Neil Young ~ Heart of Gold

Music icon Neil Young joins forces with filmmaking maestro Jonathan Demme as they journey to the Ryman Auditorium in Nasheville, Tennessee, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, for a two-night concert. Backed up by his veteran band of musicians and singers, Young reprises the songs from his latest album, “Prairie Wind,” for his adoring followers in “Neil Young: Heart of Gold.”

Laura's Review: A-

After receiving news that he had a potentially life threatening brain aneurysm, singer/songwriter Neil Young began writing and recording his "Prairie Wind" album, which wife Pegi describes as 'like his life flashing before his eyes.' Thankfully, Young survived and debuted his new work, along with such classics as "Old Man" and "Heart of Gold" during two performances at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. Former collaborator (Young penned the Oscar nominated song for "Philadelphia") and music doc maestro ("Stop Making Sense"), director Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs") was there to capture the magic in "Neil Young ~ Heart of Gold." Although Neil Young certainly doesn't produce my style of music, I have an affection for the guy based on my teenaged best friend's love of his "Harvest" album. I must have heard it a hundred times over a year of two. That combined with Jonathan Demme's proven ability to make an inventive music documentary made me think this might be special and my instincts were right on the money. Fans of Young will be over the moon for "Heart of Gold" and even non-fans should find themselves drawn in by this engrossing, even moving, documentary. Demme starts off by introducing Young's band, the friends he has played with for years both live and in the studio, as they make their way to the auditorium, sharing stories in the back seats of cars. Once they are assembled, Young and company kick off into his "Prairie Wind" album (which admittedly starts off with a bang, but falters occasionally). Young reaches back to his boyhood, reflects on 9/11 and his father's recent death. His between song banter is both humorous and moving, like when he describes his dad's dementia as 'seeing your loved ones living in the moment.' There's a poignancy hearing Young's "Heart of Gold" refrain, 'and I'm gettin' old,' almost a quarter of a century later and a bit of awe that the voice sounds so much the same. "Old Man" benefits from its backstory, the response of a twenty-four year-old self-described 'rich hippie' to an old ranch caretaker. Young's frequent glances at wife Pegi add to the feeling of family he creates and his lyrics may sometimes be simple, but they're always invested with weight. Demme and cinematographer Ellen Kuras ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") utilized eight stationery cameras and one Steadicam which keep us focused on the players - neither the film's technicians nor the audience is seen throughout. The film's musicians keep reconfiguring on stage, going from intimate groupings to full scale productions - one minute Emmy Lou Harris is a backup singer in the background, the next she's accompanying Young. The 12-piece Nashville String Machine and the Fisk University Jubilee Singers make appearances. The stage has three backdrops - a prairie scape given various monochromatic color washes, a prairie ranch living room and the Ryman's own stained glass windows. In one particularly good bit of staging, Young is spotlit as he sings "Falling Off the Face of the Earth," his bandmates circling him in the shadows, giving the effect of a campfire. "Neil Young ~ Heart of Gold" is an affecting performance, an emotional tapestry of a man's history, and Jonathan Demme's film gets to its beating heart.

Robin's Review: DNS