When rock stars direct movies -- not just star in them -- the results have often been genuinely strange.
In addition to his status as one of rock music’s most esteemed and influential singers, songwriters and guitarists, Young has directed several films along the way as part of his artistic exploration.
On Monday, Young showed up at the Regal Theater at L.A. Live for a screening of his offbeat 1982 apocalyptic comedy “Human Highway” followed by a question-answer session moderated by rock writer-turned-filmmaker Cameron Crowe that Fathom Events broadcast live to movie theaters around the country. The Q&A was followed by a screening of Young’s 1979 concert film “Rust Never Sleeps,” which he also directed.
The session brought a reunion of several members of the “Human Highway” cast, including Russ Tamblyn, Devo founding member Gerald Casale and actress Charlotte Stewart. The film also co-starred Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, Sally Kirkland and the rest of Devo in its large cast.
“Do you think we could get this movie made today?” Young asked Crowe, the director of “Jerry Maguire,” “Almost Famous,” “Aloha” and “We Bought A Zoo” among others. Young elaborated on the aspects that would make it a tough sell: no script, improvised dialogue and a daily routine that began with someone asking him “What’s the plan today, Neil?” to which he always replied “The plan today is no plan!”
Tamblyn, Stewart and Casale concurred that the process was exceedingly fun to take part in, even though for years after filming began in 1979 they had no idea when or if it would see the light of day.
The film centered on the comings and goings of residents of small town, including Young as a dimwitted mechanic named Lionel Switch, who are caught up in the minutiae of their daily lives before nuclear disaster strikes. Much of the film plays out as surreal flashbacks to events that precede the apocalypse.
“Neil said ‘The world is going to end in this film,’ and we said ‘We’re in!’” Casale said of Devo’s participation. They collaborated with him in the film in a rendition of “Hey Hey, My My” a song that was the focal point of his “Rust Never Sleeps” tour around the same time he was filming “Human Highway.”
Young, who has used the name Bernard Shakey for his filmmaking identity, told the audience, which included a couple hundred people in the theater as well as viewers watching at select theaters around the country over a live broadcast, that making “Human Highway” and other films was his way of “keeping music from getting boring.”
He also directed and starred in "Journey to the Past" (1974) and "Greendale" (2003), both of which also include several music performances along with their loose story lines.
“I always thought that if I did a lot of different things, then I wouldn’t get bored,” Young, 70, said. “I’d seen a lot of people keep doing the same thing and then getting bored with it. I didn’t want that to happen.”
“Human Highway” originally had a limited theatrical run in 1982, then was released in a different edit on VHS tape and laserdisc in 1995. A director’s cut edition will be available April 22 on DVD through the Neil Young’s Greedy Hand General Store web site.