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Rated 2.98 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
One from the Heart
by Adam Hakari

One of the great movie experiences of my life was the first time I saw Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme's concert classic. From the moment I first saw it on video, I was hooked and became an instant fan of the terrific starring band, Talking Heads. So it was with great anticipation that I awaited the arrival of Neil Young: Heart of Gold, Demme's return to the concert film -- with the legendary folk rocker taking center stage to put on the latest in a long line of amazing performances.

Heart of Gold was filmed in August of 2005 at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry. Young, whose last venture into the cinema was the maligned hippie battle cry Greendale, gathered his closest musician friends, including Emmylou Harris and wife Pegi Young, to hold a concert showcasing both old material and music from his latest album, "Prairie Wind." From classics like "Old Man" and "Harvest Moon" to the heart-breaking "It's a Dream," Young and company paint a lush portrait of folk music with each successive tune. However, hanging over this musical celebration is Young's recent surgery to correct an aneurism, casting a reflective light upon the performance that brings out the sadness and emotional power dwelling within every note.

In the hands of a lesser director, Neil Young: Heart of Gold would have played out like a wake, an incredibly depressing way to pay tribute to one of the finest living musicians. But, similar to Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, this film acknowledges the fate of one's life coming to a close while having a grand old time living in the moment. Neil Young: Heart of Gold is a film about life, love, and making music, about getting together with a group of friends and doing what you all enjoy doing together. In Young's case, it's performing an array of effective songs, some on the peppy side ("Old King") and others a tad more angry and introspective ("No Wonder"). What makes each new song as savory and meaningful as the last one is Young himself, pouring his very heart and soul into each performance, not allowing a single trace of false emotion to emerge through any of the sets.

Young's fellow bandmates also chip in to create a very relaxed atmosphere, helping the production come across not so much as an organized concert but more like a jam session with a handful of buddies. Demme's filmic instincts also contribute to Heart of Gold's success, creating a warm atmosphere with painted backdrops of cabins and countrysides and keeping the pace moving via fluid but unobtrusive camera movements. Echoes of Stop Making Sense can be spotted here; similar shots are used, and bass guitarist Rick Rosas even has the same swagger and looseness of Talking Heads' own Tina Weymouth. But instead of falling back on old tricks, Demme works hand-in-hand with Young's own style to deliver a wholly unique hybrid of music and cinema all its own.

Having seen so many films, I don't get very emotional about them these days. Still, I have to say that Neil Young: Heart of Gold touched me, not only with the power of its admittedly sad songs but also because of the way Neil Young gives fans his all, proving his worth as one of the century's most soulful and earnest troubadours. In short, Neil Young: Heart of Gold is music to my eyes.

MY RATING: **** (out of ****)

(Released by Paramount Home Video and rated "PG" for some drug-related references.)

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