When Neil Young breaks from singing his own lyrical compositions in Neil Young: Heart of Gold to sing what he calls the most beautiful song ever composed, I knew exactly which Canadian piece it would be, for it was mine too. I listened as a young man to Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds" for an entire evening, over and over, as Young did emptying his pockets for a juke box at 16 years old in Calgary. Young had my heart for this performance and a lifetime.
At this point in director Jonathan Demme's two days of filming Young and friends at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, weeks before his operation for a brain aneurism, I also knew this was the best concert film I had seen in my recent memory.
Young's singing Tyson's song symbolized the real heart of gold he so obviously has calling someone else's work the best. In this film, however, no one could be better than Young. His voice seems to have lost none of its resonance and feeling since his searching for a heart of gold song made him almost iconic. His stories, such as one about his guitar coming from Hank Williams and then set to song in The Old Guitar, make the only bridges necessary among songs in a concert of songs. When he sings a duet with Emmylou Harris, her delivery seems consciously stoic in order to let Young's understated performance be the gold standard that night.
Demme, who has successes with Stop Making Sense and Storefront Hitchcock, concentrates most of his shots on close-ups of Young, whose low-key style demands the audience get as close as possible. The backgrounds change on the theme of his new album, Prairie Wind, so that a new mural of the southwest is brought across as the songs change.