Sunday, August 28, 2016
Written and directed by Jessica Edwards, Mavis! is a documentary film about the life of legendary soul/gospel singer Mavis Staples as she embarks on another tour while talking about her life with the Staple Singers that featured her siblings and their father Pops Staples as well as her solo work. The film follows Mavis as she goes through a revival while showcasing footage of her work as a vocalist where she still manages to play to an audience wanting to hear her music. The result is a fascinating and joyful film from Jessica Edwards.
From the late 1950s to the 1970s, the Staple Singers were considered the definitive soundtrack for many in the Civil Rights movement as it consisted vocalist/guitarist Pops Staples and a revolving door of his children who would sing in the group with the exception of its lead vocalist in Mavis Staples. Shot largely from 2012 to 2014, the film follows Mavis Staples as she goes on the road touring and playing shows while also talking about her life in the group as she’s accompanied by her sister Yvonne who sings backup for Mavis in the solo tour while also handling some of the business aspects for Mavis. The film’s narrative moves back and forth into Mavis’ life as a popular soul/gospel singer and going on the road while remaining humble about her status as an icon.
The film also play into the group’s history as well as Mavis’ own solo career which had some moderate success as she was more interested being with the family. Mavis talks about a lot of the music she and her family made as well as being accepted into the world of the folk music scene in the 1960s where they gave their own interpretation of folk songs including the ones written by Bob Dylan who appears in the film through archival footage. Along with interviews from music critic Greg Kot, Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy, country music artist Marty Stuart, Bonnie Raitt, Chuck D of Public Enemy, and people in Mavis’ band, the film play into the world that Mavis lives in as well as the world of gospel music and why the Staple Singers were considered influential.
Jessica Edwards’ direction is straightforward where she manages to balance the film’s back-and-forth narrative while providing some insight into moments where Mavis performs live to an audience whether it’s at a music hall or in a festival. Even as she would capture a rare moment with Levon Helm of the Band during a visit before his death in 2012 where Mavis talks highly about the song she sang with them in The Weight in the 1978 film The Last Waltz. With the aid of cinematographer Keith Walker in shooting the interviews and concerts as well as editor Amy Foote compiling all of the footage of the many appearances of the Staple Singers on TV as well as a rare clip of Mavis working with Prince in the late 1980s. Sound editor Brian Bracken and sound designer Lou Teti do nice work in capturing the sound of the music as well as presenting some of the rare recordings including an album Pops Staples was making before his death in 2000 which was finished by Mavis and Jeff Tweedy.
Mavis! is an extraordinary film from Jessica Edwards that explores the life and career of Mavis Staples. It’s a film that isn’t just fun to watch but also engaging for the way it explores a woman’s life and her love of music where she manages to maintain that sense of spirit in an age where all forms of music are being compromised for the masses. In the end, Mavis! is a marvelous film from Jessica Edwards.
© thevoid99 2016