Saturday, April 15, 2006

Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Seeing a well-made concert film in a theatre is a unique experience. Most people would say that a theater experience is best for action movies, but there's a whole atmosphere to a concert film that you don't find anywhere else. Heart of Gold was produced by Jonothan Demme, who did Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads concert film that pretty much defines how to do this sort of thing.

The opening camera shots set the mood for the concert footage to come. You are going into Nashville, looking across at a statue and going along a street passing some older brick buildings which give you a feel for what kind of city Nashville is. The camera work is deliberately shakey but uncannily perceptive. You catch signs pass exactly in front of the lense in a way that makes it look like a wonderful accidental shot. This is repeated many times over during the concert where the shots line up two players at interesting angles and lets your eye wander from one to the other and watch the interaction.

There are many other musicians on the stage along with Young, a bigger country music afficianaodo than me would be able to spot more than just Emmylou Harris, whom I love and who accompanies Young on a lot of the songs. The camera often pans around to show you whoever might be doing something interesting at any given moment. Interestingly I never noticed the camera go in or stay on anyone else's faces, but Young's face and his expressions is the unstated focus of the film.

Uncharacteristically, he far less taciturn between songs than he is known for, and he told little stories to explain where the next song came from.

The first half of the music was from his recent album, Prairie Wind, which he wrote around the time he had his brain aneurysm. He must have seen the medical event as a sign to really commit some important moments to song as a way of keeping them. He sang songs about losing his father slowly to dimensia, and having his daughter move away and then come back, and long-time lovers sharing their days together.

There was also a wonderful amount of references to Canadiana in these new songs. The Nashville audience might not completely grasp bitterly cold prairie winters or small Manitoba towns or the Trans-Canada highway, but Young was unabashed about presenting Canadian country music in it's full context. I won't ruin the set list but there's a wonderful surprise near the end that cements this theme.

Watching this in the theater was a communal experience. Everyone was dead silent aside from the odd chuckle at the same time as the live audience of the performance were laughing at one of Young's funny stories or allusions. If you pressed your foot to the floor you could feel people tapping their feet along with the music. After the first song if I didn't have a drink in my hand I may very well have applauded.

This show let you see Neil Young's life in a wonderful backwards narrative, and as you watched him perform these songs and looked into his eyes as he sings about heart-wrenching moments you get an quiet sense that he's one of the brightest souls in music, and you fall in love with him.
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By al - 11:22 a.m. |

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