Young @ Heart (2007, dir.Stephen Walker)
The film opens with a jarring scene: a music video featuring a group of senior citizens performing The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. The first reaction is one of amusement, it is “adorable” that these “little old people” are singing a punk rock song. However, once the lyrics sink in, the simple “aw, how cute” fades away and there is a profound expression that is created when these words come from those mouths:
“Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go….
Just put me in a wheelchair, get me on a plane
Hurry hurry hurry before I go insane
I can’t control my fingers I can’t control my brain”
There’s something very honest and appropriate about a group of aged faces yelling out these lyrics. It seems more appropriate for them, than a group of young buck musicians. This is what the 2007 documentary Young @ Heart does so well, it balances the “cute, old people” moments with a rich and meaningful exploration of aging and confronting our mortality.
The heart behind the Young @ Heart Chorus is Bob Cilman, a truly extraordinary person. Bob had dedicated hours of work to help organize and put on performances with the elderly, and he doesn’t coddle them. When his two featured performers have trouble with James Brown’s “I Feel Good”, Bob doesn’t speak to them in hushed tones. He shouts at them, he gets angry and frustrated, and eventually decides to just work on another song. It can appear mean, but Bob has such a high level of respect and such lofty expectations for this group he can’t help but be intense about it. And those expectations pay off a hundredfold.
The performers bring a lot of love into their performances, and the film captures a very tumultuous year for them. Long-time and dedicated performer Bob Salvini takes ill and eventually dies in the middle of the group’s performance season. A profound moment occurs when, during their concert, Fred Knittle performs Coldplay’s “Fix You”, a song he was meant to share with Salvini. The lyrics reflect the feelings of the the performers and Joe’s family who watch in the audience:
“And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you”
The documentary is deeply moving. In another scene the group performers for prisoners at a correctional facility. The way the camera shoots the faces of the chorus singing “Forever Young”, then cutting to the faces of criminals having to look down or cover their faces because of the tears welling in their eyes makes it impossible for the audience to not experience the same sense of compassion. Don’t discount this film as made for the old, or purely an attempt to exploit the elderly. This is a film made for the young to discover the depth and wisdom of their elders. This is one to be hunted down as soon as possible.
Fred Knittle performs Coldplay’s “Fix You”
The Young @ Heart Chorus performs “Forever Young”