‘Stay Prayed Up’ Review – The Hollywood Reporter

An impressive number of musicians from North Carolina have been hailed: blues guitarist Etta Baker, funk queen Betty Davis, Soul senior nun Nina Simone and rapsody typist to name just a few. surname number. With Always pray, a passionate documentary directed by DL Anderson and Matt Durning, 82-year-old gospel singer Lena Mae Perry will take her place among these greats.

Always pray, which premiered at Telluride and has continued its most epic tour yet with screenings at DOC NYC, documenting the journey Perry and her band, The Branchettes, go on to record their first live album surname. It’s a concert film packed with biography and appreciation for a sacred and intriguing genre. The power of gospel music comes to life here, and the subjects of physicians, who practiced this fervent form, keep it engaging.

Always pray

Key point

Spiritual and gentle.

Meeting: DOC NYC (Sonic Cinema)
Director: DL Anderson, Matt Durning

1 hour 13 minutes

The documentary begins at the end, which is the opening moment of the film, capturing Perry and the other members of The Branchettes preparing to take part in their live performance. “Welcome to the main event,” one English child says to the camera, pointing behind the white church building. “If you guys love churches, this event is truly church. If you guys just want to watch the fun and check in on your friends, most of your friends might even be there. ” His impromptu introduction warmly welcomes us into the world of Long Branch Disciples of Christ Church in Johnston County, North Carolina. The scenes that follow are visual manipulations: a close-up shot of the door. stained-glass windows, wooden-covered keyboards decorated with blue and white flowers, Bibles tucked into baskets behind each peg, and clasped hands, of performers, while a prayer is led by Perry.

The music is introduced early and strongly. The film shifts from prayer to band performing on stage. Perry, dressed in her Sunday best (silver dress and matching jacket, sparkly white shoes, elegant pearl earrings, and hair perfectly pulled up), belted her belt into the microphone while holding it. bouncing from side to side. Her beautiful vocals, backed by a spirited piano, brought the crowd to life. Joy is self-evident, even contagious. This – the ability to awaken crowds – is her magic.

Now, magic doesn’t mean she’s superhuman. Always pray balance clips of Perry singing with stories about her life. Born in Benson, North Carolina, Perry founded The Branchettes with her friends Ethel Elliot and Mary Ellen Bennett in 1973. They met as members of the Long Branch Disciples of senior choir. Christ before taking the field himself. Wilbur Tharpe, the band’s jovial pianist, said: “They’re very strong singers, those three women. They could get along, and they would tour the country – and even once to Northern Ireland – to perform their hymns. The archival footage of Perry and her bandmates inspires the same chills as more recent clips. She always seems to have a round and vibrant voice.

The film’s most influential moments, however, are the moments Perry experiences about her life. Through it, another portrait of her emerges – an intrepid woman guided by a spirit of determination, community, and good times.

American guitarist Phil Cook was among those in Perry’s circle – which included Tharpe, her children, her friend Dr Hattie Lofton and her current bandmates – who added into the captivating anecdotes of the Queen of England. They told us about Mae’s Country Kitchen, the restaurant she owns. There is no judgment in its four walls, which allows the space to double as a community hub. Perry will serve food and a kind word to anyone who needs to hear it. That kindness extends into her personal life, and the film has a particularly moving scene in which Perry makes weekly phone calls to friends. Sitting on the porch of her home in Raleigh, she flipped through the phone book – filled with numbers and names – and dialed the numbers meticulously. If they can’t be reached, she leaves a message.

Perry’s generosity in sharing details about her life confirms the strength of her faith. She spoke freely about the loss of her eldest son, who died in battle overseas (she was not involved in any wars he was in), and about wanting to help those in need. Others feel less alone in their darkest moments. Her views on the power of gospel music are both real and mystical. She sings to reach people who may not have found their way to God, engage with those already there, and share with anyone who needs its energy.

Her naturally absorbing presence might explain some Always praySpare parts aesthetic and simple structure. The documentary switches to near-simple visual language, with unfussy footage, as it recorded the week before the live album was recorded. Directors use community intelligence as a source of knowledge. While these decisions make sense, part of me wanted the documentary to expand my community and explore more of North Carolina, a state with a rich musical history. I was eager to learn more about the groups the Branchettes interacted with during their early years, and how the gospel shaped this state and its people.

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