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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » [email protected]
[email protected]
Fox // PG // September 16, 2008
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Phil Bacharach | posted August 28, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

A life-affirming documentary about oldsters being adorable and quirky would seem to have all the makings of a saccharine overdose. And to be sure, [email protected] does suffer a few overly cutesy moments. But the remarkable thing about this film is that its sappy quotient is kept to a minimum. Only the most hard-hearted moviegoers would be able to resist this inspiring tale of a chorus of seniors who specialize in rock 'n' roll.

The median age of the New England-based [email protected] is 80. Helmed by a no-nonsense 53-year-old musical director named Bob Cilman, the chorus eschews the "Sweet Adeline" route, opting instead for a raucous repertoire that encompasses everything from James Brown and Jimi Hendrix to the Talking Heads and Sonic Youth. That might sound like kitsch, but think again. While most of the 24 chorus members concede their personal tastes run toward classical, the freewheeling oeuvre of [email protected] gives its seniors a chance to sing, enjoy choral camaraderie and, most important, stay active.

Originally shot for British television, the film chronicles the group's 2006 rehearsals for a new tour, a seven week-period in which members wrestled with learning new songs (Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" proves to be especially tough) and wound up bidding goodbye to old friends. The advanced age of the chorus means that [email protected] members must deal with mortality on a routine basis. Understandably, that reality stirs up a wealth of emotions. When an affable chorus member, Joe Benoit, must forego a rehearsal because of a dangerously low white blood-cell count, the 83-year-old man insists at length that he isn't worried one whit. Joe then smiles wearily. "Did I convince you yet?" he asks the filmmaker.

Joe Benoit is one of many engaging and likeable chorus members we come to know throughout the course of [email protected]. There is 92-year-old British native Eileen Hall, who recounts how her family endured air raids during World War II by sing-alongs in the London underground. Another favorite is Fred Knittle. The stout 81-year-old man never met a pun he didn't like. An [email protected] member who returns to the fold for a special performance, Fred says he used to travel with the chorus "from continent to continent till I became incontinent."

While director Stephen Walker catches some wonderfully heartfelt moments, the filmmaker occasionally falters with an elephant's lack of subtlety. His voiceover narration can be cloying. More jarring is the insertion of four jokey music videos of [email protected] performing songs by David Bowie ("Golden Years"), Talking Heads ("Road to Nowhere"), the Ramones ("I Wanna Be Sedated") and the Bee Gees ("Stayin' Alive"). These vignettes aren't awful, exactly -- the seniors are clearly having a ball -- but they're certainly unnecessary and feel just a bit exploitive.

In the end, [email protected] mines the transcendent power of music. As one of the oldsters explains, the singing helps one endure "the creaky bones ... the hips ... the knees." There is an undeniable alchemy involved. Few movie scenes in recent memory have the resonance of seeing Fred Knittle wrap his magnificent baritone around Coldplay's "Fix You" as his oxygen machine interrupts with a periodic sputter. It is a beautiful, poignant moment, one that lingers in your mind long after the picture ends. Try not to get misty-eyed. I dare yah.

The DVD

The Video:

The anamorphic widescreen picture is fine, but unremarkable. Lines are strong and skin tones are accurate; there is minor grain in a few dimly lighted scenes. Aspect ratio is 1.85:1.

The Audio:

The Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are clear and clean, with no discernible distortion or drop-out. A Spanish 2.0 track is also available. Optional subtitles are in French, Spanish and English.

Extras:

The dearth of bonus material is a real disappointment. [email protected] really deserved a better rollout.

[email protected] Goes to Hollywood is a throwaway five-minute, 29-second clip of the chorus performing in Los Angeles.

Ten deleted scenes, which can be viewed separately or consecutively, have an aggregate length just shy of 25 minutes. The material, which was cut for good reason, includes alternate versions of [email protected]'s music videos for "Road to Nowhere" and "Stayin' Alive"/"I Will Survive." The disc also features a theatrical trailer and trailers of Bonneville and Under the Same Moon.

Final Thoughts:

The Fountain of Youth might be a myth, but Sonic Youth is not. [email protected] is a charming and affectionate look at some remarkable people who have discovered the timeless magic of music.

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