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Daryl Hannah really likes the term “spitball production.”
We’re sitting in a suite at the Four Seasons discussing her new movie, “Paradox,” starring Neil Young and some of the folks in Promise of the Real (with whom Young has been touring and making albums for a few years now). It premiered March 15 at South by Southwest, then heads over to Netflix on March 23.
Hannah is joined in this conversation by Promise of the Real’s Micah Nelson (son of Willie) and his girlfriend, Alex. Nelson has been telling me about his middle-school hobby of making stop-motion animation with clay and action figures. This eventually turned into the band/art collective Insects vs. Robots and the “spitball and duct-tape production” he does for that group.
“‘Spitball productions … I like that!” Hannah says, her face lighting up. It’s clearly the ideal term for “Paradox,” a not-really narrative, 72-minute Western that blends some fictional characters played by “Neil and the band, Neil’s mangers, the road crew and our caretakers and friends” with live footage of the band in full flight.
Shot over three or so days on Hannah’s Colorado ranch, “Paradox” came together in September 2016, when the band was taking some time to get used to the altitude in Colorado before playing a show in Telluride and embarking on a short fall tour that included the Desert Trip festival (aka Old ‘chella).
The band had a little rehearsing to do, but Hannah knew “they would eventually end up in this beautiful natural setting, sitting around the campfire, making jokes and singing songs. So I said, ‘Let’s catch that! Not make a doc about them sitting out there, but let’s make a little movie.”
Proceeding with a 10-page script for a short, Hannah said the characters started improvising. There’s some performance footage from a few shows and some actual songs and some recordings of playing guitar in the woods. But the most striking musical element is the stuff that sounds like an original score: feedback, enormous-sounding drums, fragments of melody — think Young’s landmark collage “Arc” as a movie score.
“We got these giant skin drums, and we were just trying out different stuff in the studio,” Nelson said. “We’d look at footage and say, ‘Oh, we need something for this section, let’s jam and record it, and that was it. I think we did that for about a day.”
They even shot a scene out in Luck in “Willieville,” the Western town set from “Red Headed Stranger,” wherein Willie meets Young’s man-in-black character.
“I used to play out there as as kid,” Micah Nelson says. “I was stung by many hornets.”
Eventually Hannah says she would like to make “a real film that is properly made according to traditional norms but still with an imaginative and creative story but also I’m sure I am going to keep making spitball productions. It is very liberating to make art without asking for anyone’s permission.”