Saturday, April 22, 2006
Heart of Gold
by Craig Terlson
My friend and author/illustrator, CRAIG TERLSON, wrote the following review of the new Neil Young movie, Heart of Gold. I liked it so much, I asked if I could re-puplish it here to share with you. Not only is Craig amazingly talented, he's also a wonderful person and a fantastic friend, so of course he said yes, so here it is:
Neil Young, Heart of Gold
by Craig Terlson
n Heart of Gold, director Jonathan Demme creates an intimacy that I have never experienced before in a concert movie or even a concert. Cameras and sound equipment are not visible and there are no swooping shots of the audience or fast edits. The only time you see the crowd is at the end, perhaps to remind you that this was a concert, and that you were not somehow sitting in Neil Young's living room. It would have to be a pretty big room to house the bass player, two drummers, too many guitar players to mention, two trios of back-up singers, including Pegi Young his wife, a string section, horn section and a jubilee gospel choir – oh… and to squeeze in the immortal, but heavily Botoxed, Emmylou Harris.
Demme captures Young over two nights at the Ryman Theater in Nashville, original site of the Grand Ole Opry. The Ryman, a venue built entirely of wood, is prized for its warm acoustics. "It's like a big guitar," Young says. The wood, the choir, and the stain glass windows all give a feeling of reverence and suggest that Mr. Young might just be up there witnessing.
This is a concert movie, not a documentary, yet the depth of relationship exposed in this film rivals most dramas I have seen lately. Demme chooses vantage points that show us both the music and somehow the behind the scenes at the same time.
The first half of the film covers Young's latest Juno award winning album, Prairie Wind. It is not hard to imagine where Neil is coming from after surviving brain surgery for a near fatal aneurysm and the recent death of his father, Scott Young, who suffered dementia the last years of his life. Neil has returned to the Canadian prairie of his childhood; I wondered what the Nashville audience thought of the painted backdrop behind the band, a gorgeous expanse of field, sky and grain elevators. Had they even heard of the Trans-Canada highway, Cypress River or Falcon Lake?
The last half of the film centers on Young's two pivotal albums, Harvest (1972) and Harvest Moon (1992). As he goes through his classic backlist, it is not the young hippy graduate from Kelvin High that you are watching, but you can see him in there. You will swear that Neil actually sheds years as the concert progresses.
There is a deep irony in hearing Neil Young sing, "Old man take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you were." When he introduces a new love song, he looks back at his wife and remarks, "I used to write these songs about girls my own age" and how this is what he calls an "empty nest song". The song is a gorgeous ballad, which I'll admit had me pretty wet around the eyes as I think about my kids leaving the Ethelbert nest. That's when I realized that Neil is not only telling his story, he's telling mine. Like other great songwriters he captures universal truths about the human condition: we were young, we get older, we love our families, friends, and we think about where we came from. We think back to times when we searched for a heart of gold, when we were "twenty-four and there's so much more" and lately how we say that "one of these days, I'm going to sit down and write a long letter to all the good friends I have known."
Heart of Gold is much more than a concert film, I would suggest multiple viewings because there is so much to see and hear. An undercurrent of emotion run throughout, there are flashes of poetry, stunning musicianship, and warm humour (Neil sings about his dog King that jumped off the truck in high gear while he power chords on a Banjo… yes, I said power chords.) At the end, it is just Neil with his old guitar, his hat balanced on his case, playing to the now empty hall, and he is telling his story. Listen up. -- C. T.
Craig's interview gave me chills. Before I read it, I wanted to see Heart of Gold but now I won't miss it! If you experience this movie, let me know what you think. By the way, Craig plays a mean guitar! Yup, he's one multi-talented guy.
note: the photo with Neil in red in by Craig Abaya