Heart of Gold

Heart of Gold

Rated 4.0

With Jonathan Demme (The Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense) on hand as director, it’s not surprising that this film of Neil Young’s Prairie Wind concerts in Nashville is richly engaging both as a movie and as a musical document. But the presiding auteur here seems more Young than Demme.

The songs are naturally the heart of the matter, but the home-spun staging and structure of Heart of Gold are of a piece with the elegiac autobiographical music from Young’s most recent album. And they also represent a kind of culmination for “Bernard Shakey,” the persona Young concocted many years back for his various filmmaking and multi-media ventures.

The Prairie Wind concerts in Nashville were the premieres for the album Young composed in the time just after his father’s death and just before his own major surgery for a brain aneurysm. All those intimations of mortality, along with Young’s homages to Hank Williams and the staging at the Ryman Theatre (longtime home of radio’s Grand Old Opry), combine to give the film and the concert a strong emotional edge.

The Prairie Wind songs give us the singer-songwriter confronting the ravages of time—with abiding sorrow, piercing sentiment and a vitally earthy and transcendent spirit. The film as a whole shows us these collaborative performances of Neil Young’s work as a continuing renewal of half-obscured traditions with deep roots in a variety of North American places and styles.