Been Rich All My Life

Showing at Grand Illusion, Fri., Aug. 25– Thurs., Aug. 31. Not rated. 81 minutes.

The aesthetics of Heather MacDonald's documentary are not remarkable, but the dancing octogenarians are. In fact, the Silver Belles, five former Harlem chorus girls who are still bustin' a move despite their advanced ages, are the best kind of company there is. Despite not being able to "remember shit," and despite declining and unpredictable bodies, they make it to rehearsal after rehearsal and performance after performance, donning sequins and spangles and whooping up a whole lotta somethin' in front of sold-out crowds. Been Rich gives us their fire and joy, and also a slice of American history, as the Belles discuss their origins and their years as chorus girls. Beginning at the Apollo Theater in the 1930s, they danced with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson; shared the stage with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong; and put on upward of half a dozen shows a day, seven days a week.

In the end, despite such hardship and strikes and discrimination and age, Been Rich is a paean to joy. Flirtatious, playful, awake, and full of swish—the Silver Belles are having fun. "When I get up there, I light up like a Christmas tree," says one performer of the stage. Hers is a brand of naked bravery, of unabashed commitment to living large. No matter the challenges of their bodies, the Silver Belles refuse to sit down and refuse to be small, and their willingness to be out, loud, and proud is thrilling. MELISSA LEVINE

 
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