NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD
An intimate musical portrait of legendary singer/songwriter Neil Young, filmed at the world premiere of Young's Prairie Wind concert at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium in the summer of 2005. Young's relationship with his friends and family, mortality and faith are reflected in his songs. He is joined onstage by his regular musical companions - his musicians and backup singers including his wife Peggi Young and country star Emmylou Harris.
Review by Louise Keller:
Skilfully directed by Jonathan Demme, Neil Young Heart of Gold is an intimate and reflective portrait of the singer/songwriter through music and song. Apart from a few scenes at the beginning, when we briefly meet Young, his band and singers on their way to Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the film is set on a gold back-dropped stage, where the notes and the lyrics do the talking. Eight cameras record the two monumental concerts in which Young performs his album, Prairie Wind, written after he was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm a few months earlier. (His surgery was successful.) Tracks from his previous albums Harvest and Harvest Moon are carefully intertwined, as the songs poignantly touch on aspects and emotions of Young's life.
It is hard to explain the Neil Young phenomenon. At 60, he stands in front of the microphone wearing a grey specked suit, open neck shirt, white Stetson hat with black trim and black and white boots. He grimaces when he sings, keeps his eyes closed for much of the time, shaded from the light under the brim of his hat. Although Young often overreaches notes, he projects magic on stage. The rhythms are simple, the lyrics poignant and there's plenty of heart. He trades guitar for the piano, and when he blows into the harmonica, things really start cooking. He sings about his childhood, his father's dementia and his daughter leaving home. He sings about his faith, his dog King and his well-worn guitar of 30 years that used to belong to Hank Williams. Most of all, I was moved as he introduced Four Strong Winds, the song he played a million times on a juke box when he was 16.
Demme takes us close up and very personal, as song after song segue seamlessly. The camera sees all the musicians, the back up singers, including his wife Pegi Young and Emmylou Harris. Perhaps the film's calming effect is largely due to the internal nature of the emotions conveyed. There are no camera tricks, no extravagant showmanship, just a humble sincerity expressed in words and music. Although it is mostly the fans that will be enticed to see the film, it is a classy documentary that tugs at the heart.
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NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD (G)
CAST: Documentary featuring Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Pegi Young, Ben Keith and others
PRODUCER: Jonathan Demme, Tom Hanks, Ilona Herzberg
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ellen Kuras
EDITOR: Andy Keir
MUSIC: Neil Young
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 11, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
VIDEO RELEASE: August 10, 2006