American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
On the basis of two movies about gospel music I've seen recently, I'm beginning to sample some of those broadcasts from Chicago's black churches that turn up on FM stations all day Sunday. Maybe I'm realizing, belatedly, that I'm missing a thriving musical form here in Chicago.
One of the movies is "Gospel," a lively, exuberant concert film playing at the United Artists. The other one was "Say Amen, Somebody," which I saw last August at the Telluride Film Festival, and which is both a concert film and a documentary about such pioneers of gospel as Chicago's Dr. Thomas A. Dorsey and St. Louis's Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith.
"Say Amen, Somebody" is an extraordinary film, a documentary masterpiece. It will be playing later this year at one of the Fine Arts theaters on S. Michigan. 'Gospel" is a less ambitious film; it just wants to be a concert film, and contains no offstage or biographical material about its performers. But seen simply as music and performance, it's a great experience.
The movie apparently was shot during a marathon all-star gospel concert somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, inside what looks like a grand old movie palace. Its structure is nothing if not straightforward. A booming offstage announcer's voice shouts something like "Ladies and gentlemen, the Mighty Clouds of Joy!" And then we get three songs from the Mighty Clouds of Joy.