Heart Of Gold (DVD)
Paramount Classics, 2006
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/20/2006
Few albums, documentaries or movies can be called "instant classics." Usually, the classic status is bestowed upon a work of art after a certain amount of time and debate elapses. Movies and music initially panned, such as The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, became standard-bearing classics years after their release. Coincidentally, works that were given that "instant classic" rating when they were initially released sometimes fall under the weight of their own hype (see R.E.M.'s Monster or Dances With Wolves).
Still, with one viewing of its initial theatrical release and the DVD release, it's safe to put Neil Young's concert documentary Heart Of Gold on the short list for "best concert movies of all time," right up there with the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense (both documentaries were directed by Jonathan Demme).
Demme knows when to get the production out of the way and let the story tell itself. With Heart Of Gold, he almost has a perfect concert movie setup handed to him: a rock legend records what many critics consider one of his best albums before going in for surgery for a potentially fatal brain aneurysm -- and on one glorious night, he gathers up a group of musical legends and performs the album in the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. To add to the perfection, the moon gave off almost a heavenly reflection that night.
Of course, great directors make it look like anyone could direct a movie like Heart Of Gold. Demme relies on close-ups and campfire-warm lighting to give the movie an intimacy that few dramas can reach. As the camera pans in on Neil Young and Spooner Oldham's weather worn faces, you can't help but imagine the stories they could tell you of their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.
Emmylou Harris' vocals are as beautiful as Neil Young's are distinctive throughout Heart Of Gold. Though much of the documentary draws from Neil Young's Prairie Wind album, old standbys such as "Harvest Moon" and "Old Man" are also performed.
Nostalgia runs heavy throughout Heart Of Gold. From the traditional, almost frontier-like dress of the backup singers to Emmylou Harris' wish that the developers of a high rise in Nashville be arrested because when built, the high rise will block out the skyline view from the Ryman Theater, Heart Of Gold romanticizes a bygone era. Baby boomer haters may sneer at this type of nostalgia, but Heart Of Gold is a movie that proudly refuses to be for everyone. Watching Heart Of Gold, viewers do have to surrender a bit of cynicism and believe in the transcendence of music.
Those viewers who wisely wait until their favorite movies come out with deluxe or director's editions needn't worry with Heart Of Gold: The movie comes packed with extras. The second disc contains revealing interviews from the players and Neil Young. In one interview, Neil Young looks around at some of the noted landmarks around Nashville during the world movie premiere of Heart Of Gold and says:
"I'm getting smaller and smaller … I'm not as huge anymore. I felt like a leaf on a river."
While that may be true, Heart Of Gold captures the power of an album that few critics may have dismissed as another "artist facing their mortality" record. And true to Neil Young spirit, he has ridden the folksy momentum from his album and this documentary and released an amped-up protest album, Living With War. During Heart Of Gold, Neil Young wondered aloud what Hank Williams Sr. would think if he saw the development outside of the Grand Old Opry. If he'd been in the audience that night, guesses are Williams would have been pretty proud.