Hoover Street Revival

Hoover Street Revival was inspired by documentary filmmaker Sophie Fiennes’ visit to hear the celebrated gospel choir of Greater Bethany Community Church. The church is located in Watts, one of the most troubled districts of South Los Angeles, where the charismatic and seemingly self-appointed Bishop Noel Jones regularly attracts a congregation of over a thousand people. Bishop Jones (brother, oddly enough, of diva Grace Jones) delivers sermons of electrifying intensity, which are accompanied by some joyous music by the local gospel choir. Fiennes’ film combines coverage of Jones’ pulpit proselytising and ancillary activities (there’s a small industry devoted to selling audio and video tapes of his sermons) with scenes depicting the hard lives of many members of his flock.
To her credit, Fiennes refuses to make obvious connections or false juxtapositions. Eschewing the use of documentary staples such as voiceover narration and ‘talking heads’, her film’s open-ended structure builds up a complex picture of a deprived and troubled community seeking spiritual solace in a secular world that has failed them.
The images are powerful enough to speak for themselves, whether they’re depicting the aftermath of a drive-by shooting or a homeless woman making an inventory of her meager belongings. In interviews, Fiennes has quoted Munch: ‘Art grows out of grief and joy, but mainly grief.’ The point is made most eloquently in the combination of pain and joy expressed in the gospel songs featured in this enlightening film.
(U.K.-France, 2002. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 104 mins.)

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