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Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006)

A gold-tinged amber waves of grain palate illuminates the stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium during Neil Young’s two evenings of performance there for his 2005 Prairie Wind tour, the ember glow of which lends Jonathan Demme’s intimate concert film Heart of Gold a distinct sense of spiritual comfort and communal unity. A brief intro of interview footage from Neil Young and his fellow friends and musicians contextualizes the unhampered concert that is to follow, which consists of roughly one half cuts from his current album (which was recorded in the midst of a brain aneurysm) and one half classic tracks. Unlike numerous other concert films that misguidedly shatter the essence of the concert environment via unnecessary technical panache, Jonathan Demme simply allows his camera to take in all that the stage has to offer, waxing the performer-audience relationship with a sublimely effective mixture of close-ups and long shots that emphasize both the deeply personal nature of the songs performed as well as the collaborative, familial ties on stage (and quite wisely, the film completely avoids the pointless audience shots so typical of this genre). Fans of Young’s music will be more immediately lent to his performance, but even as only a passive listener of his catalogue over the years, I was very quickly won over by the simple, soul-baring immediacy of his craft. Experiencing Young’s set list is like attending an autobiographical dream theater, drawing from decades of wisdom and a lifetime of experience whilst touching on mortality, memories, relationships and things to come. The elegant camerawork invites the viewer into this fine fabric at a subconscious level, with Young often framed on either side of the screen rather than in the center while the supporting musicians and background singers are equally involved in the compositions, while the tight facial work on more personal songs unites the visual and audio experiences at even deeper level. Be sure to stay through the end credits; Young’s solo performance to an empty theater lingers like vast expanse of memories from a life well spent. Heart of Gold’s absolute purity seems proof that this collaboration between Young and Demme was indeed a match made in heaven.