When rock stars direct movies -- not just star in them -- the results have often been genuinely strange.
Think about the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour,” largely directed by Paul McCartney; Bob Dylan’s “Renaldo and Clara” and just about everything directed by Neil Young.
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.
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.”
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.