Published Mar 01, 2006A year ago, Canada's most renowned singer-songwriter survived a brain aneurysm and went on to record an album about family, home and remembrance. On the accompanying tour for Prairie Wind, Neil Young played two nights in Nashville, where he invited along family and friends, including country queen Emmylou Harris, Stax hero Wayne Jackson, a choir, his wife and good ole band mates like Ben Keith.
Scattered with personal remembrances and spoken tributes, Heart of Gold is dedicated to "daddy," respected Toronto writer Scott Young, who recently passed away. Jonathan Demme, who filmed the Sleeps With Angels sessions, captures Young in a humble and reflective mood.
In the first half of the film, Young and his band perform Prairie Wind before backdrops of a golden field and house, which nicely complement the cinematography of Ellen Kuras. Demme's filming and editing are restrained no tracking shoots or quick cutaways. Instead, the performances simply unfold. One touching moment is the duet between Young (playing Hank Williams' acoustic guitar) and the ever-luminous Harris on the deeply symbolic "This Old Guitar."
The full band kicks loose in the film's second half. Young offers tributes to his old ranch hand ("Old Man"), his dog ("Old King"), folk pioneers Ian & Sylvia ("Four Strong Winds") and, poignantly, old flame Nicolette Larson, who had a hit with "Comes A Time."
Well-crafted and tasteful, Heart of Gold remains a conventional concert film, offering token interviews, while completely ignoring the audience. At times, Young looks like he's playing in a vacuum. True, Young does speak through his songs and intros, which are largely charming and candid, but sometimes they beg for deeper context.
That said, following the uneven Year of the Horse and the debacle known as Greendale, Heart of Gold restores much cinematic prestige for Young. Heart of Gold may not offer any revelations, but it does present filmgoers with an artist reflecting on his mortality with dignity and grace. (Paramount Classics)