Alive Inside

A Story of Music & Memory


Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory

Written, Produced and Directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett

Cinematography: Shachary Langlev

Sound Design: Eli Cohn

Music: Itaal Shur

Design: Eyeball

Story Consultant: Dan Cohen

Editing: Mark Demolar & Manuel Tsingaris

Produced by Alexandra McDougald & Regina Scully

Directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett

2014 (Sundance)



• Dan Cohen

• Oliver Sacks


Production Studio:

Theatrical: Ximotion Media

Video: City Drive Films



Aspect ratio: Variable,  most often 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD25

Bit Rate: Low (12~16 Mbps)

Runtime: 74 minutes

Region: A



English DTS-HD MA 5.1



English SDH



• Ask Dan Cohen (13:35)

• Interview with the Director (19:00)

• Deleted Scenes (35:30)

• Soundtrack (30:40)

• Director’s Commentary

• Theatrical Trailer



Blu-ray Case : BRD x 1

Street Date: November 18, 2014


Product Description

Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music's ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.


Critical Response:

Huffington Post

 Music's therapeutic benefits have been well documented, but a new film called "Alive Inside" set out to examine just how therapeutic it can be in one community in particular -- the elderly. The film, by Michael Rossato-Bennett, and featuring commentary by social worker Dan Cohen and neurologist Oliver Sacks, author of “Musicophilia,” captures the transformation that takes place when nursing home patients are handed iPods loaded with music from their youth.


"He used to always sit on the unit with his head [down]...he didn't really talk," says caretaker Yvonne Russell of an elderly man introduced in the film as "Henry." Henry's daughter describes the once fun-loving man she knew, who used to sing every chance he got, encouraging his children to sing along, even stopping sometimes to sing and swing around poles. Her memory is a stark contrast to the Henry we first see in the film, an old man who's been in the home for ten years and who now sits hunched over in his chair, incapable of answering questions beyond a yes or no. But when Cohen and Sacks put their Music & Memory theory to the test, handing Henry and other patients suffering from degenerative diseases an iPod full of music, a different person emerges. "Immediately he lights up. His face assumes expression, his eyes open wide...he's being animated by the music," Sacks says, describing Henry's reaction. He can even engage in dialogue with an interviewer who asks about the effect the music has on him.


The Hollywood Reporter  

When the Loving Spoonful’s John Sebastian’s sang, “The magic’s in the music and the music’s in me,” he didn’t envision the neurological and healing wonder of his lyric. It turns out that songs are embedded deep in our memories, and Alzheimer patients’ minds can be resuscitated by their favorite music or songs.  In this stirring documentary, [Michael] Rossato-Bennett unveils the healing power of music to reinvigorate memory in nursing-home patients suffering from dementia. Rossato-Bennett follows social worker Dan Cohen, who discovered that a patient’s favorite songs are intact in a part of the brain that is still alive when all other communication and awareness seem irretrievably lost.


We see that the “nursing-home industry” evolved from poor-house roots and merged with today’s concept of sparing families the wear of elder care. The “humane” result:  Alzheimer patients are basically warehoused, soused with meds and propped away in their rooms. In short, “medical” care does not touch the heart and souls of the patients. It merely subdues them. Recognizing that sad and deplorable fact, social worker Cohen tried a different approach:  He provided Dementia sufferers with IPods containing their favorite tunes. . . As the sounds burst out, from Schubert to the Shirelles, their blank faces and somber visages erupt into joy.   They swing and sway, recalling the magical life memories they associate with their favorite songs. The dull deadness of their eyes lights up into a gleaming sparkle, saying “And the music’s in me.” - Duane Byrge


Los Angeles Times

 Think of them as Lazarus moments. One by one, we are introduced to a series of elderly people with serious dementia. People who've barely said a word in years, who don't recognize their own children, who sit around nursing homes like the living dead. Then Dan Cohen does something to them and it's like a switch has been turned on. They become, all of a sudden, gloriously happy and alive. As detailed in the joyous, unexpectedly uplifting "Alive Inside," winner of Sundance's coveted audience award for U.S. documentary, what Cohen has done is place iPod earphones on these people's heads and played what family members have told him is their favorite music. The effect is miraculous.


There's Alice, who so lights up on hearing "When the Saints Go Marching In" that she says in amazement, "I didn't know I could talk so much." There is all-but-comatose John, whose feet start to move in long-forgotten dance movements. And there is Henry, who goes from catatonic to effusive, speaking not just sentences but entire paragraphs, telling the world, "I'm crazy about music. Cab Calloway is my No. 1 guy," before going into a perfect imitation of Calloway's patter.


In a world drowning in bad news about dementia — an estimated 5 million Americans currently suffer, 10 million serve as their caregivers, with both numbers inevitably going up — "Alive Inside" is positively tonic. Though it has points to make about things like the nature of nursing homes and the direction of medical treatment, its raison d'être is to literally show us the power of music to reach and delight the previously unreachable. Though it's partially the way music gets wired into our brains that makes it so effective, there are other, psychological factors as well. The nursing home experience, we are reminded, is one in which residents lose choice in and control over their lives. As one expert says, "They lose independence, dignity, their loved ones." Music, on the other hand, creates spontaneity, giving the listeners the chance to go off into a world of their own creation.”


Yet, regardless of what we see in the film, barriers, largely economic, remain, and this in spite of the fact that, as one gerontologist says, "the money spent on drugs dwarfs what it would take to deliver personal music to every patient in America." Because music doesn't count as a medical interaction, "a $40 personal music system takes a lot more paperwork than a thousand-dollar antidepression pill.” As much a plea to change the system as it is an examination of how music helps individuals, "Alive Inside" is not the most sophisticated documentary, but its power is indisputable, and it does end on a hopeful note. After the scene of Henry waking up appeared on Reddit, it was downloaded more than 7 million times, and there is considerable anecdotal evidence that some of those people tried playing music for dementia patients they were personally connected to. There are also indications that exposure to music helps individuals avoid institutionalization and remain with their families. Maybe people can be raised from the almost dead, even if it has to be done one person at a time. - Kenneth Turan



Image, Audio & Music

The film is essentially sourced from three areas: On the spot visits with various dementia patients and the filmmaker’s music listening experiments with these patients, shown in 1.78:1; “Memory clips” gathered from historical sources - these might be more or less in academy ratio and/or in B&W; and talking head present day interviews with experts in the field, in 1.78:1 again. The walkabout hospital visits have occasional relatively poor contrast control with frequent blowout of overexposed areas. This is not altogether surprising as the director wants to maintain the impression that these interviews are unrehearsed. The interviews themselves are in better control of relative brightness, as are the taking heads portions. The historical footage is variable, but generally acceptable.  Overall bit rate is surprisingly low at about 15 Mbps.

Dialogue is clear at all times, though of course the patients often mumble until the music sparks both memory and a remarkable improvement in speech articulation.  The iPod music that the patients are offered is just enough in the background to make clear this is not part of the soundtrack and Itaal Shur’s supportive score is nicely balanced as well.



Two bonus features feature interviews with the filmmakers: One with Dan Cohen, the driving force behind this experiment; the other with the primary filmmaker himself, Michael Rossato-Bennett. The interviews place the experiment in socio-medical context. The most unusual of the bonus items is spotlights the “soundtrack” composed by Itaal Shur, featuring the composer on piano and Dave Eggar on cello, with help from some friends. The visual offers a comment by Shur as to how the music fits with the scene it supports.  Bass reproduction leaves a lot to be desired as it distorted by virtue of an unnecessary and amateurishly applied enhancement. This affects only two or three tracks. Most of them escape unharmed.



Despite my minor criticisms about the image quality and the soundtrack bonus feature, I think it’s a no-brainer to have to recommend Alive Inside. Without a doubt it is a very uplifting film, and it offers the idea for possible gateways hitherto unexplored, perhaps not even thought of for bringing similarly disinclined people back to life.

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

November 12, 2014

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