Wednesday, July 19, 2006

NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD - when there is this much talent on screen you don't need pyrotechnics

NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD is one of those rare things - a movie where the audience sits right through to the end of the end-credits and then breaks into applause. This feels right because the movie is essentially like watching a music concert given by a truly great singer-song-writer and a bunch of his old-school collaborators. Sure, for the first ten minutes we have a bit of footage of everyone rolling up the to the auditorium in Nashville. There is some talk of how the different musicians first came to play with Neil Young. There is also some discussion about the Young's discovery that he had a potentially fatal brain aneuryism. But pretty soon we are plunged straight into the performance of the album - A Prairie Wind - that was written by Young in response to this news.

The music is performed by a large group of musicians - including ten guitarists at one point - a small-ish gospel choir, a horn section and string section, not to mention people like Emmylou Harris as mere backing vocals! The songs are acoustic and cover subject matter from 9/11 to Young's father suffering from senile dementia before he died, to Young's daughter leaving for college. In between we get classic songs such as Heart of Gold. When the concert is over, we have Young sitting alone on stage, his back to the camera, singing unaccompanied to an empty auditorium before packing up his guitar and stalking off. Meanwhile the end credits roll.

Although there is a definite feel that we are seeing some real old school high quality music, the concert is very definitely staged. The backdrops are a series of murals featuring sepia tinted prairie landscapes or prairie home interiors. The musicians all wear beautifully designed costumes. I also like the decision by director Jonathen Demme (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and PHILADELPHIA) to shoot the concert with fixed cameras. Foregoing moving cameras draws less attention to the fact that this is a movie and makes it feel more like watching an actual concert. This is reinforced by the decision not to show the audience.

The resulting film is a wonder for fans of Neil Young's acoustic work. I have to say that I was pretty unaware of his music beyond the big hits but thoroughly enjoyed the film nonetheless. It's always a pleasure to see real artisty whatever the genre, and this movie makes a fine companion piece in tone and subject matter to Altman's wonderful
A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION. Unfortunately this movie didn't get much of an international release so it's worth checking for it on DVD. (Although, clearly, if you hate country music you should probably give it a miss.)

NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD went on limited release in the US in February 2006 and is now available on Region 1 DVD. It was released in Australia in May, Italy, Sweden and France in June and opens in Germany on August 17th. I do not know of a cinematic release date for the UK.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen it - sadly, as I love Talking Heads. I'll try and dig it up on DVD. Thanks for the tip!