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A voice-over fills the first minute of “Paradox,” which screened March 15 at South by Southwest and will be available March 23 on Netflix. Over a shot of a night sky filled with stars, said monologue is read by one Willie Hugh Nelson of Luck, Texas; a green oscillogram on the bottom of the screen maps his dulcet tone:
“Many moons ago, in the future, when the womenfolk had rightfully just about given up on us, a mangy group of outlaws hid out by a precious water source while the real bad guys quietly stole the seeds of life. Thankfully, music still helped our spirits fly.”
So, yeah, that’s what we’re dealing with here.
Shot over three or so days in fall 2016 while Neil Young (who has directed movies under the name Bernard Shakey) and the Promise of the Real (his backing band of late that stars Lukas and Micah Nelson, sons of the above mentioned Willie) got used to the altitude in Colorado before a short tour, “Paradox” was written and directed by actress Daryl Hannah, Young’s romantic partner since 2014.
Shot quick and cheap, “Paradox” blends a vague, possibly improvised Western narrative with a terrific instrumental score and a few new and old songs. Young has a roles as the enigmatic Man In Black; Lukas and Micah are Western-ish outlaws called Jail Time and the Particle Kid. Sample dialogue: “Those two fellas are the Nelson brothers. The older one, the one on the left, he’s a gunslinger. They call him Jail Time. The other one? The Particle Kid. Nobody knows what planet that boy’s from. The man in the black hat, they all steer clear of him. I heard he can be kinda … shakey.” Oy gevalt.
Ever wanted to see Young’s legendary manager Elliot Roberts as a cowboy? He’s in there! There seems to be some mining going on, also plenty of guitar playing. Willie himself pops in for a scene as Red (a scene shot in Willieville).
This was during Young’s anti-Monsanto period, so there are lines such as “Y’all are excited for flowers, but you haven’t yet sowed the seeds. Protect the seeds” and “When saving the seeds is outlawed, it’ll be the outlaws who saved the seeds.”
The guitar playing is, naturally, a highlight. Young and the band run through a song or two, and there’s a furious jam (that feels like the end of “Cowgirl in the Sand”) recorded at Desert Trip, aka Ol’ Chella. And the soundtracky bits — all guitar feedback, vague chordings and massive toms — are totally great, as is the acoustic ramble that floats around here and there.
It is exactly the sort of flick that everyone involved will say was a lot of fun to make. Is it a lot of fun to watch?
Well, how many Neil bootlegs do you own?