The new film “Rejoice and Shout” takes viewers back to the exuberant history of one of the most influential musical traditions born in the African-American Christian culture.
The historical film was directed by Don McGlynn, whose films also include “The Howlin’ Wolf Story,” “The Legend of Teddy Edwards,” and “Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog.” He expressed to The Christian Post that he had “never had a film that was this sprawling and huge.”
"Rejoice and Shout” traces the evolution of the gospel style leading to today’s musical genres such as blues, swing, soul, rap and hip hop as well as contemporary gospel.
The documentary finds its roots in the American South when only music proved to be an escape and freedom from slavery, hate and violence among the black community.
The story of this music is one that needed to be told, Joe Lauro, president of Historic Films, shared with CP. Since his childhood he has been collecting music footage dating back as early as 1925. After 10 years of strenuous research he was able to recompile about 150 hours of gospel material, giving him enough to choose from.
“In those 10 years I just kept acquiring and searching for archival material that became the core of ‘Rejoice and Shout.’ So in one way the 10 years that it took to make it came in handy because we found 150 hours of material to choose from,” Lauro said.
For McGlynn, this was a film that really needed to be done.
“There has been no real gospel history ever made and certainly not tried to encapsulate it into two hours,” he said. “I always thought that it was really weird that all these great clips had gone unused all these years.”
McGlynn took on the job of watching every film and clip and while he found it to be a pleasure, “it was also tough because you watch it and think 'oh that's great, that's great, that's great' but finally I felt some confidence because about a half of the film I could see the frame of the film because it was 'this nice clip, this nice clip.' But then the problem was, two years later, how do you structure the story around these clips and that was very arduous to sort of distill this very sprawling 200-year story and put all these great clips that Joe found together.”
During the making of the film, which took about four years – two years of it was spent in the editing room – they found that even though the music has changed, the message all the artists portrayed through their music always remained the same, said Lauro.
McGlynn explained by adding, “I think one of the intriguing thing is if you hear an English hymn written in the 1700s they are not really that different from the content of what you hear now.
“The sources are always going to the Bible. So a lot of the language and a lot of the emotions and a lot of the thoughts come from right there.”
Aside from choosing the right clips for the film, they also had to be careful so as not to make it look like people who are acting abnormally crazy.
“We in fact had to cut back on certain aspects of the craziness because we didn't want to feel we were exploiting that crazy part of it. We had to keep it into a context to also show that there were other ways that the music went over,” Lauro emphasized.
While they feel that the exuberant spiritual experience is genuine, they are aware of others who exploit the extreme behavior and make it look like a show.
Regardless, it is the authenticity of the experience that attracted both McGlynn and Lauro to the church.
Growing up Catholic, Lauro didn’t find any interest in church after he turned 15. He regrets not being introduced to a gospel church because as a musician “it talks to me,” he said.
“It's … the emotions are right out there and it's just so real. I never really got that. Nothing against my church of course but I just find that I relate to this type of worship more personally,” Lauro shared.
While he doesn’t go to church often, he now attends a local Baptist church in his community.
Meanwhile, McGlynn is proud to say he began going to church again in part because of his children. “I find that very relaxing and very pleasant to go back to church again. It's sort of brings me back to my youth. And I'm happy that it's giving a moral compass to my son who just had his first communion two weeks ago.”
They concluded by sharing that no matter what, the power of gospel music has always led to the same message – “feeling the Lord.”
The film opened Friday June 3.