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"Young@Heart": Rocking Music, Not Chairs

"Young@Heart" starts out like a lot of other rockumentaries.

The opening credits roll as the sound of an expectant audience clapping in "we want the show" rhythm fades in. Cut to roadies tuning up guitars and testing out the sound system, while throngs of fans continue to pour into the concert hall.

Finally, the stage lights go up and a rock star saunters up to the mic and lets out an ear-splitting wail, followed by the opening chords to "Should I Stay Or Should I Go," by The Clash.

In this movie, though, the woman singing isn't a typical rock star.

This punk diva is petite, saucy, 92-year-old Elaine Hill, the eldest member of the Young@Heart chorus from Northampton, Mass. With a songbook that includes Coldplay, James Brown, and Prince, this isn't a typical choir, either.

The film's director, Stephen Walker, expected nothing more than a novelty act of cute elderly people singing hokey versions of rock songs when he first saw the choir in concert.

What he found was something completely different.

"I remember the most extraordinary thing about it was the power in these people's voices," he told The ShowBuzz. "It wasn't karaoke at all; these were complete reinterpretations of very well-known songs, and when they came out of these people's mouths everything was different about them."

In the hands of the choir, "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" becomes a song about life and death, "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones a song about about being left to wither away in a nursing home, while Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" and Coldplay's "Fix You" are about the increasing loss of friends that's part of growing old.

The songs aren't all downers, of course. "I Feel Good" by James Brown is about feeling good on the inside and David Bowie's "Golden Years" is really about the golden years this time around.

Walker thought a documentary about the choir would be "a really interesting way to explore issues of old age through rock music ... that people can identify with because most of them know the words to the stuff."

The British director, who has helmed numerous films in the U.K. for the BBC and Channel 4, and his wife, producer Sally George, originally shot "Young@Heart" as a three hour, two-part documentary for Channel 4, which aired in October 2006.

They eventually brought the film to the U.S. where it was a hit at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and they've recut it as a feature film opening in New York and Los Angeles Wednesday, April 9, and elsewhere across the country on April 18.

The movie follows the 24-member choir and their cantankerous, yet passionate, choir director, Bob Climan, through the challenging weeks leading up to a concert in their hometown. The film shows the singers in rehearsals as they struggle through several new songs, give a performance at a local jail, and deal with issues in their personal lives. There are also four music videos that are cut into various points in the film.

"Young@Heart" is funny and touching, but doesn't flinch from showing the reality of illness and death that the elderly face.

Ultimately, it's an inspiring and life-affirming film, reflecting the enthusiasm and tenacity of the choir members.

"We think we're giving a message to people our age: don't quit, get up, do something," choir member Steve Martin told The ShowBuzz. "Whatever it is, don't quit. Open that door and say 'I'm not afraid to walk through it.'"
By Judy Rosen