Experiencing the Other Side of Youth
Neil Young: Heart of Gold

By Lois Siegel

Photo by Paul Jean

Lois Siegel
Plays fiddle and she teaches Video Production at
the University of Ottawa
Her documentary films include “Baseball Girls”
 (women who play softball and baseball)
 “Lip Gloss” (female impersonators)
 “Strangers in Town” (albinism)
 and “Stunt People”
 (The Fournier Family performing stunts for films).

Neil Young: Heart of Gold
Directed by Jonathan Demme
 103 minutes, 2006, USA

Neil Young is no longer so young. He’s now 60. The Canadian singer-songwriter, who from his hippie days just kept the music coming, has produced not-to-be-forgotten lyrics and tunes: “Old man, take a look at my life/I’m a lot like you were…”

The recording of his new album “Prairie Wind” was timely. Young was diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain aneurysm, and he wrote and recorded the songs four days before his scheduled surgery. Then he called film director Jonathan Demme and said he wanted to make a film.

“Neil Young: Heart of Gold” was shot during a two-night performance at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry. It reflects the different stages of Young’s life and reminds us that we all have a lot in common. Our parents have grown older and may no longer be with us. Young’s father, sportswriter Scott Young, passed away just a few months before this concert. When Neil was 7 or 8-years-old, Scott gave him an Arthur Godfrey guitar. “You might need this,” he said.  Turned out to be an important gesture. Young has dedicated his film: “For Daddy.”

Photo by Getty Images

The musicians are not studio musicians. They are Neil Young’s friends. They are old guys and gals who have been around. They know what they are doing, and their confidence shows.  They are not pretentious or into theatrics.

Technically, “Heart of Gold” is stylish documentary: good close ups and clean shots.  Eight Super-16 cameras and a Steadicam track the show. The filming is elegant: simple and smooth - no fancy tricks. The cameras don’t get in the way of the down-to-earth music. Demme knew exactly what he was doing. The opening home movie footage shows washed-out, low quality, old Kodachrome-looking images of Nashville, to give the viewer a real feeling for the historic town. Then there are interviews with the musicians travelling in vehicles, presumably to the auditorium, and the show begins.

And it’s quite a show, with singers, banjo, trumpet, sax, drums, piano, xylophone, violins, fiddles, cello, Dobro, harmonica, guitar, autoharp, perhaps an egg – and best of all, a sweeping broom on a rough surface that adds just the right touch to “Harvest Moon.”

The last shot in the film is of Neil Young alone on the stage. There’s a guitar case supporting his Stetson-looking, wide-brimmed hat and an accessory bag. The theatre seats are empty. He sings as the credits roll on one side of the screen.  No one in the movie theatre jumped up to leave like audiences usually do when the credits appear. They knew the film wasn’t over… 

Film Fanatics

Lois Siegel's Home Page