by Thom Ernst Friday December 16, 2011

60 Minutes the long-running highly-rated American news magazine - a show that keeps on ticking  - once did a feature on an senior citizens home specifically for elderly opera singers.  The cameras caught all kinds of spontaneity where sonnets erupted in hallways, duets were battled between two passing men on walkers, the outburst of arias was a common occurrence.  In short - this seemed like a wonderful place to play out your golden years.

Surprisingly, the episode never inspired a movie, although the thought of one has rattled in my own head for some time since it aired.  And I've shared the details of the episode and of its charm, and the great potential it has as a film.  The kind of feel-good romp that wins Oscars.  Seems like I'm the only one who thinks this idea has legs. 

I was reminded by almost everyone that age iis not a big sell.  People in their last stage of life - not a big sell.  Hollywood is about youth/for youth..

Maybe director Cynthia Scott felt the same way the day she walked into a senior's home (I believe she was shooting an episode for her own popular Canadian News Magazine Show, Take 30 featuring Adrienne Clarkson, our now Attorney General) and saw something she never expected: a room full of  life:   Vibrant, loud, social, meaningful, busy, contagious life

Just as I had been inspired by the geriatric prima-donnas combating to be heard over each other in what could be fashioned as stereotypical of their artistry , Scott was inspired by the veracity of energy she saw at the home.  Difference between Scott and me - Scott took her inspiration to the next level.  She made the film. 

Strangers In Good Company became the film that came out of Cynthia Scott's visit to the home.

 I first saw the film at the 1990 Toronto Film Festival  (then the film was called A Company of Strangers).   

I was at the time by all accounts, a very young man interested in big movies, with action, big stories, big actors....what interest is there for me in a movie starring 12 no-name actors, all well into their 70s?  Writing this now, I can't, for the life of me, remember what got me in the theater.  An assignment, perhaps?

But when I saw it  I was so moved by the experience (and the film is an experience) I sought out the director.  I found her at the temporary NFB office set up for the duration of the festival.  It was a significant visit in that this would be the first time I sought out a film maker to share with them how important I thought the film was.  Not just important, but fun, entertaining, and wholly engaging.  

We talk to Cynthia Scott during the interviews.  She doesn't remember my enthusiastic gushing praise I heaped on her and her film.  She does remember  the women she worked with, how she found them, how they dealt with the script (contrary to most people's assumptions, there was a script) and where these women went when the film was over and their lives as movie-stars returned to the norm.

The women you meet in Scott's film are as real, as in genuine.  Despite following a script, Scott keep their lives,  their memories and their dreams of what lies ahead intact. 

There will never be a surge of movies about the elderly taking over Hollywood - even when they work with audiences, as in Ron Howard's Cocoon, The Golden Boys, Whales of August, Space Cowboys, or the more recent RED and The Expendables . No amount of whining, selling, protesting will change that. 

There are great films about older people.  Two of them air on Saturday Night at the Movies: Strangers in Good Company and (from the U.K.) Mrs. Caldicot's Cabbage Wars.

The trick is not to whimper for the lack of films dealing with the aged and aging, but to embrace the ones that come along.