User ReviewsReview this title
Many people, aged or not, cling to their familiar values and preferences. The members of the Young at Heart chorus, with a little prodding, are willing to move out of their comfort zone to tackle unfamiliar musical territory in order to reach out to all generations.
This is a film about about perseverance, humbleness, teamwork, and aging. This documentary grabbed me right out of my seat and pulled me on to the screen. At any given time I was either smiling, laughing, or fighting back tears. Several times I started to stand and applaud, only to realize that I was looking at a movie screen and wasn't actually a member of the concert audience.
I found Young at Heart to be an inspiring film for the young, old, and in between.
The most interesting thing about this group is the selection of songs included in their repertoire. There is no such thing as interpreting the standard melodies one would associate to them, based on their ages. They tackle contemporary music with a gusto and sophistication that turn their interpretation into a different tune altogether.
The film starts with Eileen Hall, a lady using her cane as support, in a rendition of "Should I Stay, or Should I Go?" giving it a different meaning to what one remembers it to sound when it first was popular. There are also songs such as "I Wanna Be Sedated", a Ramones hit, heard in a new approach. The Pointer Sisters' "Yes, we can can" presents a problem for the many times the word 'can' is repeated during rehearsal. In their performance in front of an audience, the song flows effortlessly. James Brown's "I Feel Good" becomes a disarming duet that has the audience begging for more.
The Young@Heart group deserves all the praise it can get. After all, these are people in their so-called "Golden Years" that have decided to put all their efforts into what they enjoy doing. Stephen Walker has captured the essence of the group, under the intelligent direction of Bob Cilman.
A film highly recommended for everyone because of the positive message it gets across.
In a day with so much garbage being put out, this was a refreshing film to view - something true, too. It's a documentary about a group of old-timers (senior citizens, if you will) from Northampton, Mass., who tour and sing rock 'n roll. There is something absurd, outrageous, comical and entertaining about seeing an 89-year-old imitating James Brown and screaming, "I Feel Good!" What we witness in this two-hour documentary is both funny at times, but also sad. Hey, it's reality; life is hard, especially as you get older and older. Some of the members of this group die during the filming of it. The other men and women have to deal with these losses. "The show must on," as the old saying goes, but it's not easy.
The group sings rock standards and stuff that is pretty recent. It's hardly just Brown, the Ramones, Beatles, Bee Gees or Stones songs. It's also these old folks performing Sonic Youth, Coldplay, The Clash and the like.
Of all the members, one can't but be most impressed with the voice of Fred Knittle, who has to sit and sing while having an oxygen tank next to him. His voice is really, really good. Then there is 92-year-old and spunky Eileen Hall and then there six-time cancer patient Joe Benoit, probably the nicest man you'd ever meet. All the people here are interesting.
The more I watched this, the more respect I had for Bob Cilman, who directs this group. That man must have tremendous patience and a big, big heart for older people. It's frustrating when members keep forgetting their lines time and time again, but Bob presses on. He's called a "taskmaster" a few times but the group has great respect for him.
Director Steven Walker does a super job putting this film together, holding some shots and cutting others off just at the right spots so we get the full effect of the humor or drama of a particular situation. Your emotions will run the gamut watching this. The more sentimental you are, the more it will affect you.
If you have a sense of humor and compassion for people, this is one of the few movies I guarantee you will like.
These elderly crooners are a blast to spend time with. When shown the new songs for an upcoming concert, all have a mixture of excitement and confusion. During the first run-through of Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" we see fingers going into ears, face-cringes, and what could be described as disgust. However, they all welcome a challenge and although they don't understand the song, nor have a clue at where it's going, they never give up. Credit music director Bob Cilman for having the patience and skill to mold these performers into an act of shear professionalism and entertainment. He knows his group and their abilities, placing certain solo responsibilities on some, duet partnerships on others, always knowing that they will give their all no matter what. At first you may think he is just a vessel for them to have fun, joking around and partaking in the laughs, but as the time gets closer and closer to the performance, Bob shows his taskmaster side. He wants the best show possible and is unafraid to let his singers know it, whether telling them what he needs or threatening to cut a song. The group never falters, though. They take the criticism and run with it. When challenged to come back after Easter with the words to Allen Toussaint's "Yes, We Can Can" fully learned, the Northampton, MA troupe show their mettle and eventually hit it out of the park.
The music is fantastic for sure, I think I may purchase their disc from CDBaby.com before the night is over, but it is really the people involved that shine on screen. Every member is an integral cog to the system and just brimming with life and energy. From Steve "Sexy Beast" Martin and his exuberance, to consummate professional Joe Benoit and his ability to memorize a song in one afternoon, to his best friend and confident driver Len Fontaine, to the flirtatious 92-year-old Eileen Hall, there is no one you won't you love afterwards. Their bond is unbreakable and they all help each other through the good and the bad times. Just to see them dance and move when listening to a new song, performing their dance steps at a prison gig, and unabashedly showing their emotions when tragedy strikes helps show how real they all are. These guys aren't hamming it up for the camera, they truly know how to have fun and aren't afraid to show it.
Despite only taking place during the course of a seven week rehearsal schedule, having a group of people averaging 80-years-old is ripe for life to rear its ugly head. All the good timesthe reunions, the rejuvenation, the singing, dancing, and laughingare countered by devastation. While the film's trailer shows an uproarious good time, and by God it is, don't be caught off-guard for the poignant moments of clarity and sadness. Unfortunately tragedy does strike, sometimes at the most inopportune moments, yet all march on for their fallen comrades, creating a touching portrait of humanity. These moments also bring some of the most powerful songs including a stirring rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" by returning ex-member Fred Knittle with his Johnny Cash-like baritone.
In the end, though, Young@Heart is really an uplifting tale of perseverance and life at its most simple and pleasurable. This is an internationally traveling chorus, touring Europe each year to complement their US dates. Never afraid to have fun, we are given some snippets of music video style shoots interspersed throughout the film. "Stayin' Alive" is fantastic and during the performance for "Golden Years" one can't help but laugh to the point of tears for Stan Goldman. Go see this film while you can and don't be surprised to see it winning a best documentary Oscar at next year's show. I heard the rumblings that this was becoming quite the phenomenon and now I can say first hand that it is more than that. Young@Heart is something we can all relate with and a film we should see to attain hope for the future and a template for how to live out our retirements, not sulking at home, but out enjoying all the things we did the years past. Maybe life really begins at age 70.
(My Comment) This movie is for people who want to see the real thing. Several of the senior citizens in this documentary open up their lives to us. You get to know them in just a few minutes, and you know that they are good people. The songs that they sing are not from their generation, yet they are willing to try something new. The seniors believe the old saying, "Use it or lose it," and that is why they love singing in the chorus. Plus with perseverance and teamwork, they have become part of a second family. I laughed, smiled, tapped my foot, and even shed a few tears during the whole movie. I saw the movie twice: The first time I liked it, and the second time, I loved it. The younger audiences may not get it, but I know the adult audience will understand and love it. Young@Heart is truly an inspirational, entertaining, heart-felt, and wonderful documentary. This is an incredible story that needed to be told. You will absolutely love Fred Knittle's rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You." This is one of those sleeper movies you will hear about. (Fox Searchlight, Run Time 1:47, Rated PG)(10/10)
Rock of ages
In Stephen Walker's documentary or should I say 'rockumentary' the Young at Heart Chorus, a group of senior citizens who sing rock and roll songs, based in Northhampton, MA, is profiled with breadth and levity showcasing their individual talents as well as performing as an ensemble, as well as their ailments and the living testimony that it is never too late to rock 'n' roll.
Founded by Bob Cilman, a fifty something year old 'kid', originally as a choir specializing in old pop standards, Broadway show tunes and 'old folk' music he came up with the idea over 25 years ago to incorporate classic and contemporary rock staples which became something of a gimmick at first but fully realized as something more: underscoring many of the lyrics with a unique perspective and interpretation by his octogenarian sect (the media age of 80).
Since then the group has barnstormed all over the country and the world and getting much acclaim. Walker films the several weeks of rehearsal for a new gig and Cilman's tough task-master skills at display in attempting to get his singers to hit the right notes, pick up the right beat cues and most importantly now the song cold.
While there are some frustrations felt by Cilman for the most part he is fair and allows his group the time and effort to develop into a finely tuned body that is surprising in the process not only how they are attuned but also how they function.
What is unexpected is the melancholy feel throughout as some of the members fall into bad health situations (sadly two of its key singers pass away before their fated concert the film focuses on) but it is also with plenty of humor, insight of what it means to be elderly but not 'old' and how in the autumn of one's life one can appreciate a new calling (i.e. many of the choir prefer classical music than the genre they are covering).
The true highlights are the short videos interspersed through out the doc including "Stayin' Alive", "I Wanna Be Sedated" and a clever "On the Road To Nowhere", as well as a performance at a state prison to a captive audience.
I was overwhelmed by the professionalism the troupe displayed as 'amateurs' in the old adage "the show must go on" and the true emotional peak is member Fred Knittle's heart- wrenching work on Coldplay's "Fix You" as a suitable eulogy to his fallen comrades; if you don't cry then you are simply made of stone.
I whole-heartedly recommend you to seek this indie doc out and experience rock and roll in its purest form I've seen in a long time: aged yet wise, like a fine wine. One of the year's best.
For openers, this is a film about a group of people whose average age is about eighty, during the course of the film which covers slightly less than two months, several of the group die; I won't reveal which ones.
At the age of the groups' members, imminent death is a constant, and the death of fellow member is a sad experience but whether it's due to the legendary New England fortitude of the members, the strength of the group, or the power of the music they are all able to accept the inevitable with equanimity, and return to the task at hand, preparing for a performance.
And what a performance! Several members in interviews state that their favorite type of music is opera, but what they're singing with the group includes James Brown, Jimmy Hendrix and forward...this group is not about nostalgia!
I would have liked more information about the backgrounds of some of the singers, because although they now all reside in Mass., there are reasons, (such as regional accents) to think this was not always thus.
This film will probably end up under the microscopes of gerontologists, who should glean considerable information about the learning abilities, energy and enthusiasm of a group of people not generally noted for these qualities.
The documentary approach by director Stpehen Walker at times is intrusive and abrupt, but the charm of the performers overcomes whatever clumsiness the film crew throws out. Choir director Bob Cilman is a pleasure to watch as he really drives the group to reach levels they otherwise wouldn't touch. Watching them try to capture a Sonic Youth song is at times painful, but in the end, redemptive. Even more painful is the "Yes I Can" sequence, but worst of all is watching one poor singer just unable to grasp his lines in the James Brown song "I Feel Good". Luckily, his onstage mishap has no bearing on the performance or his own enjoyment. What a triumphant moment.
The "stars" of the group are the ultra charismatic Eileen Hall. She is 92 years of dynamite! Opening the film belting out "Should I stay or should I go?" is even better when she describes it as a "Crash" song rather than "The Clash". Without a doubt the most touching performance in the film is from the amazing voice and persona of Fred Knittle as he sings Coldplay's "Fix You" in tribute to his recently deceased singing partner.
I dare anyone to keep a dry eye during Dylan's "Forever Young" or not bust out a smile during Bowie's "Golden Years". The video aspects do not take away from the film at all and "Staying Alive" will have you dancing in your seat! This is one of the special few for all ages. It is a must see and may require a little work or patience ... but it is absolutely worth the wait and the trip.
The strong self concepts and ability to relate to the cycles of life in a positive way was extremely refreshing and revitalizing.
I saw people hugging and relating very affectionately to one another after this movie. It lets the viewer know the importance of love, honesty and the fragility of life. Live well, love a lot, and that is what will matter in the end. How to be accepting and positive came through strongly. I am still friends of people who knew my mother and am taking some of them this Saturday to view this film!
In less than two hours, we are treated to emotional, entertaining, and always amusing renditions of tunes by The Bee Gees, The Clash, and Coldplay among others, and everyone of the performances is exuberant, poignant, wonderful, a shot of energy to the souls of the performers and the members of both the screen audience, and most importantly, for those of us sitting in the dark movie theatre.
Not everything is a happy moment, though, because we're after exploring the third act in the lives of many on the screen. This is a vulnerable group, people who have lived, in most cases long lives, and there is very little regret expressed by any of the members of the singing group. In fact, they are inspiring us in most cases, and it is catastrophic when it is soon revealed that we could lose so many of them during key moments in the film. Moreover, we are warned, and we are still feel our hearts break, when tragedy strikes.
Most importantly, the delivery by each of the performers is coloured by each of those events, and the joy, pain, drama, and conflicted emotions by each of the songwriters comes truly alive as the senior citizens performs. "Fix Me", one of the numbers will probably have everyone in the audience running for the shirt sleeves or an extra napkin to dab an unexpected tear.
The documentary explores the sunset in the lives of humans, but it also tells us that life is best when lived fully, with no regrets, appreciating every single minute as it is the last, but never forgetting how frail our existence can truly be. This movie works wonders.
Bob Cilman is the the leader of the Young at Hear chorus of Northampton, MA. He is a stern but sympathetic taskmaster who once a year gives the choir new songs to learn--mostly R&B and soul classics from the '60's through the early '70's, and punk & new wave tunes from the mid-'70's to the present. At first this seems funny and weird. The film plays off of this expectation by opening with the oldest choir member doing a deadpan rendition of the Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go", and including a tongue-in-cheek video of the choir's version of the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated".
Although most of the songs the choir performs are over-familiar to those of us under 60, the choir members grew up before the dawn of the classic rock era, and aren't familiar with music created after 1959. Their tastes in music range from classical to show tunes, not R&B or punk. But they participate not only for the camaraderie, but to keep their minds limber in their old age. They know as well as anyone that it gets harder to learn the older one gets, and after about 55 or so it becomes impossible unless one acquires good mental habits, such as doing puzzles, journal-writing, or trying to sing songs one doesn't really know. And this is why Cilman chooses the songs he does. The R&B tunes (which the choir members love) are rhythmically complex, but have simple lyrics. And the punk tunes (which the choir members hate) have complex lyrics, but simple rhythms and melodies.
The main focus of the film is the choir's trying to learn three new songs: "Yes We Can" by Allen Toussaint, "I Got You (I Feel Good)" by James Brown, and "Schizophrenia" by Sonic Youth. But the emotional core of the film is their learning of a fourth song--"Fix You" by Coldplay--after the deaths of two choir members (a third member died during post-production).
I laughed, cried, and smiled throughout the whole film. And it was a bit jolting to know that in just a few years, the thought of old people singing rock music won't be such a novelty. After all, their repertoire include Allen Toussaint, James Brown, and the Jefferson Airplane--all of whom were born seventy or more years ago. The only bits I didn't like are where director Stephen Walker tries to get a laugh at the expense of the choir: He flirts with a 92-year-old woman and sneers at the driving skills of one of the few choir members who still has his own car.
But overall, this is a tribute to the power of music and friendship to transcend age, infirmity and even mortality to make the end of life worth living. 9 out of 10.
While the songs indeed aren't the chosen fare for our seniors, the choice was carefully made to deliver an emotional whollop for the listeners. And they do deliver that ("Staying Alive" has a whole different meaning here than what the BeeGees intended.)
Most of us dread the oncoming debilitation of age. But here we're shown a model of how to face that with not just courage but defiance. That's no small task for a film whose country generally neglects, abandons or warehouses its elderly. And it doesn't even have to be bitter pill. The charm of the individual choir members depicted is almost hard to believe.
Anyone who has spent time among groups of the elderly won't find the usual complaining, small-mindedness or resentments. Most of that can be attributed to the unique talents of the director, Bob Cilman, who refuses to idealize his choir members or accept anything other than the best they can give. Not just as singers, but as human beings.
The oft mentioned moment--illustrated in the trailer--when the group visits a penitentiary is a revelation on many levels. But it's also excruciatingly painful. If you have recently lost an aging parent or grandparent, you might be warned that this film is unflinching in its portrayal of loss. That's not a bad thing; I just wasn't prepared.
Reading some of the comments posted here, I don't agree that anyone has anything to apologize for musically. This is performance art and it is splendid and powerful. I left the theater almost in a state of grace. And that's not what I expected walking in. There are small moments like the brief segment of the choir rehearsing Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" that I'll never forget. Thanks to the filmmakers for documenting this amazing group of people.
This is a documentary about a group of 75-95 year old seniors in a choir called Young @ Heart and we follow them as they rehearse for an upcoming concert. This group has been together for more than 20 years albeit with different people at different times and the unusual thing is their choice of songs. They sing hard rock and roll, R & B, and Punk along with contemporary songs. It is quite interesting to hear The Ramones I Wanna Be Sedated coming from senior citizens. It gives the song a whole new meaning.
Face it; these guys are "Punk" in every way (Thank you Jim Emerson). One of the major attributes of Punk was the intention that anyone could be a rock and roll singer. You didn't need any training or experience, you just needed something to say and the guts to stand up and sing it.
There was a moment near the beginning when I thought the film would turn very twee and just be a sentimental rubbish piece about cute old farts who sing hip songs, but there is something about the actual old folks themselves that belies that stereotype. They are feisty folks, but have no illusions about getting old or their impending mortality. In fact, two people we get to know well die before the big concert and one absolutely lovely old lady is remembered in the credits having died sometime between the editing of the film and its release.
I suppose its inevitable, spend two years with any group of 80 year olds and it is likely that some will die within the next two years. We see the group rehearsing some songs, one of which will be a duet, but the song is turned into a solo after the death of one of the group members who had been fighting ill health for a while.
We actually hear from one of the soon to be deceased as he gets a blood transfusion to help his dangerously low white cell count. He faces us squarely and talks about death and how he is still going to go on singing and that he isn't scared, but then he looks at the camera and says "Did I convince you?' Clearly meaning that he was trying to convince himself. Still I hope I have the kind of sanguine wisdom at my death.
The moment when one of the men sings Coldplay's Fix You as a tribute to their dead colleagues is a heart breaker. But they also have several music video type segments (that are wonderful to such diverse hit songs as The Bee Gee's Stayin Alive, Talking Heads' Road To Nowhere and David Bowie's Golden Years.
The director is a preternaturally cheerful Brit who at first seems quite annoying, but as the film goes on, he lightens up on the extraneous commentary and he never inserts himself into the scenes the way someone like Michael Moore or Nick Broomfield would. I found that made the film more enjoyable although I love the films of Broomfield and Moore. Consider, all cameras and crew interfere with the naturalness of the subject in a documentary, but given a choice, most people prefer the fiction that the filmmakers are not present and are not altering the reality in subtle ways and become affronted when he is visually present.
I think Director Stephen Walker's presence (almost entirely vocal) actually helped get the participants to open up to him. Well done film that will make think differently about aging, as well as the lyrics of The Clash and James Brown. This was one of the most audience friendly films I've seen in a long time that also manages to be compelling and poignant without being overly sentimental.
April 4, 2008
I am 61 years old. I am much younger than the chorus members, and I still have a full time job. Even so, however, I can not help seeing myself in them. Every time I see my own picture, I have to realize my hair is going and wrinkles are growing. In the beginning, the audiences applaud a woman of 92 years old, laughing and sheering. I felt like they applaud because of her age only. However, in this age, her figure itself is beautiful.
One who suffer from strong spinal pain, one who had 20 chemo therapies, and one at serious risk of heart disease. Those people challenge difficult rock songs, sing at their best, and entertain the audiences. Isn't this an ultimate form of those who enjoy music?
When one of the members died before the concert, a member said: "If someone fell down during the concert, we would move him to the wing of the stage, and we would go on singing." Even we are young at heart, we can not defeat ages. Even so, we will live current life through. This is the way to live life humanly.
Probably the most awe-inspiring thing that occurs is that the chorus performs in a prison. You have these elderly individuals who look as though they would be afraid to go near the wrong people for fear of getting mugged, but they sing to the inmates and nothing bad happens.
All in all, Stephen Walker made a really good documentary here. I recommend it.
BTW, did you notice that one of the chorus members was named Steve Martin?
But after the first five minutes, this is no mocking American Idol type of affair. This is because there's no stupid reality show contest at the end, or any kind of real goal to be met as part of a fantasy. It's all about self-expression, and as a means to keep one wanting to live day to day. The people in the group have to deal with members of their group (two during just the running time of the film) dying off from their health conditions, and they wouldn't want it any other way than to commit to the old "the show must go on" creedo. What sets Young @ Heart apart from the pack is its understanding of what should be essential to a well-done story of people-getting-ready-for-a-concert story, which is real humor and tragedy with a conscience. There is no real ego with these performers, unlike so many in other movies; the mortal coil is only so far away to get self-absorbed.
So the director Stephen Walker gets us invested in the performers to the point of astonishment. It's not very technically polished- it was shot on video and transferred to film, and not high quality digital video either- but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for with humanism. We meet and care what happens to these folks, be they the 92 year old Eileen Hall who flirts with director Walker, or the talented Joe Benoit who's been through multiple rounds of chemo, or Fred Knittle who is on oxygen support but still wants to perform one last time at the concert, or Lenny who is the only one who can drive other members. Aside from moments that are by hook or crook amusing (if only in moments that are too sweet to be exploitive), or with those nutty music video renditions of songs like "Golden Years", we see the process of the rehearsals, the concerts (one of which, the same day they learn of one member's passing on, at a prison), the pressure of learning complex numbers from the likes of Sonic Youth.
It all builds to such an emotional beat that never falters because the director looks on through the initial oddball appeal of the group and directs his attention at how fragile life is itself. Just knowing that some may have passed on since the film was finished (in fact one of them, the 92 year old, did die before the film was released in the US) is saddening, but somehow the experience of Young @ Heart is overall hopeful. If one can just sing, to put in the discipline and physical and mental work needed to memorize and perform rock and roll songs, then maybe there's some purpose left in those last years. For those who love a story meant to uplift the soul, it's a must-see, if not perfect as a documentary. 9.5/10
Young at Heart helps us to feel good/better, about our fellow human beings.
Young at Heart helps us to feel better about what our personal "old age" might be like -- it may not be as bad as we have tended to think it.
Young at Heart, being a documentary, amplifies the "feel good effect", because we know that we not just feeling good because of a work of fiction.
The music, also, greatly amplifies the "feel good effect" (maybe especially, because of the James Brown song that is performed within the film).
One of the central delights is the seeming incongruity of these mature folks singing music that is from much more recent generations (and not even to their personal liking, as is found out in the viewing). Also, that there is so much energy in the music, and in the performances, from such a chorus.
The music is in fact embraceable, vivacious, well-done, and often meaningful. By this alone, the movie is enjoyable, and worth the price of admission.
The "community spirit" that is shown -- generally positive attitudes, even in trying circumstances.
We see a lot of "goodness" in people, and this can help our personal and communal spirits, in these times when "evil" seems to be getting the upper hand.
The empathy that is engendered for people that are probably much older than (and thus "different" from) oneself.
The somewhat multi-racial characteristic is enheartening.
There is a message of "world peace" in one of the songs, and that seems more possible, after viewing the film
I learned more appreciation for the artistry of being a "music director" -- not just the quality of the selected music, but being able to tell what's going on at any given moment in relation to the performances. The chorus director seems "nearly saintly" (and is inspiring, in himself). (There is a scene where he is being interviewed at a little length, out-of-doors, and it's the "greenist" image that I think I've ever seen -- could be used by environmentalists.)
The cinematography, editing, and interviews lend to a sense of appreciation for the film- makers.
It seems to me that the "world could be a better place" (if only for a little while), if only more people could see this film.
Overall, fairly memorable, quite positive, and very worthwhile.
Imagine Coldplay singer Chris Martin performing a duet of the band's hit single "Fix You" with an octogenarian suffering from congestive heart failure who is attached to an oxygen tank.
This could become reality if Stephen Walker, director of Young@Heart, a documentary about a bunch of senior citizens from Northampton, Mass., who belt out classic rock and soul numbers, known as the Young@Heart Chorus, has his way.
One of the key moments in the film features Fred Knittle, a guest vocalist with the group, when he performs "Fix You" on stage in front of a packed audience at the end of the movie.
"We know that Coldplay have seen the film and really like it and...we were trying to see if it's possible to get Chris Martin to do a duet with Fred Knittle, which would be great," Walker told The Daily Yomiuri in Roppongi, Tokyo, during this year's Tokyo International Film Festival.
Walker's uplifting film covers a period of about seven weeks, during which the chorus rehearses and performs a show at a theater in their hometown.
As the audience is introduced to various members of the chorus, Walker succeeds in conveying the vitality of each individual and the strength of the group collectively.
Knittle is just one of many remarkable characters in the film. Eileen Hall, at 92 years young, is the senior member of a group whose average age is 81. Hall is a star who provides one of the film's highlights when she screams the title of the Clash song, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" in an amazing accent that, I suggested to Walker, could be described as "refined Cockney."
"It's exactly what it is. It's the kind of person who's brought up on the wrong side of the tracks trying to pretend they're on the right side of the tracks, at a time when snobbery meant that you had to speak 'proper,' It's really quite an extraordinary accent," he said.
Knittle's virtuoso performance of "Fix You" is not the only moment in the film that will trigger the waterworks, as Walker has noticed at screenings. "The jail scene, people were crying at that, when Fred sings 'Fix You,' at the end, people were crying at that," he said.
The scene at the jail is very moving, as the chorus had received news on the day they were booked to play at a local prison that one of their members, Bob Salvini, had died. Yet they did the show and dedicated an incredibly moving version of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" to him. Apart from the poignancy of Dylan's lyrics, the emotional reaction of the inmates is very moving.
"I was shooting the camera that was on the prisoners myself and what you see there is exactly what I saw," Walker said.
Originally broadcast on British TV about two years ago, the film was released in U.S. theaters last year, with the chorus overwhelmed by its success.
Walker recalls the reaction of one member of the group, Steve Martin, a former marine who is happy to discuss the love life of a septuagenarian, when he attended a screening.
"He was watching the film with me at Sundance, sitting next to me, and was in tears at one point, right at the very beginning of the film, when the Fox Searchlight logo comes up actually. I said to him, 'Why were you crying?' and he said, 'You know, I just never imagined it, 80 years old and there's 20th Century Fox and all the searchlights and the music and 600 people in the cinema and the premier film festival in America and there I am,'" he said.
One of the wonderfully bizarre moments of the film is the singers' rendition of "Schizophrenia" by Sonic Youth. Like Coldplay, Thurston Moore and company have added their seal of approval.
"They were actually on tour recently in America and when they got to 'Schizophrenia' they yelled out to this huge crowd, 'This one's for the Young@Heart Chorus,'" Walker said.
David Byrne, who wrote "Life During Wartime," decided to take things a little further with the group.
"David Byrne from Talking Heads has now performed with the Young@Heart Chorus and I believe is writing another song for them specifically, which is great," Walker said.
"Young@Heart" is currently playing. Copyright 2008 The Daily Yomiuri Published on 14th November 2008
The part after the introduction is generally scattered as the filmmaker interviews various seniors. Initially, it's not as deep as one may expected. There are some sex adjacent talk. Then Bob Cilman has a heart-attack. In a fictional movie, Bob would battle death and end up doing the show. That's what it looked like in the hospital as Bob focused on the concert poster. Even if he can't say a word, one can sense his determination. Then, reality intervenes and Bob dies. That is the movie's biggest gift and central point. Nobody gets out of here alive. When Joe Benoit dies next, it's as if real life wanted to make sure the point isn't lost. These men and women all understand mortality in a real unwritten way. There are powerful emotions and determination at work here.
In 2007, British director Stephen Walker went to Massachusetts to document the group's preparation for their latest tour. He shows us how these physically frail but emotionally indomitable old folk manage to forge on ahead, through all their aches and pains and life-threatening ailments, to produce something truly unique and beautiful in the entertainment world. They may not always hit the right note, but their spirits shine through in every number. Yet, Walker doesn't sentimentalize or patronize his subjects. He lets us get to know them as individuals through their histories and their stories. That goes for Bob Cilman, the group's then 53-year-old choir director, as well, a sometimes stern taskmaster with a full heart and an infinite capacity for patience. And an obvious love for his choir members.
There's humor, inspiration and heartbreak embedded in virtually every frame of the film, with one scene, in particular - a performance by the group at a prison right after they've learned that one of their members has passed away - that is guaranteed to have you bawling like a baby. It's the rendition of "Forever Young" that tears at the heartstrings in that instance, and it is a haunting solo performance of "Nothing Compares 2 You," performed in honor of another member who dies immediately afterward, that produces the same effect just a few scenes later.
But it's when they get on stage that the true magic happens - a symbiotic connection between the performers and their audience that is indeed a wonder to behold.
Naturally, given the age of many of the choir's members, the movie ends on a bittersweet note, honoring those who didn't survive till the film's completion and release - most prominently, 93-year-old Eileen Hall, a prominent subject of the film who walks off with the movie and the audience's heart. The movie provides a fitting bit of immortality for this funny, big-hearted and life-affirming woman.
All I can say is that if you ever need an instant pick-me-up or a renewal of your faith in humanity, Young@Heart is guaranteed to do the trick.