Neil Young: Heart of Gold Movie Review

A recent Associated Press article reported how documentaries were among the best-reviewed movies of the year. One of the movies mentioned was Jonathan Demme's Neil Young: Heart of Gold, which profiles the legendary singer/songwriter's August 2005 "Prairie Wind" concert in Nashville. I have no quibble with the reviews -- the movie is terrific -- but I do take exception to labeling the movie a "documentary." What we have here are the reflections of an artist as an old man.

Having recently suffered a brain aneurysm, the death of his father, and closing in on 60, the concert finds Young as a mortal vulnerable to the onslaught of time. With his friends (including his wife, backup singer Pegi) playing by his side, we get a distinct feeling that there might not be many concerts left. One of the last songs, an old favorite of Young's, Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds," says it all: "If the good things are all gone, then I'm bound for moving on / I'll look for you if I'm ever back this way."

Each song is like that, a glimpse into the man's life, whether he's expressing his devotion to his college-age daughter ("Here for You"), trying to remember the advice of his departed "daddy" ("Prairie Wind"), or facing the confusion of getting older ("Falling Off the Face of the Earth"). And his voice, a wheeze mixed with equal parts anguish and joy, gives each song impact. Old chestnuts like "Heart of Gold" take on new life. With his wispy hair and double chin, the line "I've been a miner for a heart of gold / And I'm getting old" has a much deeper resonance.

It's not all gloom and doom. "Four Strong Winds" is a rouser, and it takes on an epic feel when all of Young's friends are on stage singing along. The same goes for "One of These Days," a sweeping thank you -- backed by strings, horns, and a choir -- to "all the good friends I've known." Singing the gorgeous love song "Harvest Moon," Young's quick look back at his wife while he sings, "I want to see you dance again," is the most romantic gesture you'll likely see in a film this year.

Thankfully, Demme doesn't get in the way because there's not much to enhance. The set design is gorgeous, with somber autumnal yellows giving way to a colorful (and optimistic) church backdrop. The music is smooth and pristine. The editing and camerawork ignores every MTV rule. Other than brief interviews with the players and Young's banter with the audience, nearly every word is sung. The result: A musician's craft and life are intertwined. Sure, the songs affect his or her fans, but they may actually have a bigger effect on the man who wrote them. Regardless of what you call it, Heart of Gold is a revelation and one of 2006's best movies.

The DVD features six making-of featurettes, a bonus song, Rehearsal diaries by Demme, and Young's 1971 performance on The Johnny Cash Show.

Southern man, don't need you around, any how.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer :

Starring : , , Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham, Rick Rosas, Karl Himmel, Chad Cromwell, Pegi Young


Neil Young: Heart of Gold Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG, 1988


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