a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

"Young @ Heart" is a song for the soul

An old lady with long white hair and a cane in her hand leads off the rockumentary, “Young @ Heart,” singing a punk song.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh," Eileen Hall, 92, shouts in a craggy voice while introducing the Clash’s signature number to the audience. The camera zooms close to her wrinkled face and lips, and then down into her wide-open mouth.

"Darling, you gotta let me know," she continues in a lovely British accent as the shot backs away to reveal an aged chorus dressed alike in white dress shirts. “Should I stay or should I go?”

Hall’s part of an ensemble of New England senior citizens with the average age of 80 who are behaving badly in a hot chorus, the subject of the new flick directed by Stephen Walker.

Hall is a former stripper who normally listens to Broadway show tunes, but like her friends, she is trying to expand her horizons rather than knit scarves or piece together jigsaw puzzles.

The chorus performs to sold-out crowds around the world. Deemed the “oldest cover band in the world," the group is choreographed by Bob Cilman, who doesn’t always have the patience to work with people who have 30 years on him.

In the documentary, he assigned them a handful of new songs to learn in seven weeks for a performance at the Academy Theater in Northampton, Mass., including "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones.

At first, the singers hate the new songs. They stumble over the words, forgetting them often. Then, they warm up to the music.

"There is something wonderful about that process," Cilman says.

Of all things, he has even assigned them to learn Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” a tongue twister that requires the memorization of lyrics containing the word, "can," more than 70 times.

“We used to sing songs like, “Yes, we have no bananas”,” Hall quips.

Yes, this is a movie that will make you laugh out loud. And it also will leave you with a lump in your throat if you are human, especially after watching Fred Knittle steal the show with Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

He’s an overweight baritone who was invited back for a command performance after leaving the chorus because he became too weak to stand for long, dependent on oxygen and slowed by congestive heart failure.

Two members died before the big show, and they were rehearsing their tunes up until the time they saw the light at the end of the tunnel. At least two others rejoined the chorus after having been that close to death. “I was afraid to look,” one woman said after being asked if she saw that bright light before recovering.

Thank goodness for survival in show business. This is shock rock that delivers a song for the soul about keeping the adventure going during retirement.

(Caption: That's Eileen Hall in the photo. She died a year before the documentary was released in early 2008 at select theaters.)


Brant said...

I saw a preview of the documentary at a theater, and it looked great, but I don't think it ever came to Washington. LOL!

Scott Beveridge said...

In Pittsburgh, The Manor in Squirrel Hill is the only place where it is showing.