By James Madden.
Opening with an impromptu solo on the pew in a church, a young girl sings a startling rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’. Her family is seated around her, enjoying the sounds of their child/sister/niece. What follows this diminutive performance is a joyous and sensitive historical and personal exploration of the gospel music and its influences.
Rejoice and Shout is the latest work from director Don McGlynn, a veteran of many music documentaries including Glenn Miller: American’s Music Hero (1992), Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog (1998) and The Legend of Teddy Edwards (2001). With clear precision, McGlynn not only traces the roots of gospel music, but dissects the notion of God and religion that come hand in hand with the musical style.
Featuring interviews with Smokey Robinson and Mavis Staples, rare recordings and clips of (the late) Mahalia Jackson and Blind Boys of Alabama, Rejoice and Shout is a succinct and festive look into the rapturous power of gospel music, and how its roots from the plantation workers in the South of America have inspired a phenomenon (as well as other music styles – blues, rock ‘n’ roll, etc.)
A segment showcasing the stomping, sweating and the overtaken euphoria felt within the interactive African America church is the highlight of Rejoice and Shout. It is the connection with God and gospel music that provides for much entertainment, and curious potential debate. 21st Century atheism poses the validity of the fainting, speaking in tongues and the seemingly unreal possessed state that the church goers fall into, and Rejoice and Shout (perhaps unwittingly) provides an outlet for this contentious topic.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, the sounds of gospel choirs and singers seen in Rejoice and Shout are something worth seeing, and the sheer vocal power alone is enough to inspire a spiritual insight into a world filled with soul.
USA, dir: Don McGlynn, 115 mins.
Rejoice and Shout is playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Friday 30 July at 7pm and Sunday 8th August at 2.30pm.