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Laramie Movie Scope:
Neil Young: Heart of Gold

A pure Nashville concert film

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 2, 2006 -- “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” is about as pure of a musical concert film as I've ever seen. Most concert films are loaded with interviews with musicians, managers, fans, agents, whatever. It is like they are running away from the music, like they are embarrassed by it. This film, directed by Jonathan Demme (“Silence of the Lambs”) sticks to the musical essentials. Interviews are held to a minimum. Talk is held to a minimum, while concert music is maximized. And what marvelous music it is. Although Young is much closer to the end of his life than the beginning, he remains a very powerful performer. What this film delivers is a concert. It is like you are in the front row. You can see and hear everything.

Set in Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, the country-tinged concert (the film combines footage from two separate performances) drips with historic atmosphere. At one point, Neil Young, speaking to the audience, says the guitar he is playing was once owned by the legendary Hank Williams, one of the giants of American music. Flanked by Emmylou Harris, his wife, Pegi Morton, and a robust band (guitars, drums, broom, dobro, steel guitar, a gospel choir, backup singers and brass). Young keeps belting out song after song. There is even an extra Young solo number over the credits. Musicians on stage include the Nashville String Machine, the Memphis Horns, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham, Rick Rosas, Tim Drummond and Grant Boatwright among others. During one number in which about a dozen guitar players spanned the stage, Young quipped, “any guitar players out there?”

This special “Prairie Wind” concert was filmed after Young had recorded the Prairie Wind album in Nashville and had been successfully operated on for a life-threatening brain aneurysm. Young eschews his rock and roll repertoire for a performance almost exclusively composed of lyrical ballads of high emotional wattage. I was particularly impressed with the title song, “Prairie Wind,” and with the religious song “When God Made Me.” Young performs his own music for most of the concert, of course, but does include the folk standard “Four Strong Winds,” written by fellow Canadian Ian Tyson. Young also talks about his special connection to that song. Most of the concert songs are from his “Prairie Winds” album, but he does have some of his older, better-known songs in the concert as well, including “Heart of Gold,” of course, along with “Old Man,” “One of These Days,” and “Needle the Damage Done.”

The multi-channel sound quality of the recordings is excellent. I could clearly hear not only the solos, but the blending of the many instruments in a complex tapestry of sound. Musicians can be seen filing onto and off the stage during some numbers. A few of the songs are performed solo by Young. The film is marvelously edited by Andy Keir (“Roger Dodger”). Just the right amount of Young's stage chat is included to shed a little light on some of the songs, such as Young's talk of the death of his father, who suffered from dementia. In the song that followed, “Prairie Wind,” are found the following lyrics:

Trying to remember what my daddy said
Before too much time took away his head.

Cinematographer Ellen Kuras (“Blow”), seems to find just the right shots at the right time to highlight the performances of the various singers and musicians to perfectly complement the music. Eight stationary cameras were used in the filming, giving the viewer the same kind of perspective one would have as an audience member at a live concert, but with more angles and close-ups. This is an excellent musical concert film. It rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)