Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Most musical documentaries seem to overlook the fact that people are watching for the music. There is too much talking, and worse, sometimes the narrator or interviewees will speak over the music. Director Jonathan Demme (The Manchurian Candidate, The Agronomist) goes in the opposite direction with Neil Young: Heart of Gold. Aside from some brief comments by Young and his band members (which include Emmylou Harris), the entire film is comprised of Young and his band on stage, recorded August 18 and 19, 2005 at the legendary Ryman Auditorium (home of the Grand Ole Opry). Demme never even shows the audience. While this is a nice change, Demme and Young overlook one hugely important aspect - Young was hospitalized for a brain aneurysm earlier in 2005.

The concert was in support of his album Prairie Wind, composed mostly after he learned his condition. In recent years, Young has achieved heaps of critical praise with releases like Harvest Moon and Sleeps with Angels, and has ventured into other areas like film with the politically charged Greendale (the latter with mixed results). Prairie Wind was extremely personal, which is understandable given his medical condition, and mentioned only in passing at the beginning of the film. This is strange, because by ignoring it, Demme takes much of the inherent emotion out of the movie, turning it into a standard (but nicely shot) music documentary instead of a moving performance by a rock icon. As it stands, Heart of Gold is a good concert film, but will probably appeal most to Young fans. Demme misses the opportunity to take the movie to the next emotional level.

Technically, Demme did some interesting things. His desire was to make the film seem like a dream. As previously mentioned, the audience makes no appearance in the film. The only time people can hear them is when they applaud at the end of each song. Demme fades to black, then returns for the next song. He used eight cameras and gives total attention to Young and his band. Young is as good as ever, playing most of the songs off Prairie Wind, with standouts including a heartfelt "This Old Guitar" and what seems to be the theme of the film, "It's a Dream." As the concert moves on, he shifts into some of his older work, including a nice rendition of "Harvest Moon" and "Old Man." At times, there is a Gospel choir and orchestra backing him, and at times, he has his regular band. Young is a consummate and talented performer, and one of the few who can craft meaningful songs that do not sound idiotic when read aloud without music. Hearing them with the music is only better.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 43 minutes, Rated PG for some drug-related lyrics.

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