Gospel According to Al Green

Studio: Mug-Shot Productions

Jul 07, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

By 1980, Soul singer Al Green had transitioned from secular music to Gospel, and had virtually given up his musical career for the ministry. Though it might have seem a bit of a shock for those who loved him for such wonderful songs as “Let’s Stay Together,” “Tired of Being Alone,” and “Love And Happiness,” the transition really wasn’t that much of a surprise, as Green had always had an interest in Gospel. In spite of his early Seventies successes, secular music career was coming to a standstill, and Green longed for something more meaningful. In 1984, documentary filmmaker Robert Mugge released Gospel According To Al Green, which explored Green’s transition from pop to the pulpit.

The documentary is focused around an in-depth interview with Green, interspersed with a live performance on an Air Force base, a private concert, and a church sermon. Unlike many artists who give up a traditional music career for the clergy, Green isn’t one to deny his roots or the quality of the music he made as a secular artist. If anything, he didn’t feel as if he had completely abandoned God’s calling, and he never had anything to feel embarrassed about in terms of his songs—they were love songs, plain and simple, and when he tells about writing them, he does so with glee and delight; the man is a legitimately happy soul as he discusses his career, its ups and downs, and his friendship with his producer and creative partner, Willie Mitchell.

The most stunning moment of the film, however, comes with his rather frank discussion about a shocking incident that took place in 1974. Green had been dating a woman by the name of Mary Woodson. She was obsessive and insistent about the seriousness of their relationship, but unbeknownst to Green, she was married and the mother of three children. One night, after rebuffing her desire to get married, she attacked him by throwing a pot of boiling hot grits on him, and then committing suicide immediately after. Watching Green discuss the incident, he stumbles, and his bright and sunny veneer fades, a darkness coming over him that he tries to hide behind his chipper personality. But then he turns and asks the question, “Was that really true? Did that really happen?” He relates that the story is so bizarre, he isn’t sure of the reality of it all. It’s a vulnerable moment, and a haunting, heartbreaking one at that.

Gospel According To Al Green excels at offering a glimpse into a talented man’s complex life, but doing so in a manner that’s highly respectful and one that doesn’t pass any judgment. His singing is fantastic, and his sermons are even better, as one sees him applying the same amount of passion for his teaching that made his seductive love songs so convincing. Aside from a technical glitch that finds the audio track on this documentary somewhat muddied and occasionally rather low, Gospel According To Al Green is a fantastic, insightful look into one of the most talented musicians of our time. 



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