They’re more than golden oldies

In watching "[email protected]," moviegoers can reap the pleasure of seeing the chorus bravely taking on c
The Northampton, Mass.-based chorus "Young@Heart" is shown in the documentary of the same name.
The Northampton, Mass.-based chorus "[email protected]" is shown in the documentary of the same name.

There are many wonderful moments in “[email protected],” but one of the most memorable takes place at a Massachusetts state prison.

The inmates gather in the yard, while before them stand a motley group of senior citizens in their 70s and 80s. They are not reprising Stephen Foster or humming barbershop quartet ditties. Already, they have sung tunes by Coldplay, Sonic Youth and Talking Heads — all to the delight of prisoners who feel the rhythm and soul with consummate ease and delight.

In a jail yard, there’s a spiritual connection as “grandmothers” and “grandfathers” serenade their wayward “children” with blues, punk, rock and rock ‘n roll. Then, as the chorus breaks into a solemn rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” the camera shifts to the audience of convicts, some of whom are moved to tears. You may guess they are thinking of their own lives, lost grandparents or grandparents they never had. No matter, for what we see and feel is a spiritual connection only music can provide — an epiphany of joyful recognition that we are all one despite differences in age and mobility.

A British production about this chorus based in Northampton, Mass., Stephen Walker’s documentary does not wallow in sentimentality; nor does it patronize the subjects or us. Though its lighting and camera movements occasionally reveal its low-budget constraints, nothing obstructs the pleasure we reap watching the chorus bravely taking on challenges of musical pieces “old people” are not supposed to like.

[email protected]

DIRECTED BY Stephen Walker

STARRING Bob Cilman, Eileen Hill, Steve Martin, Fred Knittle, Joe Benoit and Bob Salvini


RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

Under the direction and stewardship of the energetic leader, 53-year-old Bob Cilman, the group takes on compositions such as Coldplay’s “Fix You,” Alan Toussaint’s “Yes, We Can Can,” and the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” the latter intoned by 92-year-old Eileen Hill.

For me, there’s nothing cornier and more depressing than shows in which audiences accord lavish, obligatory praise on elderly performers as they kick in step or yell out tunes like “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” It’s as if the listeners are saying in unison, “What the heck, they’re going to leave us soon. So let’s clap and shout. How wonderful it is that Granny can do the two-step or twist and shout to ‘The Bunny Hop.’ ”

There’s none of that mawkish sentiment in “[email protected],” in which the participants don’t try to look young. Cilman is a taskmaster who asks for excellence from his performers. If they are having trouble with a tune, he informs the soloists they may have to can the piece. For us, it’s a reminder that demanding excellence is a sign of respect, whether the performers are in junior high or candidates for a nursing home, so long as they are blessed with talent and decent mental faculties.

A movie for all ages

During the filming, two members we have gotten to know die, but the movie does not invite us to the funerals or dwell on eulogies. At a rehearsal, we do hear 72-year-old Pat Landerme intone a beautiful version of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Musically, the most impressive singer is Fred Knittle, who takes center stage with his constant companion — an oxygen tank.

[email protected]” also serves up some audaciously ingenious musical videos with the group performing David Bowie’s “Golden Years” and the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” In a finale before a packed Northampton house, the chorus delivers a rousing rendition of “I Feel Good,” complete with a hearty introductory scream of joy.

What a feel-good movie. What a delightfully instructive experience: A movie about old people even the young will not only like but savor.

Categories: Life and Arts

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