker banks, which has been disguised as an oversized pirate chest, and "wakes up" to begin the concert.


The "roadies" who move equipment about have been dressed as "road-eyes," the little scavengers with brown robes and beady pinpoint eyes from 'Star Wars.' The idea, reinforced by playing tapes of crowd-control announcements from the Woodstock Festival, is to comment on rock's aging, on the discrepancies between veteran rock performers and their teenage audiences, and on rock's allegiance to youthful rebellion and innocence. All of this reads better than it appears on the screen, however, where an otherwise fine concert is continually interrupted by laboriously miming "roadeyes" and other cuteness.


Mr. Young, who directs the film under the rather coy pseudonym of Bernard Shakey, further limits its appeal by extremely grainy and underlit footage. And the Palladium, as rock's principal rock concert hall in New York, is likely to attract more rock fans than film buffs. Perhaps that's what he meant to do, in a film that reaffirms the purity and unity of rock. But it's too bad, because Mr. Young has the talent to appeal to intelligent people outside his world.


For Mr. Young is, in the opinion of some of us, the leading creative figure in present-day rock-and-roll, and this filmed has stirring, even triumphant passages. He writes songs of unsurpassed metaphoric richness with deceptively simple, melodic tunes. He sings with haunting evocativeness and play guitar with more personality and stark individuality than almost anyone else.


'Rust Never Sleeps' offers some of his strongest songs, both new and old, in performances as fine or finer than those of his recent, partly live record of the same title. The effect here is rougher than the record, less polished with overdubbing; at one point, Mr. Young even mangles the words of one of his best songs. But the intensity of the singing and the playing of Crazy Horse, Mr. Young's longtime partners for electric-rock projects, is as moving as rock can offer. It's so good, in fact, that it almost lets one overlook Mr. Young's theatrical conceits, and almost makes the film recommendable for the general public, after all.


More on the Neil Young and Crazy Horse album Rust Never Sleeps with reviews and commentary.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Thrasher Home Page