In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”


The thriller occupies the same territory as countless science fiction movies about deadly invasions and high-tech conspiracies, but has been made with intelligence and an…

Other reviews
Review Archives

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

It is perfectly cast and soundly constructed, and all else flows naturally. Steve Martin and John Candy don't play characters; they embody themselves.

Other reviews
Great Movie Archives




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.

All the acts in the movie, even the legendary Rev. James Cleveland, are limited to three songs, leading me to wonder what a whole evening with one of these remarkable groups would be like, as they modulated their own performances instead of fitting into a format.

No matter; there is great energy, joy and faith in this movie. The performers, often backed by large choirs, have great musical gifts and also (just as important) great conviction. They seem to believe that the purpose of their singing is to give glory to the Lord as much as to bring glory to themselves, and since this shortcuts the inevitable self-importance of most singers, what we get is very unselfconscious, unrestrained, joyous music.

There are moments in most of the segments where the performers climb down off the stage and interact with the audience, shaking hands, dancing in the aisles, leading singalongs. Some of this feeling is infectious, and seeing this movie with a big audience is part of the idea. The impromptu business on stage can be spontaneous and inventive, as when a backup singer bends down beneath the weight of a microphone stand while miming Christ carrying the cross.

"Gospel" is the sort of movie that doesn't often play in a big commercial theater; it's more likely to turn up on TV, or in some small theater filled with devotees of the art of the documentary. That's OK, but it misses the point, which is that gospel music is as suitable to the concert film treatment as any other kind of music-and maybe more so, since there's a warm interaction with the audience instead of the usual rock group's studied aloofness. Apart from its other qualities, "Gospel" is a whole lot of fun.


Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Netflix's Unorthodox Depicts a Melancholic Escape from Faith

A review of the new miniseries Unorthodox, now playing on Netflix.

Cloud Atlas in the Time of Coronavirus

While the pandemic will pass, our awareness of each other should not.

Home Entertainment Guide: April 2, 2020

The newest on Blu-ray and streaming includes 1917, The Grudge, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Leave Her to Hea...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus