Young@Heart, An Extraordinary Documentary

Every once in a while you catch a programme on the TV that really hits the spot. It’s all too tempting in the evening to settle down and watch trash. Celebrity guff and salacious docu-soaps for example. Channel 4 last night added a corker to their schedule which I enthusiastically plumped for above my normal diet of crap. Young at Heart followed a chorus made up from old people (average age 80) who have got together under a charismatic and visionary musical director (Bob Cilman) to render pop, rock, punk and soul numbers in a way that you’ve never heard. It sounds, on paper, to be a terribly saccharine fly-on-the-wall but it was actually a profound exploration of ageing, death and our perceptions of both.

As we followed the game chorus line through the obvious challenges of re-interpreting Cold Play and James Brown and as we did so we also explored their deteriorating health, their unwavering enthusiasm, commitment humour and no little talent. Therefore, by the time it came to say the inevitable ‘goodbye’ to our first member we were right there with chorus in insisting the show must go on. And go on it did, with a heart-string-tug in the middle of a penitentiary exercise yard as the chorus sung to a group of incarcerated who – to a man – gave a standing ovation and many did so with tears in their eyes.

The sensitivity with which Stephen Walker approached the programme was extraordinary and struck a fine balance of warmth over sentimentality and no little degree of humour without descending into mockery. Above all this was a documentary with proud characters, philosophy and emotion and if anything justifies Channel 4 and More 4’s mandate it was this.

:: Read Stephen Walker’s statement on the documentary (and his IMDb profile)
:: Find out more about Young at Heart (website down due to bandwidth restrictions)
:: CBS Evening News piece about the chorus
:: UMASS alumni article about Bob Cilman

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