March 15, 2008

Young At Heart

youngatheartOn our annual spring visit to Austin, Texas, we attended this screening at the Paramount Theater as part of the South by Southwest Film Festival. The movie tells the story of the Young At Heart Chorus, a group of 80-year-old retirees from Northampton, MA, who sing classic (James Brown, The Clash) and contemporary (Coldplay, Sonic Youth) rock songs, as chosen and directed by an aging hippie.

I saw the trailer for this movie 3 or 4 times over the previous few months, at every art house in town. Based on the trailer, I was worried that the movie would laugh at the seniors too much, but that was not a problem. In fact, the movie was wonderful both musically and emotionally. Musically, many of the songs were perfectly re-interpreted by senior citizens. Lyrically, songs like "Golden Years" and "I Wanna Be Sedated" make much more sense when sung by seniors, as opposed to men in their early twenties. Musically, the seniors singing voices add trememdous gravitas to the melodies. There's only so far a great set of pipes can take you. Sometimes, a world-weary, gravelly voice can make a much better impression. Chris Martin sings Coldplay's "Fix You" beautifully, but the retiree who sings it in the movie, two octaves lower, makes a great impression.

Emotionally, the stories of these seniors had me crying for the whole second half of the movie. Two of the singers struggle to stay healthy long enough to perform at an upcoming concert, but they don't make it. The movie's director, Brit documentarian Stephen Walker, captures heartfelt conversations with these men in the days before they pass away which simply break the heart. In fact, many of the chorus members are very engaged with the film's director, and I feel better having met them.