“Rejoice and Shout”
Where: Edina Cinema Cinema, 3911 West 50th St, Edina
When: Friday, Director introduction at 7 p.m., Q&A after the showing
Making a film about gospel music is the same as making one about rock ‘n’ roll, except it polarizes differently. Those who might be offended by the evil of rock ‘n’ roll will find comfort in the good clean fun of gospel music. Those who relish in the rebellion of the former may be put-off by the overt Christian message of the latter.
That said, Magnolia pictures picked the right director to make their comprehensive documentary on the history of African-American gospel music, titled “Rejoice and Shout.” Don McGlynn, a Minneapolis native, has made movies about rock ‘n’ roll, the blues, jazz and comedy music. Friday night, McGlynn will introduce his ode to gospel at the Lagoon and will stick around for a Q&A after the showing.
Whereas his previous music documentaries concentrated on an individual artist, such as Charles Mingus, Spike Jones and Howlin’ Wolf, “Rejoice and Shout” takes on an entire cultural movement that spans 200 years, something McGlynn said he was at once both excited and wary about. The project took four years to complete.
“Condensing one person’s story is hard enough to do in one film. Condensing a 200-year story of African-American Christian music was really crazy, actually. I wouldn’t give up until we did the best job possible in those two hours,” McGynn said.
Magnolia pictures approached McGlynn, who now lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark, and asked him to make a two-hour history of American gospel music. He wanted the focus to be on the history of African-American gospel music in particular, and that’s what he got. Several friends asked him why he didn’t include Elvis Presley singing “Peace in the Valley” or other renditions from Caucasians, but McGlynn stuck to his guns.
“I think some people wanted to have something else they could relate to in the film. But I think it was important that we just stay to the topic,” he said.
Another aspect of the film that many viewers will not be able to relate to is its subject matter’s unabashed Christian faith. Though McGlynn admits he too is a Christian, he doesn’t think that religion should get in the way of the art form or alienate any viewers. And that’s why there’s merit in showing Smokey Robinson and Mavis Staples profess their unconditional love for a Christian God — it’s the lifeblood behind this electrifying musical movement that Robinson calls “the root of all American music.”
“I didn’t wanna beat the drum for Christianity. I don’t think that was my job. I just wanted to explain to people that this music is really powerful, and that’s because of these strong emotional connections,” McGlynn said.
Though “Rejoice and Shout” is overwhelmingly glowing in its depiction of gospel and its Christian lean may estrange certain viewers, it’s ultimately an entertaining and thorough documentary about an undeniably significant cultural movement. It’d simply be negligent to make a gospel movie without giving context to what makes the singers so passionate. That’d be like making a rock ‘n’ roll documentary without mentioning drugs.
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