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Trading the spotlight for the director’s chair, Daryl Hannah teams up with her partner, musician Neil Young, to helm a fantasy western musical. Made between Young’s tour stops, Paradox is a chance for Hannah to experiment with film-making and a behind-the-scenes look at Young rehearsing with his band, Promise of the Real. It’s a wild journey that is difficult for outsiders to follow if they’re new to either her activist career or to Young’s music.
Most of Paradox features collage shots of nature and the musicians traipsing through it. Young and his band exaggerate their stage personas and improvise their lines. The film’s loose, rambling story is set in the future, where men and women are separated until a full moon unites them. The men are prospectors looking for old technology, and must wander the frontier looking for things to trade with the women, who harvest food somewhere off-screen.
The story weaves and bobs between musical interludes, where the real action occurs. As the Man in the Black Hat, Young doesn’t say much but provides most of the background music. His band are a misfit group of young musicians and steely old-timers, who trade quips over dinner and games. For the most part, the group lies about, waiting for something to happen. The film’s energy doesn’t pick up until the rest of them pick up instruments alongside their leader.
Paradox has a haphazard sense of style, mixing old and new fashions together like children playing dress up. While a few of the characters would fit in a Peckinpah western, cowboy jacket and beard intact, the younger musicians seem to have stepped out of a steampunk convention. Young’s defining characteristic is simply his hat, while most of the women, for whom the men pine, wear white, lacy prairie dresses.
That mix of aesthetics is also visible in the film’s shooting style, a harsh mix of 16mm and digital formats. The celluloid bits are light and airy, used to give the movie a dreamy feel, as rays of light burn bright pink and colours blur together. However, most of the movie is shot in the staccato of digital, where lines are sharp and everything looks too real to be a dream. Occasionally, a filter is applied to make things seem unreal. The frequent switch between the three styles can be disorienting.
The reaches of the story are too large for the film’s humble budget and limited means. It wants to be a lyrical futuristic tone poem but comes off as confusing. There are oblique references to things in Hannah’s life that aren’t fully explained, like the women’s obsessions with the seeds of their vegetables. Later, I learned its meaning was rooted in Hannah’s activism against GMO farming.Paradox unmistakably romanticises the myth of the old west. The Man in the Black Hat owes just as much to Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name as he does to Johnny Cash’s Man in Black. There are plenty of shots of campfires, horses, and men idling around old wooden houses and tipis – but no Native Americans. The sole Mexican character moves from caricature to stereotype almost as soon as he’s on screen, arriving in a serape and a colourful sombrero hanging off his horse’s saddle.
Either way, it’s likely Young’s fans will enjoy watching him rehearse. The progression is slow, but there is suspense. No one wants to be the one to disrupt the Man in the Black Hat’s groove. Later, Willie Nelson makes a cameo as another bandit opposite his old pal. Unfortunately, it’s all too brief.
I know the film is billed as Hannah’s directorial debut, but I hope it’s just a warm-up. She’s clearly interested in telling stories she’s passionate about, like her partner’s music and environmental activism. But Paradox is choppy and directionless, better seen as an experimental concert film that attempted to do something more ambitious than the average music video.
Paradox is released on Netflix on 23 March.
Source: The Guardian
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