NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD (Jonathan Demme). 103 minutes. Opens Friday (February 10). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Time hangs over this film, and it's both heartbreaking and inspiring. Neil Young wrote his Prairie Wind album after being diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. Last August he gathered his old confederates - including Emmylou Harris on backing vocals - at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium for what feels like one last, triumphant concert.
After a quick opening introducing his band on the way to the concert, the film settles in for timeless, mid-tempo reflections on life. In the first half, Young and his band sing from Prairie Wind; in the second, they dip into hits from Harvest and Harvest Moon. Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense, Swimming To Cambodia) knows how to shoot performers, and orchestrates his most stately camera work and graceful editing yet.
It suits the man. The Ryman concerts find Young looking back at his youth, reflecting on his father's death and his daughter's growth and riffing on how Nashville has changed. He never comes right out and says the word "mortality," but it's there in the lyrics and in the sight of a stage full of weathered musicians playing their hearts out. For fans, this film has the heft of an archival document. For everybody else, you couldn't ask for a better introduction to Neil Young.