Sunday, February 06, 2005

Movie Review: Say Amen, Somebody

United States, 1982
Running Time: 1:40
Rated: G
Cast: Willie Mae Ford Smith, Thomas A. Dorsey, Sallie Martin, Edward O’Neal, Edgar O’Neal, DeLois Barrett Campbell, Zella Jackson Price

Director: George T. Nierenberg
Producers: George T. Nierenberg and Karen Nierenberg
Studio: United Artists

Posted by Hello
Say Amen, Somebody is a stimulating and spirited documentary that focuses on the art of gospel music. Through a succession of spiritual revivals, performances, and interviews with some of the biggest names in the gospel game, Say Amen, Somebody provides enriching entertainment that will get your toes tapping and your hands clapping. However, Say Amen, Somebody is not only a production worth clapping for in rhythm, but also a picture worth applauding for in approval.

The film mainly centers on “Professor” Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of Gospel music, and Madame Willie Mae Ford Smith, a female “anointed singer” who revolutionized the genre. Via these two gospel geniuses and others (including “The O’Neal Twins”, “The Barrett Sisters”, and Thomas A. Dorsey’s longtime manager Sallie Martin), the audience becomes filled with the faith and hope of the African-American Christian community.

With such hits as The Barrett Sisters’ “The Storm is Passing Over” and The O’Neal Twins’ “Jesus Dropped the Charges”, the film shows its players as musical evangelists who are both spreading God’s “good news” and sending the Holy Spirit into the hearts of many. In addition to these two heartfelt charts, the performances of “Jesus Loves Me” and Dorsey’s own “Take my Hand, Precious Lord”, at the 1982 Gospel Singers’ Convention in St. Louis, provide for an inspiring and uplifting climax.

All in all, Say Amen, Somebody can best be described as spiritual soul food. It’s all about the communion of faithful and passionate people in song. It unleashes an essence of joy like no other documentary I’ve seen to date. It has the power to win over any comer—Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise. It sings of surrendering to the Lord, persevering over the Devil, and living on the Lord’s shoulder. And in all of its earnestness, Say Amen, Somebody even comes equipped with a few moments to chuckle—in particular, when Madame Smith comments on women speaking in Church and when Thomas and Sallie argue over where the first Gospel Singers’ Convention was held.

After all of the film’s “hallelujahs” are said and the credits roll, it is easy to recall a scene that takes place about three-quarters of the way into the film, where the family attempts to harmonize around the dinner table. Harmony is not only a virtue that this world can always use more of, but it is also a feeling that this film so infectiously spreads. By the end of this powerful production, you’ll be on your feet and ready to respond to the commanding title with a bold, triumphant, and apropos “Amen!” (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005