Say Amen, Somebody! (1982)
Prof. Thomas A. Dorsey was the father of gospel, the man credited with “pepping up” church music to create a genre all his own. Willie May Ford Smith never achieved the “household name” status of Mahalia Jackson, but if Dorsey was gopel’s patriarch, Smith played mother to the form. One guesses the overwhelming success of Amazing Grace prompted the reissue here, but unlike the Aretha Franklin documentary, these gospel performers get to leave the church. Seeing the stars in their natural habitat or touring the neighborhood to point out highlights can’t help but add to the film’s charm. Director George T. Nierenberg’s relaxed pace, coupled with the amount of love that went into making the picture, might qualify it as a home movie were it not for the Ed Lachman’s colorful cinematography. (Budding cameraman Lachman was fresh off of filming documentaries for Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.) There’s no holy-roller sermonizing, no frenetic religiosity; Nienberg’s documentary is all about the music — which some churchgoers were initially quick to frown upon, due to its bluesy nature — and its begetters.