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Rejoice and Shout: movie review

The documentary ‘Rejoice and shout’ celebrates giants of gospel music and its God-centered heart.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / June 10, 2011

The Staple Singers are featured in the documentary film 'Rejoice and Shout.'

Magnolia Pictures

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The wonderful new gospel music documentary "Rejoice and Shout" opens not with an exploration of sound but of faith. Smokey Robinson says he prays to God all day long. Speaking of the people who faint or lose themselves in the religion, he says: "When I was a kid, that was one of the reasons I really didn't go to church with my mom, because, at that age, I didn't understand the impact of the Holy Spirit. That frightened me, until I had grown and the Holy Spirit impacted me."

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We hear from Mavis Staples: "I believe if I ask the Lord for something, it is coming. It might not be today; it might be tomorrow. But when it comes, it's gonna be right on time."

And Pastor Andraé Crouch: "If we really heard the voice of God, we'd be reduced to juice. The vibrations of his voice would reduce us to liquid. So He has to use other people to speak his word."

Because I was expecting the usual historical approach to gospel music, these hosannas at first seemed off-putting. But really, they are essential. As the producer Joe Lauro has explained: "The No. 1 thing you need to know before anything else is you really have to see what these people feel about God and how they express it in the music." They don't call it gospel music for nothing.

This is not to say that "Rejoice and Shout" skimps on the history – quite the opposite. There have been other terrific documentaries about gospel – like the concert film "Gospel" and George Nierenberg's "Say Amen, Somebody," which focused on "Professor" Thomas A. Dorsey, who wrote the lyrics for "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," and "Mother" Willie Mae Ford Smith – but this is the first gospel film to draw on an incalculably rich archive of material going back more than 100 years.

A fan and collector of American music, Lauro is also the founder of a stock footage library that is home to more than 45,000 hours of vintage television clips, feature films, and newsreels. In 10 years he amassed more than 150 hours of gospel material. "Rejoice and Shout," which was directed by Lauro's frequent collaborator Don McGlynn, represents the cream of that footage.

And what footage! The point is made that gospel, as opposed to other forms of music, was recorded early, both on disc and on film, perhaps because it was considered "God's music" and therefore important to document. We hear a rare 78 r.p.m. record from 1902 of the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet, who traveled the country playing tent shows and black vaudeville, singing "Gabriel's Trumpet." Says Lauro: "This is about as close as you can get to the way it sounded during slavery days." Lauro and McGlynn understand, too, that these clips must be experienced whole. They let the music unfold in real time, not snippets.

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