NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD (Jonathan Demme, 2006)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Tuesday, October 18, $17, 7:00
Series runs Tuesday nights through November 1
For the last four decades, Baldwin-born writer-director Jonathan Demme has alternated between fiction films and documentaries, releasing such features as Something Wild, The Silence of the Lambs, and Philadelphia as well as such real-life tales as Haiti: Dreams of Democracy, Cousin Bobby, and Neil Young Trunk Show. IFC Center is dedicating its complete fall Stranger Than Fiction season to the latter, screening six Demme documentaries on successive Tuesday nights, each followed by a Q&A with the Oscar-winning director. The series began with Stop Making Sense, Swimming to Cambodia, and The Agronomist; on October 18, STF will present one of Demme’s very best, Neil Young: Heart of Gold. In March 2005, less than a week before a scheduled operation for a brain aneurysm, Canadian country-folk-rock legend Neil Young headed to Nashville, assembled friends and family, and in four days recorded one of the best — and most personal — albums of his storied career, Prairie Wind. On August 18, he had recovered enough to put on a poignant show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, captured on film by Jonathan Demme (whose previous music-related works included Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense, Robyn Hitchcock in Storefront Hitchcock, and videos by the Pretenders and Bruce Springsteen).
The concert film begins with brief interviews with band members as they prepare for the show; Demme does not harp on Young’s health but instead focuses on the music itself and the warming sense of a family coming together. And what music it is. Using an ever-changing roster of participants, including Emmylou Harris, then-wife Pegi Young, steel guitarist Ben Keith, keyboarist Spooner Oldham, bass player Rick Rosas, the Nashville String Machine, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, the Memphis Horns, and others, Young goes song by song through Prairie Wind (skipping only the Elvis tribute “He Was the King,” which appears as a DVD extra), a moving album written by a man looking death squarely in the face. (Pegi Young points out that it was like Neil’s life flashing before his eyes.) Young introduces several songs with stories about his recently deceased father, growing up on a chicken farm, his daughter’s departure for college, and Hank Williams, whose guitar Young plays. (He also does a few songs on a Steinway.) Cinematographer Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan) gets up close and personal with Young, zooming in for extended shots of his face, his eyes peeking out from under his cowboy hat. Eleven years later, Young is still at the top of his game, releasing great new music and playing incendiary live shows. The Stranger Than Fiction series continues October 25 with the New Orleans-set I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful before concluding November 1 with Jimmy Carter Man from Plains.