Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2015
Directed by
Jessica Edwards
80 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Jessica Edwards’ documentary follows the standard show-biz legend doco format, seen in examples such as Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, splitting its time between the performer on their current tour and cutting this with archival material to tell the story of how the subject got where they are.  Unsurprisingly, one finds out that they didn’t get to be legends for nothing and Mavis Staples is no exception.

Mavis was the lead singer of The Staple Singers, a family group headed up by Roebuck “Pops” Staples and including Mavis’s brother Pervis and sisters, Cleotha and Yvonne,  which emerged from Chicago’s South Side - home to the likes of Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield - in the 1960s.  Mavis! is takes us the group’s origins in local church performances and their career high at the top of the soul charts in the 1970s and beyond

Edwards gives us the cultural and historical background to the music, through the heady days of the civil rights movement and Black Power, and looks at Mavis’s solo career, one which for a time included a collaboration with Prince (a deeply religious woman, Mavis struggled with performing outside of the family context and without the guidance of Pops who died in 2000). This is combined with newly filmed interviews with family, colleagues  and fellow artists such as Bonnie Raitt and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco (as well as, surprisingly, Bob Dylan, whose folk music songs were strongly connected to The Staple Singers via the civil rights movement). Edwards  mixes all this with the now 75-year old Mavis belting it out in front of her touring band and amply demonstrating the importance of the past in the present.

The point of this kind of film is to celebrate the artist and given that brief Edwards' film succeeds.  No doubt a lot of people who only know the Staples’ big hits like “I’ll Take You There” and  “Respect Yourself”, will be searching out more of Mavis’s group and solo work. That can only be a good thing.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst