Mavis! (2015)

25 Oct

mavis

A wonderful portrait of one of America’s most enduring and underrated voices, Mavis! tells the story of Mavis Staples and her family band, the Staple Singers.

Clocking in at a neat 77 minutes, Mavis! manages to span the singer’s 60-odd year career without ever feeling like a highlight reel.

Intercutting Mavis and a cavalcade of famous talking heads (Jeff Tweedy! Bob Dylan! Al Bell!) with footage from her illustrious past (singing in churches; meeting Martin Luther King jr; working at Stax Records in the 70s and collaborating with Prince in the 80s), this documentary is a great entry point for non-fans.

There is plenty of humour to the story (Mavis confessing that she made out with Dylan), but the biggest thing to take away from Mavis! is its big heart. The core of the movie is the relationship between Mavis and her dad, Pops. While her siblings stepped in and out of the group, Pops and Mavis remained the constant — he with his guitar, and she with that deep, powerful voice.

And that’s the magic which helps Mavis! evade the trap of playing like an ego trip — Mavis is the first one to point to the people who have helped her over the years, and the focus on Mavis’ family enriches the experience. While there would be no Staple Singers without Mavis, the reverse is also true.

Ultimately, like the woman at its heart, Mavis! packs a lot into a small package. Check it out.

 

By Tim George

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