'Neil Young: Heart of Gold'
His movies are similarly difficult. "Greendale" was shot entirely on Super-8, with actors lip-synching to the songs from that album; his last concert movie, "Year of the Horse," was shot by the director Jim Jarmusch in the same grainy textures.
Somehow, Jonathan Demme managed to convince Young to let him shoot "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" in high-contrast, high-definition video. The result -- which captures the August, 2005 concert premiere of Young's album "Prairie Wind" at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium -- is easily the most intimate and compelling movie Young has ever made.
As we're informed in the handful of interviews that open the film, "Heart of Gold" finds Young wondering at his new lease on life, having survived the treatment of a potentially lethal aneurism just months earlier. It seems the diagnosis got him writing for the first time in two years; the result was the new album, a meditation on family, mortality and memory that -- as performed by Young and an assortment of guests that includes Emmylou Harris, Ben Keith and Spooner Oldham, among others -- has moments of soaring beauty and surprising tenderness.
The second half of the film finds Young delving into his decades-deep catalogue for just about every song his fans might want to hear ... but the real draw of "Heart of Gold" is the way Demme's cameras seem to let us glimpse the trembling, uncertain soul who wrote the lyrics of "Prairie Wind." Maybe it's just that we can see Young's eyes so clearly this time around, and it makes such a difference to the music.
In addition to the usual Dolby Digital mix, Paramount's enhanced-widescreen DVD offers a DTS soundtrack; it's a truly rare inclusion for the studio, but one this title certainly merits. The bandwidth-hungry track necessitates a two-disc set, with most of the considerable special features pushed onto their own disc, but Young's fans will find changing platters a minor hardship at best. (There is one bonus feature on Disc One: An additional song from the "Prairie Wind" performance, "He Was the King.")
Demme doesn't contribute an audio commentary for the feature, but he does provide about 40 minutes of anecdotes over an assemblage of behind-the-scenes footage, packaged as the "Rehearsal Diaries," on Disc Two. You'll also find six production featurettes that form a loosely organized 48-minute documentary of the production, with additional interviews with Young, Demme, and just about everyone else who peers into the camera in the course of "Heart of Gold."
The extra Young's fans are most looking forward to is tucked away at the bottom of the menu -- the performer's 1971 appearance on "The Johnny Cash Show," performing "Needle and the Damage Done." It's a good performance of the song, if not exactly Young's finest, and Cash only appears in a videotaped introduction. But it's still nice to have it.
STUDIO: Paramount Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: June 13, 2006
TIME: 103 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: English subtitles; deleted song; production featurettes; archival performance.
INTERNET SITE: heartofgoldmovie.com