Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Young@Heart - Should I Stay or Should I Go? -Go.

Young@Heart documents a senior chorus that performs rock and punk hits to cheering crowds on international concert tours. Seniors and punk - an unlikely pairing. Young@Heart begins by capturing the group as a successful musical act that trades on its novelty but pivots into an examination of purpose and dignity in the life of these senior singers, whose show goes on despite two deaths in the week leading to the concert that forms the dramatic conclusion to the documentary.

The chorus, Young at Heart, is far more than a novelty act at times. Based in Northampton, MA it's led by Bob Cilman, who isn't kidding around in his experimental song selections and sometimes harshly critical rehearsals. The band accompanying Young at Heart, a highly professional group including some non-seniors, is no joke either. The singers themselves are a diverse group but several have some vocal chops. Joseph Benoit masters David Byrne's lyrics, tone and attitude in his first rehearsal of "Life During Wartime". Fred Knittle unveils a surprising (considering he's on oxygen for congestive heart failure) bass range when he introduces himself with an a cappela "Ghost Riders in the Sky". Both Benoit and Knittle have a sense of humor that generates out loud laughs from the audience and Knittle's a showman as well, the dramatic star of the music videos edited into the documentary. Many others hit some sweet notes and even the musical amateurs can capture something in a specialty number like Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia".

The film turns serious with the deaths of Bob Salvini, a Young at Heart member attempting a comeback after a prolonged illness, and the sudden passing of Joe Benoit, one of the group's current standouts. The chorus members are moved, especially by the surprising death of Benoit, but never waiver in their drive to put on the show. The film let's the seniors tell the story of what performing as part of Young at Heart means to them - and it's a lot.

Young@Heart is definitely worth seeing. More back story on some of the chorus members might make it even better, but the film, like choral director Cilman, takes the seniors on their own terms and the result is entertaining, often moving.

Housekeeping Note - Regular readers may have noticed that As Good As News missed last week's review. A reliable source characterized Row Hard, No Excuses as good but not great. Given the subject it would have been overrated here.


petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Hello! I've Googled the Young @ Heart and found your blog.

Have started watching the documentary while getting over a nasty cold and was blown away by this feisty senior's version of "Should I Stay or Should I go?"

I'm lauhging at the serendipity at play here, and will be back to enjoy more of your blog.

Have a wonderful weekend and it was very nice meeting you! Petra :))

Michael H said...

Thanks. I'll be watching for a "Whose Role Is It" set in Turkmenistan.