A few hours before the premiere of her feature directorial debut at SXSW, Daryl Hannah admits she’s a little nervous.
“I’m [worried] that people think they're going to see either a rock documentary, or a real movie,” she says. She pauses for a beat at the phrase “real movie,” then turns to two of the film’s cast members and all three crack up. “Yeah,” she says, flashing a smile. “If that's the case, then they're going to be really quiet.”
Paradox, Hannah’s surrealist Western starring Neil Young, his band Promise of the Real, and Willie Nelson, among others, is very much a "real" movie; though maybe, in its own way, realer than your average popcorn fare.
Shot on a whim on Super 8 and Hannah’s iPhone over three days in the Colorado wilderness, Paradox—out now on Netflix and limited theatrical release—is unconventional. The 75-minute jaunt follows Young as the mysterious Man in the Black Hat as he leads a band of outlaws through a deep mountain wilderness, set in what Hannah dubs a sort of “future past.” Alongside pals Particle Kid (Lukas Nelson) and Jail Time (Micah Nelson), Young and co. scavenge for dystopian treasure like TVs, cell phones, and computer cables, waiting for a full moon during which the men and women of their gender-segregated society can come together.
“That's when you know that this movie is weird... Is it future, past, what is it?” Young says. “So the nature of being in an unknown [is] kind of happens with that. And then everything else is about that…”
The team, which also included cameraman Adam CK Vollick, worked off of Hannah’s conceptual script, with few, if any re-takes, a negligible budget, thrifted costumes and props, and nothing left on the cutting room floor.
“I really like [Jean] Cocteau and seeing [real] things, rather than all of the sort of digital magic that we're getting used to now,” Hannah says, lounging in an Austin Four Seasons suite after a long day of press. “I know it seems kind of goofy, but a lot of that stuff is very intentional, for it to look very handmade. People don't embrace mistakes. When you're recording now, they retouch and over-record and take all of the soul out of it...The other day Neil was going off on MP3s, I was going off on HD—it's the exact same thing. It's a ruiner. It kills the art.”
In that spirit, Paradox’s musical performances (the soundtrack for which is also out now) often doubled as rehearsals while the group was acclimating to the region's altitude ahead of tour. Several, like “Peace Trail,” were learned for the first time as they were being filmed. The end product veers between playful and uncanny (see: flying cowboys tethered to a circus tent in which the band plays), inverting dusty genre familiarity into a kind of psychedelic dissent—more than a wink and a nod to a musical spirit increasingly at odds with its own nostalgia.
“Everything really comes out of [Daryl’s] head and her soul,” Young says. “And we're all with her. We're all on the same trip, the same wavelength.”
Conceived of and directed by Hannah, who previously directed the 1993 prize-winning short The Last Supper, Paradox obliquely confronts the plunder and destruction of the environment, subjects about which both Young and Hannah have been passionate for decades. It also nods to gender roles, indigenous rights, and technology, but avoids preaching. Actually, it’s a lot of fun (“I wish it was showing at like two in the morning, because then I know everyone would be in the right state of mind,” Hannah quips). Formats shift with little rhyme or reason; shots are often out of focus; the storyline doesn’t always make sense, operating more on themes than traditional plotlines. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
“Humor is important,” Micah says. “You could enjoy the movie just as a lighthearted kind of silly, fun, music art film. But then, if you wanted to, you can look at it like this is a post-apocalyptic vision, these science fiction, maybe not-so-fiction ideas. Ultimately it says what's valuable, and I guess questions that also—what is really valuable?”
In that sense, Paradox holds true to its title—an exercise in imperfection greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a creative thread that runs through both Young and Hannah’s works, a reminder that getting it right is beside the point.
“Daryl’s directing style and whole approach was a lot like how Neil makes records, where we'll be in the studio and we'll be learning the song, and that's the tape that ends upon the record—we're still figuring it out,” Micah says. “You don't have an opportunity to overthink it or make it perfect. Those things that you think of originally as flaws—those become the most memorable part.”
Andrea Domanick is Noisey's west coast editor. Follow her on Twitter.
Alex Robert Ross contributed to this article.