'Heart of Gold': Neil Young and Jonathan Demme

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Neil Young

On Stage: Neil Young in Heart of Gold. Paramount Classics hide caption

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Neil Young

Flanked by his wife, Pegi (left), and Emmylou Harris, Young booked the Ryman Auditorium for two nights. Paramount Classics hide caption

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A new documentary from director Jonathan Demme captures an intense live performance by Neil Young. But equally intense were the circumstances surrounding the Nashville concert, which took place months after Young underwent life-threatening surgery.

Neil Young, right, and Jonathan Demme.

Neil Young, right, performed music from his entire Harvest trilogy for the movie by Jonathan Demme. Getty Images hide caption

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That surgery, and the brain aneurysm that prompted it, served as catalysts for Young to create some of the most compelling and lyrical music of his career.

Prairie Wind is the album that emerged from Young's burst of creative energy. Completing the trilogy begun by Harvest and continued with Harvest Moon, the record was hailed as renewed proof that Young is one of the greatest singers of our time.

To perform the music of Prairie Wind for the first time before a live audience, Young assembled a band of friends and fellow musicians. The roster ranged from his wife, Pegi, to pianist Spooner Oldham and singer Emmylou Harris.

It is those two concerts at Nashville's famed Ryman Auditorium that Demme filmed for Neil Young: Heart of Gold. And in a nod to Young's music and the venue's history — the Ryman is also the home of the Grand Ole Opry — the musicians performed in Western outfits.

Over the years, Neil Young has made excursions into country, blues, electro, rockabilly, and soul. Early in his career, he formed the band Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills. He was then part of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — which eventually morphed into Crosby, Stills and Nash when Young embarked on a solo career.

Jonathan Demme's other films include The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, and a 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate. He also made the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.

Neil Young: Heart of Gold had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Its director and star were both in attendance in Park City, Utah.

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