Reel Shorts | Young@Heart

17 04 2008

Every once in a while, and it doesn’t happen often, a film comes along that takes the art form of cinema to amazing new heights showing just how powerful it can be. At various times heartbreaking as it is inspirational, “Young@Heart” is one of the most uplifting stories to come along in quite some time and simply the year’s best documentary.

The film tells the story of the Young@Heart Chorus based in Northampton, Massachusetts. Under the direction of founder and choir director Bob Cilman, the group comprised of over two dozen senior citizens ranging in age from the late 60s to the early 90s sing covers of R&B, rock, hip-hop and punk classics. The troupe, which began performing in 1982, has performed in venues as prominent as concert halls as well as in prisons for inmates.

This documentary follows the group as they prepare for an upcoming concert with the task of learning several new songs that Cilman has introduced to the group. In addition to this challenge, several members of the group are also battling various health ailments in hopes to participate in the concert. Along the way, we meet many members of the group and learn their stories, share their pain and revel in their triumphs.

In addition to the getting access to their rehearsals where frustrated seniors try to capture the roar and funk of James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” or the playful fun of Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia,” the documentary is also peppered with several entertaining music videos featuring the cast in outrageous humorous situations.

But to think that the documentary makes fun of the senior citizens would not be entirely true or valid (one group member is referred to as a “Sexy Beast”). The joy of watching the group is that while in the winter of their lives each of them have found a common purpose injecting their experiences and bringing them to the group as a whole. Some members are returning to the group after long absences while others merrily continue under the sometime stern taskmaster Cilman.

With an average age of 80 years old, the group which initially began doing vaudeville songs performs a wide range of material. Some of the songs featured in the documentary include, Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones.

Much like the fantastic documentary from several years ago, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” while the music is primary in both film it is the personal stories that provide the solid foundation. There are a couple of stories profiling the oldest member of the group as well as two other returning members who left years earlier because of health issues. Through their stories, the film runs the emotional gamut drawing the audience into sharing their intimate experiences.

Of all of the musical numbers in the film, two stand out because of their raw emotional power which will bring most audience members to tears. While entertaining a group of inmates, Cilman shares a tragedy that occurred earlier which culminates in the heart- wrenching selection, “Forever Young.” Later a supposed duo scuttled, one member honors his fallen comrade with a tender selection of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

Many documentaries focus on subjects that may appeal to a niche audience, but the subject of age and quality of life is a universal topic that affects us all. Watching these elderly group members doing what they love and the sacrifice that many of them endure just to entertain audiences as well as extending their lives because the group gives them purpose is incredibly satisfying to behold.

It is these tender senior moments that will have audiences examining how we look at the elderly. Society has grown accustomed to casting aside those in their golden years to focus on the younger generation. But “Young@Heart” is a sterling example that there is a reason that years are golden for seniors and we can all learn that its not just how long you live but how as well.

Grade: A

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2 responses

20 04 2008
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20 04 2008
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