YOUNG @ HEART
US, 2007, 108 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Stephen Walker.
The Young at Heart Chorus has been well documented for television since its inception in 1982. Now there is a joyful film that has great appeal. It is an exuberant performance by the cast and an exhilarating experience for the audience.
When is old? What is old? Not just chronological age.
A group of senior citizens were gathered together by a young conductor, Bob Cilman, who, at 53, is still just under 30 years younger than the average age, 81, of the members of the chorus.
The opening of the film puts us on full alert as Eileen Hill (later revealed as 92) gives her all to a live performance of the Clash's 'Should I stay or should I go'. This is not your ordinary musical. This is not your ordinary concert movie.
Director Stephen Walker and a British crew stayed with the Chorus in the early months of 2006 and followed their almost two months rehearsal period, the rehearsals themselves, and some biographical pieces on some of the prominent singers. They live in Northhampton, Massachussets, and have toured Europe and been to Australia. They are a fine example of men and women who, even though sometimes disabled or terminally ill, have a zest for life. Their energetic singing – and some limited swaying and dancing – means that they are alive in body as well as soul.
While many of them declare a love of classical musical, they actually perform a wide range of songs from more recent decades. They sing James Brown. They sing Cold Play. And, bring to life the songs they certainly do. To watch them rehearse and finally perform 'I Feel Good' (with the elderly man finally remembering most of his lyrics and the elderly woman finding her rhythm at last) is energising for those of us just sitting in cinema seats.
The old people love what they are doing. They may have their cantankerous moments (though we don't see all that many) but these are not important when they see themselves as a group collaborating and sharing song and joy. Bob Cilman has to be tough and demanding – and makes them rehearse and rehearse Schizophrenia (which they initially don't like) and 'If you can, can...' (which, with its 71 'cans', some think is too difficult to remember and enunciate at tongue-twister speed).
The personal stories are wonderful to listen to, good, decent folk (as the Americans might describe them) with their families and their histories and some extraordinary courage in the face of cancer treatment and death.
The film ends with the concert – which makes you wish you had been there to see the Chorus and hear them. The rendition of Cold Play's 'Fix it' rendered powerfully and in fine voice by a very large elderly man, seated and with an oxygen cylinder beside him means that no-one should give up on life.
1.The appeal, the humanity, the elderly, music, verve?
2.The documentary style – but intimate storytelling?
3.The idea of Young at Heart: the creator, the 80s, with other groups, the elderly, their enthusiasm, the group going alone, its range of songs, the
tours, international experience? Spirit and inspiration?
4.The range of the songs, the composers, composers like The Clash, ColdPlay? …? The style of the songs, the interpretation, the voices? The musical back-up?
5.Bob Cilman and his character, age, younger than the singers? His choice of songs, his treatment of the group, the rehearsals, strong and persevering? His concern, illness and death? The exuberance of the concert?
6.The structure, the six weeks of rehearsal, introducing the characters, their lives, illnesses and deaths? Performances?
7.The introduction, Eileen Hall singing ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’? The effect? Introducing the audience to the elderly, their singing, style? Audiences identifying with them?
8.The Young at Heart group as a whole, the average age of eighty-one, the demands on them, the effect, the physical demands and their feeling alive? Psychological demands? Emotional? Creating the bonds between the members?
9.The two elderly men who were ill, their families, the rehearsals, Joe on the poster? The visits by the director? The interviews, their talking about life and death, their singing? The deaths? The response of the group?
10.James Brown’s song, ‘I Feel Good’? The rehearsal, the woman and her not getting the rhythms, the man and his not being able to remember the lines? Their final performance and success?
11.‘Schizophrenia’, their reaction to the choice, their rehearsals, eventually performing it?
12.‘I’m Fine’? The duet, the death of the singer, the man performing alone, the strong voice, on stage in his wheelchair, the oxygen? The impact on the audience?
13.The three driving, elderly, chatting?
14.The families, inviting the director to meals? Opening up about their lives?
15.The range of members, their experience, their work, military?
16.The holiday break, the need for rehearsals? The pressures on the group?
17.The prison concert, the songs, the reaction of the prisoners, meeting the members of the choir?
18.The final concert, the exuberant audience, the strong performances, success?
19.The moral of the story – never too late?