Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006)


(director: Jonathan Demme; cinematographer: Ellen Kuras; editor: Andy Keir; cast: Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham, Pegi Young, Grant Boatwright, Rick Rosas; Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Jonathan Demme/Ilona Herzberg; Paramount Classics; 2006)

“Lets the music do the talking and that’s great as far as I’m concerned: I love Young’s sound.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jonathan Demme’s (“Stop Making Sense”/”Silence of the Lambs”/”Swimming to Cambodia”) understated musical portrait of Neil Young lets the music do the talking and that’s great as far as I’m concerned: I love Young’s sound. The easy going straightforward, no-frills documentary covers the 60-year-old Young’s two-night “Prairie Wind” concert on Aug. 18 and 19 in 2005 at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. The former hippie from Canada, dressed country in a plainsman’s hat and playing his old acoustic guitar that once belonged to Hank Williams, performed the smooth going country-rock Prairie Wind album almost in full (9 of 10 songs on the album were performed) in the film’s first half and in the second half some of his old favorites from the “Harvest” and “Harvest Moon” albums (I counted ten songs, including “Old Man” and the showstopper “Heart of Gold”). Shortly before the concert, Young was operated in NYC for a brain aneurysm. He evidently had a full recovery from his brush with death as no ill effects showed and though looking scraggy and aged, he gave a brave concert performance accompanied by his own studio musicians (including the steel guitarist Ben Keith, the bass guitarist Rick Rosas, Spooner Oldham, and Grant Boatwright) and guest Emmylou Harris on vocals. Young’s wife Pegi sang vocals in the background. Young also mentions his dad recently died after suffering from dementia, and dedicates “Prairie Wind” to him. “Here for You” is dedicated as a love song to his 21-year-old college student daughter. “This Old Guitar” is a tribute to the Hank Williams instrument his pal Boatwright purchased for him.

It’s almost a spiritual concert, as the rich music provides a bridge to the passage of time; it also pays tribute to family, relationships and just surviving. Young impressed me on how human he was, unconcerned with being an icon. This heartfelt and classy film suits him well.