I saw the light

Minneaplis native Don McGlynn premiers his movie about gospel to Minneapolis on Friday.

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970:  Photo of Mahalia Jackson  Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Mahalia Jackson Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Mark Brenden

âÄúRejoice and ShoutâÄù

Where: Edina Cinema Cinema, 3911 West 50th St, Edina

When: Friday, Director introduction at 7 p.m., Q&A after the showing

Making a film about gospel music is the same as making one about rock âÄònâÄô roll, except it polarizes differently. Those who might be offended by the evil of rock âÄònâÄô roll will find comfort in the good clean fun of gospel music. Those who relish in the rebellion of the former may be put-off by the overt Christian message of the latter.

That said, Magnolia pictures picked the right director to make their comprehensive documentary on the history of African-American gospel music, titled âÄúRejoice and Shout.âÄù Don McGlynn, a Minneapolis native, has made movies about rock âÄònâÄô roll, the blues, jazz and comedy music. Friday night, McGlynn will introduce his ode to gospel at the Lagoon and will stick around for a Q&A after the showing.

Whereas his previous music documentaries concentrated on an individual artist, such as Charles Mingus, Spike Jones and HowlinâÄô Wolf, âÄúRejoice and ShoutâÄù takes on an entire cultural movement that spans 200 years, something McGlynn said he was at once both excited and wary about. The project took four years to complete.

âÄúCondensing one personâÄôs story is hard enough to do in one film. Condensing a 200-year story of African-American Christian music was really crazy, actually. I wouldnâÄôt give up until we did the best job possible in those two hours,âÄù McGynn said.

Magnolia pictures approached McGlynn, who now lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark, and asked him to make a two-hour history of American gospel music. He wanted the focus to be on the history of African-American gospel music in particular, and thatâÄôs what he got. Several friends asked him why he didnâÄôt include Elvis Presley singing âÄúPeace in the ValleyâÄù or other renditions from Caucasians, but McGlynn stuck to his guns.

âÄúI think some people wanted to have something else they could relate to in the film. But I think it was important that we just stay to the topic,âÄù he said.

Another aspect of the film that many viewers will not be able to relate to is its subject matterâÄôs unabashed Christian faith. Though McGlynn admits he too is a Christian, he doesnâÄôt think that religion should get in the way of the art form or alienate any viewers. And thatâÄôs why thereâÄôs merit in showing Smokey Robinson and Mavis Staples profess their unconditional love for a Christian God âÄî itâÄôs the lifeblood behind this electrifying musical movement that Robinson calls âÄúthe root of all American music.âÄù

âÄúI didnâÄôt wanna beat the drum for Christianity. I donâÄôt think that was my job. I just wanted to explain to people that this music is really powerful, and thatâÄôs because of these strong emotional connections,âÄù McGlynn said.

Though âÄúRejoice and ShoutâÄù is overwhelmingly glowing in its depiction of gospel and its Christian lean may estrange certain viewers, itâÄôs ultimately an entertaining and thorough documentary about an undeniably significant cultural movement. ItâÄôd simply be negligent to make a gospel movie without giving context to what makes the singers so passionate. ThatâÄôd be like making a rock âÄònâÄô roll documentary without mentioning drugs.