Ilona and Lane Siller have made the world a more understandable place by bringing the memories, hopes and frustrations of nine seniors who happen to share the same water exercise class to the screen. The fascinating and richly layered result is a “lifeumenatary” that will pay big dividends to people of any age (except, perhaps, those denialists who cannot acknowledge their inevitable deterioration as the curtain rises on Act III of the over-cast play of life).
While there is much wisdom and emotion in the words of the eclectic group of water partners, it’s the film’s opening and closing pool sequences (greatly assisted by Timothy Schneider’s savvy editing over the aural backdrop of a simple piano waltz) that linger long after the credit reel is done. The troupe shamelessly (some proudly, Frannie Dew ever alert for an octogenarian flirt; Anne Kelemen finds the workout an important “reason to get up and out of the house”) don their suits, hair bonnets and smiles then step, flop or accept a helping hand as they venture into the chlorinated drink.
Their bodies show the ravages of time, calories and arthritis, but their faces reveal joy, comfort and purpose. Like the “chorus” of the Fabulous Palm Spring Follies (cross-reference below) they form a kind of underwater kickline, working together through oft-practised routines under that attentive eye of their thirtysomething director.
Out of the pool they go their separate ways, but prove to be as candid in their thoughts as they are unabashed about their bodies.
Not unexpectedly, Dorothy Stinnette steals the show. She’s had a long career as bar singer (taking NYC public transit at 4:00 a.m. without a second thought decades back), actor (from bit parts to Death of a Salesman) to commercials (the retelling of a McDonald’s classroom promotion still evokes tears). Never a big star, “but I was always working.” She regrets never marrying and having children but her earthly time has been so good that “it will be terrible to … say goodbye.”
Pulp fiction author Gerty Agoston stays forever young through her characters. “I stay as old as I want in my books.” An immigrant from Budapest, she’s a staunch Republican, decorates with U.S. flags and opines that the film’s “outing” of her political bent will nix any chance of a movie deal from Hollywood.
Long-ago outed Andrew Yonkers and Mel Gins (they met in 1969) abandoned the security of family and friends to live together before the notion of same-sex marriage, much less its current reality, could be discussed in polite company. Their secret? “We’ve respected each other.” Couples of any persuasion would do well to embrace that directive themselves.
Ronnie and Cy Beer still slow dance as their life together shifts gears. His sense of humour, no doubt, helps them through the difficult moments. His only regret is that pretty women “walk right by” leaving him to endure the advances of the walker set.
Neuropsychologist Ira Belmont’s wife remains off camera. But his candor speaks volumes. “How does it feel growing old?” he asks rhetorically. “Rotten!” The lack of concern by young people towards this generation seems just as troubling as his battle with cancer.
The interview sequences are sandwiched by historical clips from films, aging documentaries and a zesty U.S. military propaganda piece complete with an all-male chorus (save and except for one pent-up soprano) declaiming the “Stars and Stripes” in four-part harmony. Much is made of the dilemma of aging: “What’s the purpose now?” “Am I just waiting to die?” and, with extra saccharin from another era, “Will I reach the far shore?”
These clips serve to underscore the universality of the Sillers’ work. Notable is the loss of innocence in today’s youth. How many children, now, spend their “recess” playing marbles or hide-and-seek? Fewer still take advantage of the wealth of experience that is bottled up in the minds of our oldest citizens.
Deeper Than Y effectively examines all of these issues. Those who choose to hear will be richly rewarded.
Water workouts lift the spirits and physiques of the determined devotees. They’ve discovered that their lifeguard is the liquid that permits them to float above it all. JWR