Sadly, neither band is actually around anymore. Old Skull went and grew up and One Foot in the Grave, well... well they died. Yeah, it was twenty years ago, kids and they were already older than Sojourner Truth. You had to see that coming. They did. Hence the name.
But here's the Truth that both bands managed to demonstrate: You don't have to be between the ages of 18 and 49 to ROCK!
Of course, you wouldn't have to tell that to Bob Climan, Chorus Director of the singing group "Young At Heart". Or any member of "Young At Heart". Or anyone who saw Stephen Walker's documentary on the group, also called Young At Heart) (or Young@Heart). In his early fifties at the time of this filming, Bob Climan is actually the youthful, spritely guy in the room, because everybody else is between their late 70s and early 90s. And yeah, they rock. In fact, the first thing we see and hear in this Independent Film is the nonagenarian Eilleen Hall, belting out The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go", complete with accompanying guitars and her own version of that rock and roll scream.
This sets the stage for what is a very interesting and oft touching documentary about one chapter in the long history of this vocal group. It started as a normal Northampton, Massachusetts Senior Citizens' choir, you know, something to do to stay busy. Then somebody went and added some Rock songs to their repertoire... sort of like when Bart Simpson slipped Reverend Lovejoy's Organist the music for "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". Now you've got a bunch of old folks singing songs popularized by the likes of Coldplay, James Brown, The Ramones, Jimi Hendrix and Gloria Gaynor. They're also touring in support of these songs (locally as well as internationally) and making rock videos that are often ironic and always funny.
Surviving members have come a long way indeed and (although the film covers only a small timeframe) we see the current lineup going a great distance in preparation for their shows, especially that upcoming European Tour. Rather than attempting to tell the story from the beginning, Walker focuses on the now, filling in the historical blanks as need be to keep the story coherent. This is done both with his own narration and with the reminiscing of some of the focal (and vocal) points of this little movie. To a degree we are listening to a bunch of old people telling stories. Luckily this is done in a very interesting way, never coming off as a ramble or trailing rant. In fact, the baritone voice of Fred Knittle (one of the group's better singers) gives a few soliloquies worthy of a stand up act (sadly, the man can't stand up for long.
The film's true core is its study of devotion and dedication along with the lively affect it has on so many of this film's subjects. Young@Heart's Bob Salvini, Joe Benoit, Louise Canady and Elaine Fligman show how important these practices and performances are to them, often showing up against all odds. Walker shows that Bob Climan doesn't always have an easy time teaching old dogs new tricks (especially as a lot of these folks are most likely to say "My memory ain't what it used t'be!") but Walker's film also demonstrates how some of these lyrical exercises and public performances succeed in sharpening the minds of these people and giving them a good reason to get up each day and look forward to tomorrow.
This can be especially important when each "Tomorrow" can bring great surprises. Sadly the group is faced with its own Mortality, much more than other bands who cover some of the same songs might be, as Young@Heart's members often do have one foot in the grave. Sadly, some of our favorite characters don't live to take their curtain call. The film isn't without its depressing moments, to be sure. On the other hand, Young@Heart is never bogged down by these things. Instead these valleys tend to only heighten the beauty of the peaks this film has to offer. The chorus' performance for cynical State Prisoners is an especially noteworthy example of the power of this choir. The inmates' reactions are priceless.
To be fair and honest, not all of these folks have what you would call the best voices, nor is every expected note, or even lyric, hit perfectly. Does that mean that Young@Heart is just another novelty act? I would say no, seeing as how the real draw of this group isn't just that "They're all Old enough to have babysat Moses". No, the real draw is the passion these folks give to a performance. The flawed shows we get to see are enough to almost make the Movie Theatre audience clap as loudly as the on-screen patrons do as the Chorus gives their bows.
The flaws in Young@Heart are few and minor, but worth mentioning. For one, this "Day in the Life" approach does work to a degree and (intentionally or not) gives us a snapshot of what it's like to have fleeting time. However, this same approach leaves a little to be desired. The constant preparation for the upcoming European Tour ultimately leads to no audience payoff as we never get to see this tour unwind (and given some of the difficulties we see the chorus endure just to perform one live show, I'm sure that would have made an excellent documentary). Further, the obviously digital print feels a little amateur in some places though Walker does show his skills as a filmmaker in other ways. Blowing this image up to a huge screen only serves to deepen the digitized flaws. Luckily the sound is almost always quite good. In truth, the image is only the accompaniment to the sounds and heart of this film.
Four Stars out of Five for Young At Heart (AKA: Young@Heart), the film that proves that even if you've got one foot in the grave, there's no reason your old skull can't resonate the tuneage in the gnarliest of all possible ways, dudes! I do highly recommend this film to any music fan and anyone who still says "I hope I die before I get old!" Please note that the guys WHO wrote and sung that Lyric are (at the time of this writing) very much alive and... old. God Bless you two, by the way. Just remember this, kids... You're not too old until it's too loud. See you in the next reel! Well, most of you, anyway.
You're NEVER too olde
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