Thumping on the Rock in Low Gear

17 Oct 2013: Neil Young: Heart of Gold (DVD, 2005, Jonathan Demme)

This film doesn’t have any of the wild getups and sweat-stained motion of Stop Making Sense, but neither does the music and performance of Neil Young as compared with that of Talking Heads. Static or only faintly moving shots predominate here, with lengthy takes and dissolves that capture the relative languor and reflectiveness of the downtempo and pastorally themed songs. As a film little is done to distinguish the direction from that of any stock documentarian – other than the fact that most modern concert movies constantly cut to new angles and move quickly and near-unceasingly – which does effectively place the focus more squarely on Young and his band, yet has a sort of bland air of objectivity about it; it doesn’t augment or comment on the performance the way Sense does. A few stray shots employ Dutch angles to enliven the photography a bit, something that could have been explored and developed a little more, but overall the footage could have come from any TV program. These questionable caveats aside, the concert is enjoyable to watch (one band member sweeping a broom in rhythm with “Harvest Moon,” earnest backup singers smiling at the oblivious bandleader, a stage full of guitar players) and listen to (a broad repertoire of pensive and plaintive classics and more recent tunes, quiet asides and stories told of people and places and memories in the gaps between songs) and a nice opportunity to see close-ups of an elder showman when one considers that the minimum ticket prices for such a big name nowadays are probably 50-60 bucks for nosebleed seats.

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