Fans of Neil Young and cult cinema: Grab granny and rev up the hybrid caddy. Tonight, Monday, Feb. 29, there’s a national screening of newly restored and edited versions of Young’s bizarro cult film “Human Highway” (1982) and his more straightforward 16mm concert film “Rust Never Sleeps” (1979).
”An Evening With Neil Young” starts at 8 p.m. at Regal Virginia Center Stadium 20. No passes are accepted and tickets are $15.
The presentation also features a live interview with Young conducted by director Cameron Crowe (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”). The interview also will feature actor Russ Tamblyn, Devo bassist Gerald Casale, and veteran actress Charlotte Stewart, a delightful lady I met last year when she came to Richmond for the inaugural “Twin Peaks” fest, the Great Southern (organizer Andrew Blossom tells me she will be returning this year as well). She turned 75 yesterday. Happy birthday, Charlotte!
Stewart told me the new version of “Human Highway” was her favorite yet – a sentiment echoed by members of Devo, who also star in the film along with a still crazed Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell. Some have speculated that “HH” was the secret inspiration for television series “The Simpsons” – though I haven’t heard Matt Groening weigh in on that, and you would think he would. He hasn’t been afraid of sharing his influences in the past.
A little description of “Human Highway” from its festival run:
One of the wilder visions Neil Young ever had, Human Highway is an anarchic satire conceived in the cauldron of Cold War America. It may also be the secret origin of The Simpsons.
Now recut and restored according to Young's own specifications, this fascinating but little-seen film was first released in 1982. Young had assembled a riotous band of players — Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell (who also co-directed the film), Sally Kirkland, and the members of Devo — whose combined energies produced a cinematic Molotov cocktail aimed straight at our society's own cluelessness.
Lionel Switch (Young) is an absolute nerd and the auto mechanic at a gas station owned by Otto (Stockwell). Otto also owns the adjacent diner, where the waitress (Kirkland) is unpredictable and the cook (Hopper) flat-out volatile. They all live in a town next door to a nuclear plant, but no one seems to worry. Lionel can't believe that radiation is a real threat, since he's worked on "almost every radiator in every car in town." Their ignorance won't matter much in the end, though, since this will be their last day on earth.
Once described as "The Wizard of Oz on acid," Human Highway plays like a Rowan & Martin pastiche with a wickedly radical core. Casting Mark Mothersbaugh and his Devo bandmates as nuclear plant workers was a master stroke, and it pays off in spades when they break into their own keening version of "Worried Man Blues."
It's also a thrill to see Young play not just the geeky Lionel but his rock-star alter ego Frankie Fontaine, who teams up with Devo for an epic version of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)." Three decades have passed, but Human Highway remains a thermonuclear reminder of the crazy, chaotic energy to be found at the end of the road.
Here’s a trailer for “Rust Never Sleeps”