A singer’s cin­e­matic side

Neil Young’s work as a film­maker (as Bernard Shakey) is the fo­cus of a Cine­fam­ily se­ries.

Los Angeles Times - - WEEKEND PICKS - By Mark Olsen mark.olsen@latimes.com Twit­ter: @IndieFo­cus

The se­ries “Shakey Fest: The Films of Neil Young” be­gins Thurs­day with the lo­cal pre­miere of the di­rec­tor’s cut of the ec­cen­tric rar­ity “Hu­man High­way.” “Hu­man High­way,” which is screen­ing at the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz (with the rest of the se­ries at the Cine­fam­ily), pre­miered in 1982 and has been seen only spo­rad­i­cally since.

It was around mid­night on a rainy Wed­nes­day in Septem­ber and Young had just un­veiled the new cut of “Hu­man High­way” dur­ing the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. He was tucked into a cor­ner of a Toronto diner across the street from Massey Hall, site of a sem­i­nal 1971 live record­ing, as he spoke about his film­mak­ing.

“My films are not su­per­com­mer­cial, but they mean some­thing to me,” he said.

Though not nearly as pro­lific a film­maker as he is a song­writer, Young has been mak­ing films through­out his ca­reer, usu­ally work­ing un­der the nom de cin­ema of Bernard Shakey. Be­sides “Hu­man High­way,” other Shakey pic­tures to be fea­tured in the five-night se­ries in­clude 1974’s “Jour­ney Through the Past,” 1979’s “Rust Never Sleeps,” 1987’s “Muddy Track,” 2003’s “Green­dale,” 2012’s “A Day at the Gallery” and the new “The Mon­santo Years.” Also show­ing will be Jonathan Demme’s 2009 “Neil Young Trunk Show” and Hal Ashby’s ex­tremely rare 1984 “Solo Trans.”

Though many of the movies in the se­ries are rel­a­tively straight­for­ward con­cert doc­u­ments, “Hu­man High­way,” is more of a fic­tional film with some mu­si­cal el­e­ments. The new wave band Devo ap­pears for a daz­zling ren­di­tion of “It Takes a Wor- ried Man” and later ac­com­pa­nies Young on a scorch­ing ver­sion of his “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”

Much of the film was shot on sound­stages at L.A’.s Raleigh Stu­dios, with Young specif­i­cally want­ing the sets to look like full-size ren­di­tions of model train sets. The scenes have an off-kil­ter feel­ing like a slap­stick “Twin Peaks” or a ra­dioac­tive ren­di­tion of “The Wiz­ard of Oz.”

A cast that in­cludes Dean Stock­well (orig­i­nally cred­ited as co-di­rec­tor), Russ Tam­blyn, Char­lotte Stewart, Sally Kirkland and Dennis Hopper makes up the pop­u­la­tion of Lin­ear Val­ley, a small com­mu­nity in the shadow of a nu­clear power plant. Young takes on the roles of both young auto me­chanic Lionel Switch and dis­so­lute rock star Frankie Fon­taine. Long­time Times pop mu­sic critic Robert Hil­burn makes a brief cameo.

It had long both­ered Young that “Hu­man High­way” was out of cir­cu­la­tion, but more so, as he put it, that the film hadn’t been “max­i­mized.” Af­ter both the orig­i­nal cin­e­matog­ra­pher, David My­ers, and Young’s long­time as­so­ciate Larry “L.A.” John­son both died in the last few years, Young felt a sud­den ur­gency to re­turn to the pro­ject.

“When we lost Larry, I said, ‘The thing ’s got to get done, I’ve got to fin­ish this,’ ” said Young. “It’s a great re­lief to fin­ish this. Time marches on, and I didn’t want to leave it un­fin­ished and cer­tainly didn’t want any­body else to fin­ish it. I wanted to do it the way I wanted to do it and get it done. And I did that.”

As for Shakey him­self, Young’s mys­te­ri­ous film­maker al­ter ego, Young was play­fully cir­cum­spect on when or whether he might next ap­pear.

“Hard to say. He’s been keep­ing a low pro­file,” he said. “I don’t think he en­joys the busi­ness that much. He likes mak­ing films, but he’s very cheap. We do the best we can with him.

“Now that Larry John­son’s not here any­more, I have to deal with Bernard all by my­self. He’s bet­ter left alone. But if he shows up, we’ll know.”

Ron Galella Ltd. WireImage

NEIL YOUNG, sec­ond from left, min­gles with Ti­mothy Hut­ton and El­liot Rabi­nowitz dur­ing the “Hu­man High­way” pre­miere in L.A. back in the day. A new di­rec­tor’s cut of the rar­ity is screen­ing at the Vista Theatre.

Shakey Pic­tures

YOUNG, right, as Bernard Shakey, shoots Ben Keith, left, and Eric John­son for the film “Green­dale,” which ex­plores the lives of peo­ple in a ru­ral Cal­i­for­nia town.

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