Young@Heart – Young at Heart Choir

January 20, 2009 at 12:20 am | Posted in Film Review, Musical Review | Leave a comment
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Warning: plot elements revealed

January 19, 2009 by

Film Hanger

Paper Hanger Blog
New Zealand

This is a documentary about a choir, whose average is over 80 years old! The Vienna Boys Choir they are not !! But they retain a passion for music and performing. The documenatry is shot over 7 weeks in a hand-held-video-camera style, and is very engaging. The story of the Choir and its members make for a lightedhearted exploration of a serious subject – what does one do as one approaches the twilight years? how show one deal with the loss of a friend and comrade?

The Choir makes regular trips abroad – from their native Northampton, Massachusetts, USA. Stephen Walker and follow the Choir as they put together their next show.

Key to the Choir is their director – Bob Cilman. Who keeps the Choir’s repertoire upto date and re-arranges the music for choristers’ older voices. He works the Choir hard and does not let them settle into the comfortable music of ther ‘youth’. So we see the Choir working on a Sonic Youth number – Schizophrenia!

The Choir members are constantly confronted with their mortality. By the time the documentary is filmed two of their number has died; By the time the documentary has completed post-production, a third member has died. And sadly, just before I saw this film, a fourth member, featured in the documentary has also passed away.

But, it is the way that the Choir deals with the loss of these fellow choristers and friends that is so moving. They resolve to go on performing. One chorister, talking about the death of Bob Salvini, says that if she dies on stage, that they should just push her off stage and keep on singing.

For me, the most moving part of the film was the Choir’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young to an audience of inmates at their local prison. The Choir had been informed just that morning of Bob Salvini’s death.

Singing seems to improve the quality of life for the Choir’s members – they were mentally alert (Bob Cilman makes them learn the words to all the songs they sing) and active (regular rehearsals and the choir has some light dance moves). And I think creates a support network for them – something to focus on, other than themselves.

The filming of the documentary must have been fun for the Choir too. Stepping out of a strictly documentary mode, Walker shot three music videos for the Choir – covers of: I Wanna Be Sedated (Ramones), Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads), and Staying Alive (Bee Gees). The Ramones video had the Choir dressed in hospital gowns in a hospital setting and was just surreal. NB: Bob Cilman is a huge Talking Heads fan.

The documentary team get quite close to a trio known as the Three Musketeers; today there is only one Musketeer left. Joe Benoit died before the filming of the documentary’s final concert. Eileen Hall, died at the young age of 93, during post-production; the film was dedicated to her.

The documentary does not dwell on the loss of Choresters, because the Choir doesn’t. The losses hurt, but people are remembered for their contributions and perfomances.

The Choir’s is pretty good – just don’t expect the vienna Boys! Eileen Hall’s rendition of The Clash number Should I stay or should I go, backed by the rest of the Choir, brings the house down. There are also some renditions of classic James Brown and Bruce Springsteen numbers.


During research for this review, I discovered that Fred Knittle passed away on the 11th of this month. I will remember his solo of Fix It – originally intended to be a duet with Bob Salvini.


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