Academy-award winning director Jonathan Demme beautifully captures Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legend, Neil Young as he prepares and presents the performance of a lifetime with the help of his wife Peggi and friends country star Emmylou Harris, steel guitarist Ben Keith and more at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.
"I just want to play well, share the stage with my friends, give the best I can," says Neil Young before the concert that is the centerpiece of Heart of Gold. No problem, dude. Working with filmmaker Jonathan Demme, Young has come up with a gem--not all flash and bling-bling, but as understated as a single pearl, musically restrained yet emotionally open. Of course, neither Demme (an Oscar winner for The Silence of the Lambs; he also helmed Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense) nor Young would call it "a concert film"; the director describes it as "a dream concert, something that's literally being dreamt by Neil," while the singer-songwriter himself calls it "a multi-level story." Whatever, the project came together in 2005, as Young was finishing his Prairie Wind album (the latest in a string of lovely, country-flavored acoustic recordings dating back to 1972's Harvest) and preparing to debut the music at Nashville's fabled Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry. The fact that Young had also recently experienced a brain aneurysm might or might not have influenced his decision to film the show, but it certainly seems to have had an effect on the music. He and his band (which, with the addition of horns, strings, and backup singers, including Emmylou Harris, occasionally numbers forty or more musicians) perform Prairie Wind in its entirety, and there is some deeply moving, highly personal material here; in addition to the gospel-tinged "When God Made Me" and the dirge-like "No Wonder," Young sings about his recently-deceased father (the title song), his newly adult daughter ("Here for You"), the guitar he plays that once belonged to Hank Williams ("This Old Guitar"), and even his dog ("He Was the King"). Demme's direction is ideal for conveying the music's restrained acoustic textures, rich backing vocals, and simple, elegant melodies. Shots are held much longer than is usual in such films, and while there are lots of close-ups, there are no gimmicks. This superb DVD package is filled out by a second disc of bonus features, including a variety of featurettes and a solo performance of "The Needle and the Damage Done" from The Johnny Cash Show in 1971. --Sam Graham