“Rejoice and Shout” is a feature-length documentary, from director Don McGlynn, about the history of Gospel music. It’s described as a rhythmic, ancestral pillar that African-Americans used to sustain themselves and to keep sane during their centuries in slavery. It told the audience that, at least at church, beyond the anglo gaze, “I am Somebody!”
A staple of the documentary genre is cutting between archival and interview footage. This film does that. It tells an interesting, surprising and entertaining story, omitting any dogma that you might expect. It runs down the time-line of the genre and its innovations, some typical, others “unholy.”
It shows at the Edina Cinema for a week starting on July 8. This documentary provides a who’s who of the indelible and most potent Gospel artists, also dredging up memories of folks who time might have forgotten. “Rejoice and Shout” makes clear that as long as the music is understood as honoring God, then it should please Him and in-turn his followers.
It tells about Gospel music’s pivotal personalities, trends and game-changing innovations, it tells about clashing sensibilities of faith and styles of music. At the heart of some innovations is a question: isn’t it unholy marry rap with gospel, or blues with gospel, or any popular music with that pious one?
This story tells us how Thomas A. Dorsey, while ultimately revered, caught hell for having mixed the blues with Gospel, making what some considered heretical. (Ray Charles had similar clashes when he took those chances.) It tells us how Rosetta Tharpe, who may be less known than Mavis Staples, inspired the latter to take up the guitar; before Ms. Tharpe did it, Ms. Staples hadn’t known that it was possible. And without the Dixie Hummingbirds, The Temptations might not’ve been.
Many documentaries are more creative, with editing, location and other choices, and take chances with their storytelling. “Rejoice and Shout” is a strong, competent film.