Headbloom Blog

This blog appeared earlier in The Rapidian and takes a light-hearted look at an often taboo topic: growing old.

Octogenarians and twenty-somethings. Tuxedos, feather boas, and Michael Bublé crooning. How do we live out our retirement years?

If you’re a resident of Clark Retirement Community in Grand Rapids, it’s “Feelin’ Good.”

Monday, July 11, saw 150 Clark residents and Grand Valley State University students fill the second-floor Clark chapel for the video premiere of an elaborately produced lipdub, celebrating the fun side of living the retirement years.

With anticipation high, residents started strolling, ambling and wheeling their way into the chapel a half-hour ahead of the scheduled 3 p.m. viewing. Following welcoming remarks by Clark Executive Director Bob Perl and GVSU Associate Professor Kim Roberts, the video began to roll, and it wasn’t long before murmurs of recognition and bursts of laughter filled the room.

For those watching the audience instead of the big screen, it was apparent this project struck a chord with residents. There were tapping toes, beaming smiles and lips mouthing now-memorized words along with Bublé‘s affirming warbles. The four-minute video was played three times. Once at normal speed, then in slow motion to pick up details and familiar faces, and again at full speed. Each screening drew new oohs, chuckles, and applause.

On the heels of the successful 2010 GVSU campus lipdub shot in Allendale, Roberts and a crew of Film & Video Production majors have created a masterful, upbeat piece, cast entirely of senior citizens, the first-ever such music video online. Working with Jane Brierley, director of marketing at Clark, GVSU students and professors began planning in May for the June 28 shoot.

Emily and Rudy Cooper

“What impressed me was the level of detail that went into producing the video,” said Clark resident Rudy Cooper, 86. Cooper and his wife, Emily, were featured in workout clothes and bathing suit, respectively, in the fitness area and swimming pool. “We got a big uplift from this. It loosened us up…reminded us how to have fun.”

To prepare for the shoot, the Coopers began working with Director Alan Ledford on the blocking of those scenes. They started by practicing the movements and rhythms in their apartment, then in the locker room and pool, each time getting more relaxed and comfortable with their parts. On the day of the shoot, everything flowed, bringing a “feeling of enjoyment, a feeling of lightness, a camaraderie shared between the students and the residents.”

André Guimond, Jane Brierley, Jackson Ezinga, Kim Roberts, Christopher Greene

As camera operator James Morse cruised the hallways and activity centers on shoot day, seniors waited at their stations, ready to jump in, singing and acting on cue. A boom box blasted the jazzy-sweet lyrics of Feelin’ Good, which has now become a theme song for residents and staff at Clark. Technical requirements allow no editing cuts to be made to the visual body of a lipdub, but sound tracks can be laid in by postproduction editors. In addition to the dulcet voice of Bublé, dozens of other sound effects were dubbed in, from the whooshing by of the Amiga carts to the quack-quack of resident Forest VanValin’s homemade push-toy duck.

On stage, the video’s musical quartet included flautist Judy Whitwer, 73, a retired minister. Whitwer and her husband, Ken, also a member of the clergy, moved to Clark six years ago following Ken’s second stroke. At Monday’s screening, Whitwer sported the same red sequined headband she wore in the filming.

Why participate in a project like this? “It sounded like fun,” said Whitwer, confessing her preference for staying active and taking on anything new and interesting. (She was caught for this interview just before stepping into her weekly Tuesday rehearsal with the Calder City Concert Band.) The benefit of participating in the lipdub was experiencing the energy it produced, working with the young artists, directors and technicians. “Young and old,” observed Whitwer, “it doesn’t matter how wrinkled you are, how fast you are, how you walk down the hall…you have to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Residents gather in Clark chapel before premiere screening of lipdub.

For Whitwer, owner of an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro, the project forged a new relationship with production assistant Alicia Crawford, who worked in the segment featuring the stage band. After the camera went past, it was up to Crawford and other crew members in that area to flip the stage (and more gently, its four musicians) 180 degrees for the camera shot coming back the other way 55 seconds later. Crawford, who also works at the Woodland Mall Apple Store, could be seen after Monday’s screening, discussing computer technology and internet use with Whitwer, a new friend.

One of several discussions this video is sure to prompt is that of life in later years. One commenter posted on YouTube, “I don’t know if this is inspiring or depressing.” As we look at our own aging—or that of our parents—do we face it with trepidation or tackle it head on, with an outlook like Whitwer’s? There is the danger of stereotyping the aging process, as with the prune juice cocktails and Depends used in the video. However, Whitwer acknowledged, “the intent was fun, and all willingly participated in this.” Laughter being the best medicine, the seniors clearly had a chance to blend light-heartedness with a celebration of who they are at this stage of life’s journey.

The take-away for all this? For Judy Whitwer, it’s a chance to embrace the later years of our life and to destigmatize retirement residential living. It’s all there in the final scene of the video, she says. “Come and have a seat; you’re welcome here. There’s a place for you here.”

View the video online here.

Judy Whitwer and Alan after the lipdub premiere

Alan Headbloom