NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD
Look At How the Time Goes Past
Release Date: February 10, 2006
Distributor: Paramount Classics
Director: Jonathan Demme
Producer: Ilona Herzberg
Writer: Neil Young
Address Comments To:David Dinerstein and Ruth Vitale
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In March of 2005, Neil Young was diagnosed with a brain aneurism, which required him to undergo an invasive neuro-radiology procedure. Just before his operation, Young recorded the album PRAIRIE WIND, an acoustic-countrified project featuring several songs in which Young seems to be groping with his own mortality, as well as the recent death of his father. HEART OF GOLD chronicles Young’s performance of PRAIRIE WIND in Nashville, along with a handful of his best known songs, following his successful operation. Among those performing with him are Emmylou Harris, Ben Keith and Young's wife Peggi.
Although Jonathan Demme is probably most famous for directing SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which landed him an Oscar for Best Director in 1991, he also directed STOP MAKING SENSE, a performance by the Talking Heads widely regarded as one of the greatest concert movies of all time. While Demme seemed to exercise all the appropriate directorial moves in STOP MAKING SENSE, his greatest triumph was simply being at the right place at the right time. The Talking Heads were at their creative peak in 1984, and Demme had the discernment and capacity to catch lightning in a bottle by simply letting David Byrne and company do their thing. As a result, STOP MAKING SENSE was not only outrageously entertaining for both casual and serious fans of the Talking Heads, but it also preserved an important moment in pop music history for posterity.
HEART OF GOLD, regrettably, doesn’t come close to making this type of impact, and the reasons are obvious enough. Unlike the Talking Heads in STOP MAKING SENSE, Neil Young is well past his prime in this performance. The songs on PRAIRIE WIND are decent but mostly unremarkable, despite the sobering issues they confront, and the first hour of the concert is devoted to his latest album. The lull is finally broken, however, when Young reaches back into his vast cannon and ably performs some of his greatest classics, including I AM A CHILD, HARVEST MOON, COMES A TIME, and HEART OF GOLD.
One of the concert’s best moments comes when Young gives an intimate account of his inspiration for writing one of his best known songs, OLD MAN. He wrote and recorded it while in his 20s, and it’s compelling to see him perform the song as someone in the twilight of his life. Demme’s close-ups of Young’s weathered, wrinkled face suggest his role has been changed. While originally the angst-ridden narrator, Young has become the old man he was once referencing, singing, “Old man, look at your life / I’m a lot like you were.”
Much like his contemporary Bob Dylan, Young’s career has been marked by his unpredictability as much as his prolificacy. Young has consistently and defiantly refused to do what others have expected of him, both artistically and otherwise. Much to the dismay of the liberal press and other celebrities, Young was an outspoken supporter of Ronald Reagan during his presidency, and, despite several songs throughout his career supporting a vague, dreamy-eyed pacifism, Young’s tone changed considerably in his post-911 song LET’S ROLL. In performances of his new songs from PRAIRIE WIND, Young seems to have steered back into pacifism territory, and also sings a theologically-flawed song sympathetic to pluralism called WHEN GOD MADE ME.
Fortunately, however, most of Young’s content on PRAIRIE WIND, as well as the comments he makes between songs, stresses the importance of compassion and his love for his family. Young muses about his relationship with his recently-deceased father, his love for his 21-year-old daughter, as well as his wife Pegi who performs onstage with him. In addition to pro-family references, the concert contains no foul language or sex, and warns against the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse in songs such as THE NEEDLE AND THE DAMAGE DONE and THE OLD LAUGHING LADY.
While a must-see movie for hardcore fans, NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD will not be as gripping for those unfamiliar with his music, and, unlike better documentary concert movies such as Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE and D.A. Pennebaker’s BOB DYLAN: DON’T LOOK BACK, the concert does not portray its subject during his artistic peak. On the other hand, the movie is well shot and contains many strong performances of Young classics, as well as positive pro-family elements.
While a must-see for hardcore fans, HEART OF GOLD will not be as gripping for those unfamiliar with his music, and, unlike better documentary concert movies such as Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE, the concert does not portray its subject during his artistic peak. Young seems steers into pacifism territory in a few songs, and also sings a theologically-flawed song sympathetic to pluralism. For the most part, the movie is entertaining, well shot and contains a number of strong performances, as well as many positive, pro-family elements