Film : "Young@Heart"
Much of the pleasure in "Young@Heart" comes from the stereotype-defying vitality of the chorus members, whose average age is 82. Len Fontaine may go blank in the middle of his featured song, but Bob Salvini comes to a rehearsal from the hospital rather than lose his choral spot. He died before his song debuted, but his partner, Fred Knittle, went on with the show despite a recent heart attack.
"Young@Heart," a documentary about a lively senior-citizen chorus that has toured in Europe for 11 years, comes to the Katharine Cornell Theatre Saturday, Nov. 22. Sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard Film Society, the screening will raise funds for Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and includes a 12-minute film on the facility.
Director Stephen Walker provides a charming portrait of a group of senior citizens from Northampton, whose choral repertoire is not what you'd expect. They get down and dirty with music from OutKast, Trash, James Brown, and Neil Young.
"I've just been making it up as I go," says Chorus Director Bob Cilman, who has owned a house in Vineyard Haven since 1998 and loves to visit Martha's Vineyard. Not trained as a choral director, he was running a meal site for the elderly 15 years ago, when he began a collaboration with Northampton's No Theater that led to the chorus's tours abroad.
"It's about community," he explains. He will be unable to attend the Martha's Vineyard screening because he will be screening the film at a festival in the Dominican Republic.
The film doesn't pull its punches, nor does it make fun of its subjects as the
director weaves the performers' stories into the narrative. Mr. Walker also slips in a few "Magical Mystery Tour" touches, like filming Mr. Knittle sitting on a chair in a cornfield with a combo playing nearby. Too bad there aren't more of those whimsical moments.
Rehearsals reveal that its members sometimes cover their ears when Mr. Cilman plays alternative rock songs like Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" for them. When asked by the director/narrator Walker for their own preferences, they list classical music and opera.
Stan Goldman, who is 76, and Dora Morrow, 83, don't find it easy to get the timing and lyrics right for their duet of the James Brown tune, "So Good."
Chorus member Joe Benoit, who tours with the group even after three bouts of chemotherapy, says, "Singing does a lot for your whole body." A Young@Heart performance at the Hampshire County Jail in Northampton resonates with special poignancy when the camera cuts back and forth between the elderly singers and an audience of young men averaging half their age. Some of the inmates seem to have tears in their eyes when the chorus sings "Forever Young."
Film and stage musicals have long demonstrated the life-affirming power of music. "Young@Heart" is a testament to that message.
In "Voices from Windemere," Betsy Burmeister of the facility's Activities staff interviews nine residents about their lives there. The short film, edited by Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth of Film-Truth Productions, is available for purchase at $15. Proceeds from sales will go to support Windemere's Activity Department.
"Young@Heart," Saturday, Nov. 22, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for Martha's Vineyard Film Society members. Proceeds go to Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Doors open at 7 pm.
Brooks Robards writes regularly on film, art, and books for The Martha's Vineyard Times.