When writer-director-lyricist Lee Breuer and composer Bob Telson fused Sophocles to the African-American church experience in The Gospel at Colonus, Clarence Fountain and the Blind Boys of Alabama were cast to collectively portray Oedipus—an event that vaulted Clarence and his group into mainstream recognition. Thirty-five years later, the Museum of Modern Art will present the world premiere of the documentary THE BOOK OF CLARENCE as part of its Doc Fortnight 2017.
Conceived and directed by Breuer—and co-produced by filmmaker Eric Marciano (the upcoming Shapes of Rhythm: The Music of Galt MacDermot) and musician Sam Butler, Jr. (a former member of the Blind Boys)—this American Montage release is an in-depth account of the gospel giants who began singing together in 1939 and won their first in a string of Grammy awards sixty years later. It’s also the story of how a great artist of undiminished spirit faces failing health and the inevitable end of his road.
Gospel is the basis for rhythm-and-blues, soul, rock-and-roll, and hip-hip, and in the African-American church, the more fire-and-brimstone the orthodoxy, the edgier the music. It is this raw, driving gospel sound exemplified by Clarence and Sam that appeals most to secular audiences who might be least inclined to embrace some of its underlying messages.
THE BOOK OF CLARENCE, Saturday, February 18, at 7 pm in Titus Theater 1, followed by a discussion with Lee Breuer and Eric Marciano.
Additional screening on Sunday, February 26, at 2 pm, followed by a discussion with Marciano.
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, 11 West 53rd Street, New York City.
Image credit: American Montage.