Rejoice and Shout | Film review
A doc on gospel may have you begging for mercy.
McGlynn’s gospel documentary pays tribute to the ecstatic praise-singing tradition of the American black church, but the film itself is the equivalent of a long Sunday sermon: earnest, bland and unfathomably dull. The sheer weight of talent involved is staggering—there are interviews with Mavis Staples, Smokey Robinson and the Dixie Hummingbirds’ Ira Tucker, and vintage clips of Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Swan Silvertones—but Rejoice and Shout’s baggy two hours would be better spent searching YouTube.
Though McGlynn doesn’t neglect secular crossovers—both Sam Cooke and Al Green rate passing mentions—the director skips over the fascinating era when veteran gospel singers controversially turned their sacred style to pop songs, in some cases rewriting hymns to express more earthly loves. Tucker, who died in 2008, alludes to the fierce rivalries that sprang up among gospel groups in the music’s heyday, but the brief flashes of drama don’t disrupt the unending, and largely unstructured, string of wasn’t-it-great reminiscences. No movie that includes Tharpe’s blistering electric guitar and the soaring falsetto of the Swan Silvertones’ Claude Jeter can be all bad, but it’s astonishing how little this time capsule adds to its phenomenal source material. You might even call it a miracle.