YOUNG @ HEART
The Young @ Heart Chorus is a group of Northampton (US) senior citizens who keep themselves energized by performing contemporary and classic rock and pop songs. Their average age is 81, and many of them must overcome health adversities to participate. Their music is unexpected, going against the stereotype of their age group, performing songs, for example, by James Brown and Sonic Youth. Although they have toured Europe and sang for royalty, this film focuses on chorus director Bob Cilman preparing them with new songs for a concert in their home town, which succeeds in spite of several real heart breaking events.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure, Young At Heart is a good antidote for cynicism. The choir's main appeal - both as a choir and as the subject of this doco - is the incongruity of 80 year olds singing rock and soul. Their version of one of James Brown's signature tunes, I Got You (I Feel Good), for example, is a showstopper because the context is changed from a funky black dude, to a white, white haired chorus. Likewise their Stayin' Alive ... which is one of the songs produced in the film like a music video.
English filmmaker Stephen Walker spends almost seven weeks trailing the chorus during their rehearsals for a new show. Not all of them make it. Walker's innocent admiration for the chorus and their members gives the film a gentle tone, and Chris King's editing gives the film shape. Good sound is essential and it works, while the Young @ Heart band is terrific.
The film documents the struggle to learn some of the new songs, notably Allen Toussaint's Yes We Can but also offers short profiles of some of the members, notably English born Eileen (92) and Fred Knittle (81), whose beautiful bass voice makes its last appearance at the concert with a powerfully moving performance of Coldplay's Fix You.
The audience at the Academy theatre in Northampton goes wild at the end, and it wouldn't take much to start a cinema crowd stomping their feet, either.
Review by Louise Keller:
Keep on singing is the mantra for this sublime documentary that's guaranteed to warm every little nook and cranny of your heart. It will make you feel wonderful, and if you're like me, whose emotional barometer responds in the positive with tears, take plenty of tissues. If you think a story about a group of singers whose average age is 81 is predictable, think again. As for the music they sing - get ready to be rocked off your rocker. Punk, soul, pop and rock 'n roll are the genre; the tunes are from singers like the Beatles, The Stones, The Clash, The Bee Gees and James Brown. The rehearsals and performances are extraordinary but even more so is the spirit and emotional depth that comes from these gutsy elderly citizens inspired to be Stayin' Alive.
Our heads reel as we hear the very first song: Joe Strummer/Mick Jones' retro punk rock classic 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' performed by 92 year old war bride Eileen Hall, who looks as though she has well earned every single wrinkle under her smattering of snow-white hair. She lives in a Massachusetts nursing home nearby and is the only resident to have her own key, so she can let herself in after a performance even if staff has gone to bed. The performances are near and far, and European concerts have been a sell-out. Young @ Heart is the brainchild of Bob Cilman, an ever-patient musical director, vocal coach and tough taskmaster who teaches, coaches and encourages each valued member of the group. It is with fascination that we watch Bob bring out sheet music for challenging songs like Schizophrenia, I Wanna Be Sedated, James Brown's I Feel Good and the funk tongue-twisting classic Yes We Can Can, which has recently become part of the Barrack Obama Presidential Campaign and whose challenge includes 71 times the word 'can' is sung.
English filmmaker Stephen Walker, who spent seven weeks with the group as they prepared for a one night concert in their hometown of Northhampton, tells many stories through this wondrous and inspiring film. We get to know individual members of the choir, become involved in their lives and understand their compulsion to sing and perform. Why do they do it? 'To forget about creaky bones'; 'trying to expand horizons'; 'keeping the brain going - if you use it you don't lose it'. One member even comes on stage hooked up to his oxygen mask. Not only do they care about singing, but they also care about each other. There are many highlights, but for me I would have to pick the performance to inmates of the Hampshire County Jail one hour after hearing of the death of one of their members. It is such a moving scene. The tough-looking inmates laugh good-naturedly at first, but as the concert progresses, real emotion is painted on every face. Then there are whistles, a standing ovation and one prisoner admits it is the best performance he has ever seen in his life. There's also a lovely sense of anticipation about Stan and Dora's performance of James Brown's I Feel Good at the final concert, which they never get right at rehearsal, but now's their chance. As the song says 'Yes, We Can Can'. This is a total delight and it's no wonder Eileen was keen to watch from her own rainbow one day. May the view from each of our rainbows be equally beautiful.
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YOUNG @ HEART (PG)
CAST: Documentary featuring the Young@Heart Chorus
PRODUCER: Sally George
DIRECTOR: Stephen Walker
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ed Marritz
EDITOR: Chris King
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 16, 2008