Neil Young looks back in a fine concert film. 

On his best album, 1978's Rust Never Sleeps, Neil Young famously asserted that it's better to burn out than fade away. But his surprisingly good new concert film, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, suggests the opposite: Maybe fading away is the way to go after all.

Crisply directed by Jonathan Demme (best known for The Silence of the Lambs but more relevantly the director of the classic Talking Heads concert flick Stop Making Sense), the elegiac Heart of Gold is a fantastically realized concert film.

Shot over the course of two concerts in August 2005 at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, Heart of Gold documents the "world premiere" of Young's most recent album, Prairie Wind, which was written and recorded in Nashville only days before Young went into surgery for a potentially fatal brain aneurysm.

Fittingly, the music on Prairie Wind -- gentle folk-rock in the vein of 1972's Heart of Gold, which was also cut in Nashville -- is meditative and personal, the sound of a 60-year-old man taking stock of his life.

I had my doubts about Heart of Gold going in: I'm a Young fan, but Prairie Wind is not among his very best records and I wasn't sure if I cared to watch him perform the album in its entirety, as the film promised. The concept seemed to assume a significance that Prairie Wind couldn't support. But Young and Demme pull it off.

The film opens with segments shot largely in the backs of cars and cabs as Young and his band drive through Nashville, presumably en route to the Ryman.

But Demme quickly gets to the concert itself, looking up at the stage from an audience viewpoint as curtains part and Young and his band launch into the album. Demme and cinematographer Ellen Kuras hold this shot for a few moments, then zoom in, introducing a vocabulary of tighter shots and different angles. The camera never leaves the stage again, not even for crowd-reaction shots, instead working its way into the music, following the flow of sound gracefully, underscoring every bass line or backing vocal.

The result is a case study in how to shoot a musical performance, an act of filmmaking that taps into the joy of collective musical creation. And this fits the tone and message of Young's music, which is about abiding rather than burning out, about a full life in the company of family and friends.

The final third of the concert moves past Prairie Wind into a batch of familiar "greatest hits" all in the same musical vein, songs like "Old Man," "I Am a Child," and, of course, "Heart of Gold." But it's a testament to both Young and Demme that these performances of familiar favorites are less captivating than the seemingly minor recent work that the film is meant to celebrate. Here's hoping Young has lots of music left in him. But if not, Neil Young: Heart of Gold would make for a fitting valedictory.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • The Homesman

      Tommy Lee Jones skillfully crafts a Western with Hillary Swank
    • Finding Vivian Maier

      How an unknown nanny became an art superstar overnight.
    • Fresh Skweezed

      The acclaimed short film by Memphis director G.B. Shannon hits the internet.

Blogs

Tiger Blue

Tigers 83, USC Upstate 73

Hungry Memphis

Raw Girls Launches Food Truck

News Blog

Candidates Sought For Council Vacancy

Calling the Bluff

Don Trip is a "Man on the Moon"

News Blog

Riverside Drive Bike Lane Named In Top 10 List

News Blog

Memphis' Logan Guleff Wins MasterChef Junior

Calling the Bluff

Starlito Connects with Don Trip, Yo Gotti for New Track

News Blog

Pension Reform Gets Council Approval

Beyond the Arc

Next Day Notes: Grizzlies 105, Warriors 98

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2014

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Memphis Business Quarterly
Powered by Foundation