I have been meaning to review this film for about three weeks, but I'm glad I waited because it is apropos of my last post, Milepost #62.
Stars: The Young at Heart Chorus
Director: Stephen Walker
Awards: Nominated for Best Documentary, Critics Choice Awards
Northampton, Massachusetts, a small, pristine town fifty miles east of the New York state border and three miles directly north of Easthampton, is home to a twenty-four-member group called The Young at Heart Chorus. Young at heart, but not chronologically: the average age of the chorus is 81, ranging from 72 to 93. Preferring classical music and Broadway show tunes, this documentary follows the group for seven weeks as they learn and practice new songs for a show at the Northampton Auditorium—and a singing tour to Europe to follow (their second).
Yawn, snore, dribble down your shirt, wake up and go to bed.
Not on your life. Bob Cilia, 53, music director and founder of the group in 1982, has a surprise for these folks. No Brigadoon or Oklahoma! this time around: the new songs are by Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Coldplay, and other groups these folks have never heard of, much less sung. But stoic Massachuttsians that they are, they put their hearts into each and every song.
And that's really what this film is about: the people. Interspersed with scenes in the practice hall, we meet several choir members indvidually. Young at Heart is all about the love of singing, of group and camaraderie, of usefulness, of the pieces making a much larger whole. Two people stand out. Eileen Hall, 93 and an import from England, is an unabashed flirt. And Fred Knittle, 81, retired from the group but called back for this performance, is both a scene and show thief (and my favorite). Who can resist a line like, "We're lost, but at least we're making good time."?
Cilia is a tough task-master, but he also loves his work. When one woman was asked what she does when Bob yells at her, she replied that she yells back. When practices and rehersals increase from two to three a week, no one complains—it is all about the group. During the seven weeks of filming, two members die (as the elderly are wont to do), but no one gives up—it is all about the group.
The show goes on, and it's a stunner. Eileen opens the show with the Clash's "Should I Stay or Shoud I Go?". The sold-out crowd is stunned. Then it's James Brown’s "I Feel Good!" and the crowd is on its feet. The chorus pulls off Allen Toussaint’s "Yes We Can Can" without missing one of the 127 "Cans." Fred, stout and with sputtering oxygen, does a poignant baritone solo of Coldplay's "Fix You" that is difficult to forget.
This entire film is difficult to forget because, as old and diseased as the body may get, our heart can stay as young as we want it to be.
[Many thanks to Wandering Coyote for her review of this film or I would not have known that it exists.]