It is not unreasonable to think that 30 years of pop music might provide three hours of interesting television. Heart of Gold, a history of rock 'n' roll in Canada coproduced by the CBC and
Insight Productions, therefore holds promise. And, by parcelling out the show over three consecutive nights, the CBC has certainly made it seem like an event. Unfortunately, Heart of Gold is so unimaginative and unintelligent that it makes the frenetic Patsy Gallant look like the elegant Mavis.
An awkward and confusing assemblage of performances and chatter, Heart of Gold presents a hit parade of Canadian singers and songwriters from such 1950s groups as The Diamonds and The Four Lads through to Triumph and Loverboy. In between there is footage of Bobby Curtola, The Band, The Guess Who, Neil Young and 30 other acts. There is shockingly short shrift given to Quebec artists, and emphasis is placed on marketplace success rather than artistic merit—Andy Kim does two numbers, while the McGarrigle Sisters are not even mentioned. Otherwise, there is little reason to quibble with wide-ranging coverage. Despite the riches of raw material, however, Heart of Gold fails to become either the entertainment gala or stimulating cultural documentary it might have been.
The producers have dug up a few nostalgic nuggets. A young Gordon Lightfoot singing Canadian Railroad Trilogy looks and sounds as fresh as hope. An early clip of Joni Mitchell, all bones and nostrils and beautiful melody, serves as a reminder that her gifts can be breathtaking. But what the producers filmed themselves is not nearly so riveting. Wearing vast amounts of lip liner, Carole Pope mouths the words of High School Confidential in a segment so tawdrily staged that it looks like a commercial for cheap clothes. The show reunites Ian and Sylvia for the first time in eight years, but their spiritless rendition of Four Strong Winds gives no indication of the momentousness of the occasion.
Although variety specials have never been the CBC’s strong suit, the network does enjoy some renown for journalism. But throughout Heart of Gold dates and locations are rarely identified. It is often impossible to tell where and when an event is taking place, not to mention why. Instead of critical insight, the program offers empty-headed hoopla. Narrator Donald Sutherland affects a weighty tone just to observe that Paul Anka’s talent has “kept him on top of the charts longer than any other artist.” Other performers purvey similar trivial patter. Anne Murray relates for the umpteenth time how, after Snowbird, she fretted about being a one-hit wonder. Ronnie Hawkins, who has never seemed to have such self-doubt, spins his standard yarns about the good old days. And Randy Bachman discourses on how Takin' Care of Business was inspired by a radio jingle.
Heart of Gold offers enough evidence of Canadian achievement that it is not unfitting to have Burton Cummings conclude with an inspirational rendering of Stand Tall. Had the show fully realized its potential, there would have been no need for anyone to issue such instructions. —DAVID LIVINGSTONE
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