DVD & Blu-ray

Gospel Ac­cord­ing To Al Green

UNCUT - - Iron & Wine Omd Steven Wilson Kd Lang U2 Sly Stone - By Jason An­der­son

Al Green, Amer­i­can Gods

The South­ern soul leg­end gets good with God and then some in re­stored edi­tion of sub­lime 1984 doc.

Be­SIDeS be­ing one of the most joy­ful and pow­er­ful film pro­files of a ma­jor mu­si­cal artist ever made, Gospel Ac­cord­ing To Al

Green ad­heres aw­fully well to Wil­lie Mitchell’s de­scrip­tion of a great song. Al Green’s clos­est col­lab­o­ra­tor dur­ing the first sec­u­lar phase of his ca­reer, Mitchell ex­plains that a song shouldn’t stay in one place. In­stead, it should be like “climb­ing a moun­tain”. When you “don’t have any more el­e­va­tion”, it’s time to fade it out or cut it off. The real magic, Mitchell im­plies, is fig­ur­ing out how high you can climb.

ev­i­dently, director Robert Mugge was lis­ten­ing care­fully to Mitchell’s ad­vice, judg­ing by the film’s ec­static fi­nale – a glo­ri­ous 30-minute se­quence fea­tur­ing Green in full flight, singing and preach­ing to his con­gre­ga­tion. It is rich re­ward for Mugge’s per­sis­tence; the US director chased Green for 13 months for per­mis­sion to in­ter­view and film him in ac­tion. The doc­u­men­tary – newly re­stored for this DVD and Blu-ray edi­tion – was Mugge’s sec­ond project for Chan­nel 4 af­ter Black Wax, his 1982 film on Gil Scot­tHeron. Though he was ini­tially asked to pro­file gospel star An­draé Crouch, Mugge be­lieved Green made for a more com­pelling sub­ject, the singer hav­ing turned away from soul in the late ’70s to help spread the gospel as the min­is­ter of his own Bap­tist church in Mem­phis. Af­ter get­ting Green’s ap­proval, Mugge hastily ar­ranged to shoot the church’s sev­enth-an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion in 1983 with three 16mm cam­eras and a 24-track record­ing truck. It was the first (and ap­par­ently still the only) ser­vice by Green to be ex­ten­sively filmed. A few months later, Mugge shot Green and his band per­form­ing at an Amer­i­can Air Force base in Washington, DC. As pre­sented here in the orig­i­nal film’s 4K restora­tion, the re­sults of both shoots are stun­ning. In­deed, it’s another tes­ta­ment to Mugge’s tal­ent and for­ti­tude that he’s able to keep a cam­era steady on his ex­u­ber­ant sub­ject as he bounces on his heels be­fore his lectern in his tan-coloured suit, or bounds through the DC crowd to shake hands and share love.

De­spite his ini­tial ret­i­cence, Green made for a re­mark­ably warm and can­did sub­ject dur­ing the film’s cen­tral in­ter­view, shot dur­ing re­hearsals for the ser­vice. Though Green’s more ju­bi­lant when re­flect­ing on his hard-won break­through with “Tired Of Be­ing Alone” and the “charge of elec­tric­ity” that prompted his con­ver­sion in 1973, he’s still plenty forth­com­ing on the topic of “the in­ci­dent”. That was the night in 1974 when then-girl­friend Mary Wood­son scalded him with hot grits be­fore fa­tally shoot­ing her­self in his home. Speak­ing about it pub­licly for the first time, he re­lates the sad and grisly de­tails like a man who can scarcely be­lieve the story him­self. “Did that ac­tu­ally hap­pen?” he won­ders. “I’m ask­ing you – I’m not play­ing it for the movie.” He’s sim­i­larly frank about the com­pli­ca­tions caused by his new­found faith as he wres­tled with his de­ci­sion to change course: “I mean, I got a mil­lion-dol­lar ca­reer go­ing here and I’m telling peo­ple they got to talk to Je­sus?”

Per­haps what’s most sur­pris­ing about Mugge’s film is how much it com­pli­cates any pre­sump­tions about the lines Green drew be­tween the sec­u­lar and the spir­i­tual when he cast his thoughts heav­en­ward. For in­stance, he has no ap­par­ent mis­giv­ings about lead­ing his mu­si­cians and singers through a ren­di­tion of “Let’s Stay To­gether” in the re­hearsal stu­dio. What’s more, he freely and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally ad­mits to ap­ply­ing the lessons he learned as a soul per­former to his role as a man of God. “I took what I learned from the rock’n’roll,” he says. “The in­ge­nu­ity, the class, the charisma, the steps, the move­ment, the hes­i­ta­tion, the wait, the way to be cu­ri­ous. You take all of this that you learn in pop and rhythm-and-blues and you use it to your best ad­van­tage.”

The ad­di­tional in­gre­di­ent, of course, is the “spir­i­tual fire”. That’s what we wit­ness in Gospel Ac­cord­ing To Al Green’s sub­lime fi­nale, along with the as­ton­ish­ing prow­ess of a rare per­former who’s able to sur­ren­der to the mo­ment yet re­main ut­terly in com­mand.

Ex­tras: 8/10. Along with over­see­ing the orig­i­nal film’s 4K re­mas­ter, Mugge also cre­ated a new seven-minute Mak­ing Of doc. The set in­cludes the com­plete au­dio of the in­ter­view and the whole an­niver­sary church ser­vice, an ex­tended se­quence for one song, and a phone mes­sage by Green for Mugge.

Full of fire: Al Green preach­ing and singing at his Full Gospel Taber­na­cle Church in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, De­cem­ber 18, 1983

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