The Reverend – A portrait of a unique and fascinating figure

Director: Nick Canfield 

With: Reverend Vince Anderson, Questlove, Jay Bakker, “Moist” Paula Henderson, Jaleel Bunton, Dave “Smoota” Smith, Ryan Sawyer, Daniel Fabricatore, Billy Campion, Kyp Malone, Millicent Souris

Running time: 86 mins 

Cinematographer Nick Canfield makes his directorial debut with this uplifting documentary about gospel rock icon and activist Reverend Vince Anderson, a colourful figure who has played a weekly residence in Brooklyn for over twenty years with his band The Love Choir. The 2021 film won the prestigious Doc NYC Festival Audience Award and is well worth seeking out now that it’s available on streaming services.

Canfield structures the film around extensive to-camera interviews with Anderson, mixed with archive footage and talking head contributions from both fellow band members and devotees of the group, including Questlove and Anderson’s long-term girlfriend Millicent Souris (their separate accounts of how they got together – “He’s got no moves, you know?” – are one of several highlights). In addition, Canfield’s cameras are present for several contemporary gigs, capturing both Anderson’s charismatic, kaftan-clad, keyboard-bashing stage presence and the palpably joyful atmosphere of the gigs themselves. 

The structure allows Canfield to tell Anderson’s story more or less chronologically, beginning with his being raised in the Lutheran church and experiencing a sort of spiritual rebirth in college when Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ came out. Over the years, Anderson has evolved his own inclusive brand of spirituality that appeals to believers and non-believers alike, uniting audiences in the joy of a shared musical experience. 

The performance footage is delightful, with Anderson’s style living up to the description of it as “Holy Spirit meets Tasmanian Devil”, as coined by musician Billy Campion. Anderson himself is charmingly modest throughout, frequently offering up casual throwaway lines like, “Turns out drunk people love gospel music” to account for his twenty year residency. 

Anderson proves a remarkably open subject, whether talking about his tendency to get naked on stage and indulge in a bit of crowd-surfing, or talking movingly about his love of gardening and how it relates to his memories of his mother. Similarly, the depiction of his relationship with Millicent is very charming – you’ll be hard pressed not to shed a tear or two during the unexpected proposal scene. 

The latter part of the film focuses on Anderson’s role as an activist, particularly in the wake of the 2016 election – his rousing concert with a clearly devastated audience still reeling from a Trump victory is genuinely moving, and you can almost feel the collective healing as it happens. There’s also an anti-Trump song that’s extremely cathartic and ought to be available on Spotify, if it isn’t already. 

Ultimately, the film leaves you with a portrait of a unique and fascinating figure, and Anderson’s vision of shared music as a profoundly spiritual, deeply human experience (“You can’t be shouting at each other if you’re singing together”) is genuinely inspiring. As Anderson puts it, “You need other people to make beautiful music together. That’s just how it is.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Author

  • Matthew Turner

    A lifelong film fanatic, Matthew Turner (FilmFan1971) is a London-based critic and author, as well as the co-host of Fatal Attractions, a podcast on erotic thrillers. His favourite film is Vertigo and he hasn't missed an episode of EastEnders since 1998.