Director: Jessica Edwards
Film First Co./Home Box Office (HBO)
I’ve seen Staples perform three times in recent years, highlights in every show and I’ve been charmed by her as an interview subject. She’s funny, wise – humble – and you’re dealing with someone who as part of The Staples Singers family band had a deep connection to the Civil Rights Movement, was courted by a young Bob Dylan (so their story goes, and they’re sticking to it!) and worked with so many great names in music.
There was a mid-80s attempt at a comeback with a couple of Prince-produced albums (the film features some great clips from this period) and then, more successfully the Ry Cooder-assisted comeback album that has carried on over to a winning collaboration with Jeff Tweedy (most recently Tweedy helped Mavis assemble a lovely tribute to Pops, his final recordings only subtly tweaked).
Okay, the documentary skips over few things – the Cooder album seems to be ignored in favour of a far less interesting Tweedy one (since they have the access to Tweedy, he’s there in the film) but it is lovely seeing the connection between Mavis and Jeff. It speaks to her humility, love of music and vitality. She’s a musical soul. Likewise, it’s lovely seeing her connect with her sister Yvonne, a backing singer in Mavis’ current line-up. The pair inseparable, travelling companions, sisters, bandmates.
The only real niggle you could have with this film is knowing some of the story already.
But it deserves all of the kudos it’s receiving because it’s been carefully crafted so that we never get bogged down in one particular period and yet we feel like we get the full span of Staples’ career and life. She’s 75 years young. And as a glowing portrait of a living legend this should be of any interest to music fans who know the name but perhaps don’t know all of the story. And also to the fans who consider Mavis one of the great voices in mainstream soul and gospel.