Rock legend Neil Young was at the peak of his creative powers when he shot this concert documentary, which captures Young’s Rust Never Sleeps tour, a trek designed to prove the Canadian-born singer-songwriter wasn’t resting on his laurels after years of success with Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and as a solo artist. Replicating the flow of the tour’s concerts, the movie is divided almost equally into solo and full-band sections. Young shreds so fiercely on the electric guitar when he’s fronting his on-again/off-again backing band, Crazy Horse that he seems as confrontational and vital as the punk bands who were upsetting the rock industry’s status quo at the time of the film’s release. Equally impressive is the folk-tradition classicism of the solo-acoustic bits, with Young crooning such gentle songs as “I Am a Child” and “Sugar Mountain.” Plus, Young fuses his twin personas—the ethereal balladeer and the ferocious rocker—in the hard-hitting number “The Needle and the Damage Done,” an addiction hymn that’s played acoustically but hits with the impact of an electric number.
The movie’s fascinating bookend numbers are two versions of the same menacing song: “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” which is performed acoustically near the beginning of the movie, and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” which is performed electrically near the end. Through it all, Young is in strong voice both vocally (investing his singular keening wail with plaintive emotion) and instrumentally (attacking electric numbers with channeled savagery).
As a musical document, therefore, Rust Never Sleeps—also the name of a companion LP—is a vital component of Young’s epic discography. As a movie, however, Rust Never Sleeps is far less noteworthy.
Directed by Young himself (under his customary pseudonym, Bernard Shakey), the movie employs limited camera positions and sluggish editing, so it’s more of a newsreel than a filmic interpretation. Worse, Young devotes inordinate amounts of screen time to nonsense that permeated the tour’s concerts. For instance, Young hired actors and dancers to dress as Jawas (the scavenger characters from the 1977 sci-fi blockbuster Star Wars) and flit around the stage during the show. In fact, these performers (dubbed “Roadeyes”) are the only things visible for the first seven and a half minutes of Rust Never Sleeps. Later, the “Roadeyes” are joined by dudes wearing lab coats, as well as men wearing religious-looking conical hats, all of whom mutter gibberish as they interact with Young and/or work the stage while Young takes breaks. One of the lines in “My My, Hey Hey”/“Hey Hey, My My” states that “there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.” Based on the evidence provided by Rust Never Sleeps, that’s not always true.
Rust Never Sleeps: FUNKY