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Mavis! is the first documentary on gospel/soul music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples and her family group, The Staple Singers.

Miikka Skaffari

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Mavis!
Directed by
Jessica Edwards
Starring
Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, Bonnie Raitt
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2015

What powers Mavis Staples? To give you an idea, this documentary opens with the American gospel singer, now 76, hanging with her band and friends backstage before a show, and is bookended with a recent Newport Folk Festival performance. In between there are many more shows, sprinkled with an obligatory history of the Staple Singers, the family group formed by her father Roebuck (Pops) Staples in the early 1950s. The portrait puts Staples and her family in context, be it on the gospel circuit, on Soul Train or The Last Waltz.

But while Mavis! has many of the trappings of a typical biodoc (old footage, photos, collaborators and pundits weighing in with appreciation), the chronology eschews Behind the Music probing; it's short on personal details and instead focuses on the performer's vocation. And when the concert footage slows the doc's energy down, Mavis's zest adds buoyancy to the proceedings. The movie doesn't linger on the string of bad luck that derailed the younger Staples's promising solo-career opportunities, because she doesn't – she's too busy warming up for the next show.

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