Making the Grades
In a society obsessed with youth, achievement and perfection, Young @ Heart is an engaging reminder that unless you check out early, aging is an inevitable part of life. But doing it with spark and spunk is preferable!
The documentary introduces a musical group started in 1982 at housing project for the elderly in Northampton, MA. While none of the original performers are still with the cast, Bob Cilman, the choir's demanding conductor and the Executive Director of the Northampton Arts Council, is still pushing the current participants to take on new and often challenging musical styles, including songs from the alternative rock band Sonic Youth and soul singer James Brown.
Young @ Heart begins a little slowly. Yet what can you expect when you're dealing with a group of entertainers whose average age is 80. There are also a few uncomfortable moments when the film feels like it's laughing at the individuals rather than with them. However, once the introductions are made, this lively society of seniors dispels any myths about resigning themselves to the number of birthdays under their belts. These singers, though not always pitch perfect, are flirty, feisty, inspirational and passionate about what they do.
At the film's start, the songsters, whose backgrounds are as varied as is their musical training, are receiving seven new titles to rehearse. From those, Cilman will pick the best ones to be performed at the group's next show entitled "Alive and Well". Already the group has performed around the world, for royalty, commoners and even the imprisoned. The numbers are met with mixed reviews. Yet to their credit and Cilman's persistence, they slog through the pieces. As the concert date nears, it's evident that not all of the melodies will be flawless, but that doesn't dampen the tunesters's resolve to put on a great performance.
One of the most poignant moments comes when former choir member Fred Knittle returns after a lengthy hiatus caused by heart problems. Accompanied by the choir and the pulsing swoosh of his oxygen tank, he croons out a heartfelt baritone tribute to two recently deceased members. At that moment, the depth of the camaraderie in the chorus line is palpable.
Unfortunately, the documentary doesn't keep pace with the performers from a technical perspective. It is also afflicted with a few profanities, some passing sexual comments and brief depiction of alcohol use. As well, the script also neglects to address Cilman's motivation for starting the group.However, despite these technical issues, and chorus members' bouts of cancer, congestive heart failure, and creaky bones, this spirited cover band manages to steal the show without missing a beat.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Young @ Heart (Young at Heart).
What impact does membership in this group appear to have for these senior citizens? What benefits does the choir offer? What can be learned from these performers about aging well?
How does the singer’s willingness to try new things affect their view of the world around them? How does it help them relate to younger generations?
Visit the Young @ Heart home page at http://www.youngatheartchorus.com/about.php and view an interview with Bob Cilman at http://content.foxsearchlight.com/videos/node/2491