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Sleeper of the Week: 'Alive Inside: A Story of Music'

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire July 25, 2014 at 12:22PM

This week's sleeper: a film about the memory-restoring power of music.
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'Alive Inside: A Story of Memory and Music'
'Alive Inside: A Story of Memory and Music'

Nobody sees everything, but Criticwire is here to point out films that might get lost otherwise. Sleeper of the Week takes a film that a only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

"Alive Inside: A Story of Music"
Dir: Michael Rossato Bennett
Criticwire Average: B

There have been numerous studies about the benefits of therapeutic music on a person's health, and "Alive Inside: A Story of Music" shows just one possible avenue. The film follows Dan Cohen, founder of Music & Memory, who posits that music is an underutilized tool for combating memory loss in old age. Cohen and director Michael Rossato Bennett spend time with a handful of case studies and demonstrate how it helps the lonely, the confused, and the lost.

The film played to largely warm reception at Sundance, with special praise given to scenes where patients react to songs from their past. Some have found the film unfocused or repetitive, but very few have argued that it isn't affecting. The film is now playing in theaters.

Steve Greene, Indiewire

For all the testimony from scientists, nursing home workers and activists about the power of music to awaken those feelings and memories from the past, the film's best moments are ones where we get to witness those transformations unfold in real time. The most potent emotional response comes from the mixture of joy, gratitude and recognition of the passage of time visible on a handful of respondents' faces as they're experiencing a song from their younger days. (It's a combination reminiscent of the Merry Clayton “Gimme Shelter” studio recording scene from last year's Sundance entry and eventual Oscar nominee "Twenty Feet from Stardom.") These moments of musical awakening range from the tender (a couple reconnecting over the soothing sounds of Frankie Valli) to the cathartic (an emotionally volatile patient who takes solace in conducting various energetic classical compositions). When moved to sing along, a few patients even manage to carry a tune. Read more.


Nikola Grozdanovic, The Playlist

While the 73-minute running time may suggest a breezy watch for “Alive Inside,” the reality is that it’s anything but. The subjects chosen by Cohen and Rossato-Bennett are ones who are most inconspicuous at tearing out your heart, among them a man who became an internet sensation on reddit when the video of him listening to music went viral, a schizophrenic patient whose mood swings startle but don’t compare to her isolation and desire to leave something of herself behind, and a man affected by radiation therapy who used to love to sing but couldn’t remember until someone put headphones on his head. We’d be kidding if we didn’t admit how hard to watch some of these bleak scenes are, but it’s all done with a purpose to enlighten the viewer into how these people, still with so much soul and heart, are treated in their inhumane surroundings. Once the documentary starts to segue away from how music affects the various patients, into talking about the nature of nursing homes and how far under the rug the government sweeps them, “Alive Inside” turns a corner and starts answering questions you’ve probably been asking ten minutes into the picture. Read more.


Andrew Lapin, The Dissolve

At times, "Alive Inside’s" editing style, which renders subjects as before/after cases, skirts dangerously close to Dr. Oz-like Miracle Cure territory. But ultimately, Cohen isn’t hawking anything more dangerous than the Beach Boys and a few extra hours with grandma. If, 60 years from now, millennials are keeping their minds sharp by grooving to “Fancy” in their retirement homes, more power to them. Read more.


Nick Schager, Village Voice

That latter argument is far from thoroughly (or convincingly) laid out. Yet Rossato-Bennett's footage of confused and/or comatose older people being euphorically reinvigorated by songs on Cohen's iPod compellingly conveys how music — so intimately wedded to our emotions, and experiences — can help the severely ill elderly reconnect with themselves. Read more.

This article is related to: Alive Inside , Sleeper of the Week


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