(2021) Music Documentary (Lionsgate) Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Toby Mac, Kirk Franklin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael Sweet, Phil Keaggy, Eddie DeGarmo, Glenn Kaiser, Tommy Coomes, Chuck Girard, Greg Laurie, John Styll, Matthew Ward, Mike Norman, Joel Smallbone, John Cooper, Chris Tomlin, Lauren Daigle, Jennifer Cooke, Phil Joel, Michael Tait, Natalie Grant. Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin
Like it or not, evangelical Christianity is a part of American culture. In the Seventies there was a massive return to Christianity by baby boomers disenchanted with the strife of the Sixties and with the state of the world and American morality in general. Even in the counterculture, many hippies found themselves feeling that free love, drugs and some of the philosophies of different world religions didn’t bring them the peace they sought.
Some of the hippies congregated at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California – one of the few churches that welcomed long haired freaky people (who need not apply for jobs, as the Five Man Electrical Band noted). Some of them began to form bands, as disaffected young people will, but in this case they were forming bands with a Christian message. Groups like Love Song and Second Acts of Apostles began to sprout up, as did the ascendency of Larry Norman, considered by many the father of Christian rock and roll.
This fairly informative documentary chronicles the rise of the multi-billion dollar Contemporary Christian music industry from these humble beginnings. The filmmakers chat with folks like Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, who in the Eighties really started the explosion of Christian music into the mainstream, followed by bands like DC Talk in the decade that followed.
For those, like myself, who are not well-versed in the history of the genre, there is a good deal of information here and the movie is chock full of interviews and performance clips by performers like Steven Curtis Chapman, Kirk Franklin, Stryper and the Newsboys. For the most part, the filmmakers steer away from controversy, other than to obliquely address segregation within the Christian music community (“Why (was) there only one Andrae Crouch,” wonders critic John Thompson) as well as the effect of Grant’s 1989 divorce from songwriter Gary Chapman and subsequent marriage to Vince Gill a year later on her career (it essentially brought it to a screeching halt).
In fact, the word “evangelical” is never mentioned in the documentary, which I imagine is done on purpose. The movie oddly doesn’t really address the rise of evangelical political power that coincided with the rise of Contemporary Christian music, nor does it mention how the careers of some performers were destroyed when they came out of the closet. The movie doesn’t seem to want to address the elephant in the room when it discusses the dearth of African-American performers (whose gospel music was certainly a major influence on modern Christian rock and roll) in that there was also a resurgence of white supremacism within the ranks of evangelical Christians that continues to be an issue.
Still, I can’t fault the filmmakers for not making the movie I would rather they have made. They made a movie that is a celebration of a type of music that brought Christianity into mainstream music where it has remained ever since. Certainly, if you’re looking for that type of film, this will fill the bill. But if you’re looking for an unbiased look into some of the issues with Contemporary Christian music, it’s audience and it’s effect on American culture as of 2021, look elsewhere.
REASONS TO SEE: Extremely informative and meticulously curated.
REASONS TO AVOID: Fails to address the deeper problems that essentially ended the dominance of Contemporary Christian music.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes and a bit of drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of the earliest supporters of Contemporary Christian music was evangelist Billy Graham.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/3/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews; Metacritic: 42/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: God’s Angry Man
FINAL RATING: 6/10