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Cinema in Focus: ‘Young @ Heart’

Documentary follows an aging chorus as members sing their hearts out in celebration of life.

4 Stars – Inspiring

From the opening note to the final moments of a chorus member’s life, Stephen Walker‘s documentary Young @ Heart is masterfully presented.  Using the repetitive symbol of vehicles on all types of Massachusetts roads, Walker allows us to travel with members of the Young @ Heart Chorus not only through the seven weeks of preparation for their next concert, but also through the winding turns of some of the members’ final miles.

The creation of musical enthusiast Bob Cilman, Young @ Heart is a chorus of people whose average age is 81. Hired by a senior center in Northampton to bring music into the lives of its octogenarians, Cilman’s playlist changed after the spontaneous outburst of one of the senior women singing a rock song.  At this point years later, the experience that began that day has grown into a fully functional musical group that has performed in venues across Europe and even sung for the king and queen of Norway.

The film is genius in two areas: the music Cilman selects for the chorus to sing, and the humanity with which they sing it.

Although the seniors explain that they like classical and opera music most and some have season tickets for the philharmonic orchestra, this chorus sings rock anthems, with syncopated, synchronistic patterns that challenge their minds and invigorate their hearts – literally and physically.  Unexpectedly and endearingly, these people reach into their own souls and enrich ours.

The chorus has a variety of participants but, with an artist’s heart, Walker bonds us to a selected few.  Eileen, a 92-year-old, captures us by her believable rendition of The Clash’s "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" The double implication of this engaging woman in the final weeks before death seems comfortably appropriate as she flirts with the men in her group who drive together from their nursing homes to the rehearsals.

One of the most difficult songs Cilman asks his choir to learn is Allen Toussaint’s "Yes We Can Can," made popular by The Pointer Sisters. Although they continue to struggle with the 71 “cans” within the song, Cilman insists that the members learn all the words.

Spicing up the documentary and the upcoming concert are some wonderfully produced music videos.  Sung in the lounge chairs and wheelchairs of a nursing home, the Ramones’ "I Want to Be Sedated" takes on a whole new meaning.  And Fred’s starring role in the Bee Gees’ "Stayin’ Alive" finds him strutting the lanes of a bowling alley in his white suit with an oxygen tank.

Putting a smile on the faces of all who see them perform and touching the hearts of all who travel this filmed journey with them, the Young @ Heart Chorus gives us a joyous celebration of life.  The music performed, the humanity shown and the friendships formed give us all a new vision of what our elderly years could be like.

Discussion:

• When you’re older, how do you intend to spend the days     of your life?  Would you join a chorus such as this and put yourself     on stage, even though your mind might fail to remember the words during     your solo?

• Most of us know older people who are full of joy.    What is the ingredient you notice most often that accounts for this joy?

• The loss of chorus members is difficult but expected.    Their grief is given expression in the songs they dedicate and the     memories and dreams they share.  What do you use to express     your grief?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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