Movie traces 100 years of U.S. history through gospel music.
Music historian Don McGlynn has made films about comic bandleader Spike Jonze, Minnesota folk giant Spider John Koerner and a portrait of renegade jazz genius Charles Mingus that took nine years to complete. But the 55-year-old Edina native calls his new project, "Rejoice & Shout," his magnum opus. That's both because of the research this sweeping gospel music documentary entailed and the spiritual resonance the film holds for him.
"This film is both about music and faith at their most elemental," the director/editor said this week while returning to the Twin Cities from his Copenhagen home. "It's really overpowering to hear this music in person, and we tried as much as possible to capture that experience in making this film. We wanted it to feel like an extraordinary concert, so we made an enveloping sound mix to bathe you in this music."
Whether that will be a viewer's first baptism in gospel or a return to a familiar musical refuge, "Rejoice & Shout" is a joyous experience. The challenge in creating a historical nonfiction music film is getting the right balance of information and song; McGlynn wisely stressed the music.
McGlynn assembled the film as a loosely chronological review of song styles from slavery through the depression and civil rights movement. He created the film with material culled from producer Joe Lauro's massive collection of performance film and video, supplementing the archival footage with new interviews featuring such luminaries as Mavis Staples and Smokey Robinson. The performers include the Dixie Hummingbirds, Mahalia Jackson, the Swan Silvertones, and rocking singer/electric guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharp. It's a package of talent that could blow a hole through a stained-glass window.
"American pop music wouldn't be possible without gospel," McGlynn said, and his film is a persuasive argument.