This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

19Aug/17

JONATHAN DEMME: HEART OF GOLD — NEIL YOUNG TRUNK SHOW / NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD

Neil Young lets it all hang out in Jonathan Demme concert film (photo by Larry Cragg)

Neil Young lets it all hang out in Jonathan Demme concert film (photo by Larry Cragg)

NEIL YOUNG TRUNK SHOW (Jonathan Demme, 2009)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Sunday, August 20, 7:00
Series runs through August 24
718-636-4100
www.bam.org
www.trunkshowmovie.com

BAMcinématek’s three-week tribute to Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, who passed away in April at the age of seventy-three, continues with a pair of outstanding concert films. In April 2005, Neil Young underwent brain surgery for an aneurysm. Four months later, he gathered together friends for two special nights at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, captured on film by Demme, who had previously helmed such fab music docs as Stop Making Sense and Storefront Hitchcock. Neil Young: Heart of Gold was an intimate portrait of man who looked death in the face and survived; the film featured acoustic songs primarily from Young’s beautiful Prairie Wind album. But the Godfather of Grunge wasn’t about to let a little thing like a brain aneurysm stop him from rocking in the free world. As he continued his long-term project of reaching deep into his past for his archival box sets, he released Chrome Dreams II in October 2007, a sequel to an unreleased 1977 album that was rumored to include such future Young classics as “Pocahontas,” “Like a Hurricane,” “Homegrown,” and “Powderfinger.” For Chrome Dreams II, Young strapped on the electric guitar and held nothing back, joined by longtime partners in crime Ralph Molina on drums, Rick Rosas on bass, and Ben Keith on guitars and keyboards.

Young took the show on the road, playing small clubs across the country, where each song was announced by a live painting by Eric Johnson. Demme captured two searing performances at the Tower Theater in Pennsylvania, filming them guerrilla-style with eight cameras, mostly handheld, that get right up in Young’s face. While the actual concerts were divided into two separate sets, first solo acoustic, then electric with the band, which also featured backup vocals by then-wife Pegi Young and Anthony “Sweetpea” Crawford, Demme mixes them up in Neil Young Trunk Show, an exhilarating music documentary that limits behind-the-scenes patter and instead concentrates on the powerful music. At the time, Young had been at the game for nearly fifty years, but he plays with a young man’s abandon in the film, his eyes deep in thought on such gorgeous acoustic gems as “Harvest,” “Ambulance Blues,” “Sad Movies,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” while really letting loose with extended jams on the new “Spirit Road” and “No Hidden Path” before tearing everything apart on “Like a Hurricane.” The sixty-two-year-old Canadian legend even includes an instrumental from his high school days with the Squires, “The Sultan,” complete with Cary Kemp banging a gong. As with most Young concerts, Trunk Show is not about the greatest hits; to truly enjoy it, just let the music take you away – and make sure the theater has the volume turned up loud. The movie is screening August 20 at 7:00 as part of the “Jonathan Demme: Heart of Gold” retrospective and will be followed by a Q&A with cinematographer Declan Quinn and camera operators Charlie Libin, Kathleen Corgan, Gerard Sava, Patrick Capone, Hollis Meminger, and Anthony Jannelli.

Jonathan Demme will present NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD at Stranger Than Fiction screening at IFC Center on October 18

Neil Young reveals his heart of gold in Jonathan Demme concert film

NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD (Jonathan Demme, 2006)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Sunday, August 20, 4:30
Series runs through August 24
718-636-4100
www.bam.org

The BAMcinématek screening of Neil Young Trunk Show will be preceded by another stellar collaboration between Jonathan Demme and Neil Young, 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 four-decade 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 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, keyboardist 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 can be found as an extra on the DVD), 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. “Jonathan Demme: Heart of Gold” continues through August 24 with The Master Builder, Ricki and the Flash, a program of music videos, and a double feature of What’s Motivating Hayes and Haiti Dreams of Democracy.

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