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News

Film on way starring Young at Heart

April 24, 2006

by Gabriel Dye - The Daily Hampshire Gazette
April 24, 2006

Film director Stephen Walker walked into a London theater last year not quite sure he'd enjoy an elderly singing group performing rock tunes. The concept seemed too weird, he recalled.

The performance by the city-based Young at Heart Chorus, though, won him over.

Coincidentally, Walker, who won an Emmy Award for a documentary on Hiroshima had been mulling the idea of making a film about aging, which he felt was an 'unfashionable subject.'

It was when Eileen Hall, 93, sang 'Should I Stay or Should I Go,' by the Clash, and the audience of 800 yelled back 'Stay!' that something clicked.

The song had become a metaphor for life and death, and the audience cheered frantically for life, Walker recalled.

He had his film.

'I was hooked,' he said at a rehearsal for the chorus's new show, 'Alive and Well.'

Now Walker, with producer and wife Sally George, is filming a documentary on Young at Heart, to be released in September on Britain's Channel 4, a station dedicated to diversity and experimentation, according to the Channel 4 Web site.

'The message is we all grow old. Well, actually, the lucky grow old,' Walker said. 'You don't sort of hang up everything and then die. You can get up and dance and sing.'

Video cameras are not new to this group, who have already been featured in a documentary by a Belgian television station. Over the years, news channels, both local and international, have also filmed them.

'I thought it'd be interesting for them to shoot the process of what it is to take a song from the start,' said Young at Heart director and founder Bob Cilman. 'Rehearsal is where it all happens.'

At the end of a recent rehearsal at the Florence Community Center, the chorus poured their personalities into Allen Toussaint's 'Yes We Can Can.' Cilman sang along and shouted out directions, and then motioned for everyone to stand up.

They danced their way into a group, offering smiles and slaps on the back to each other. It's clear that this song is different.

One of the singers, Steve Martin, said he believes the song's lyrics, like 'I know we can make it ... I know we can make it if we try,' speak to the group.

'That song typifies who we are, that even at our average age at 78, we can exude that kind of energy, and get an audience saying 'Can you believe that that white-haired guy is doing that?' Martin said.

Producer Sally George echoed Martin's feelings.

'It sums them up,' said George of the song. 'Some of these people are determined to spite whatever ailments they have. We're trying to capture the essence of the chorus (in the documentary). It's out of the rocking chair. It's the opposite of retiring.'

The chorus is a group of 25 singers in their 70s, 80s and 90s who perform songs ranging from 'Hey Ya' by the hip-hop group Outkast to 'Come as You Are' by the grunge band Nirvana, and Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze' to Sonic Youth's 'Schizophrenic.'

In the past seven years, the group has toured over Europe, Australia and Canada.

Now back in Northampton, Young at Heart singers are in rehearsals for their next show, 'Alive and Well,' which opens on May 13. Walker and George, of Bluebird Films Ltd., spent a couple of weeks filming rehearsals, while interviewing chorus members individually.

Walker and George will film the chorus's local concerts for the documentary. They will also shoot a number of music videos of Young at Heart, in various settings around the area, for the film. The documentary will air in Britain on Sept. 29. Bluebird and Channel 4 International are planning worldwide distribution afterwards.

The first public performance of 'Alive and Well' will be held May 13 at the Academy of Music.

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