‘Say Amen, Somebody’ Blu-Ray Review – Landmark Gospel Documentary Will Make You A Believer

One of the most acclaimed music documentaries of all time, SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY is a joyous, funny, and deeply emotional celebration of Gospel music from director George Nierenberg. A line-up of earth-shaking performers including Thomas A. Dorsey, Willie Mae Ford Smith, The Barrett Sisters and The O’Neal Twins is just one reason why this tremendous film has garnered rave reviews around the world.

For thoughts on Say Amen, Somebody, please check out our discussion on The Video Attic here

 

Video Quality

The Blu-Ray of Say Amen, Somebody is sourced from a new 4K restoration by Milestone supervised by Director George T. Nierenberg with support from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This is a gorgeous transfer that all but eliminates any blemishes to the print outside of the occasional white specks, tiny cuts and other small blemishes. The transfer maintains impeccable film grain support throughout with nothing looking unnatural and no major instances of spiking. When you consider the age of the film and condition of the source material, it is pleasing to see the material looking so strong. There does not appear to be any issues with compression artifacts or any other such digital anomalies. The track does show off some fine detail in the clothing of the subjects and in some of the background elements of the churches. Colors present with a nice vividness that pops off the screen. This presentation does a stellar job of giving life to this moment in history. 

Audio Quality

The new Blu-Ray is presented with both a lossless, newly restored DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Master Audio stereo track that suits the material as well as the source will allow. The interviews are the main focus of this feature, and they mostly hold up quite well considering the conditions of capturing these subjects out in the world surrounded by their congregation, friends and family. Some of the information is a bit muddled due to some of the limitations of the equipment and the chatter of the crowded locations, but mostly things remain clear. There are also numerous musical performances that maintain nice fidelity and never fail to stir something inside of you. There are a couple moments where there is a fluctuation in the audio that seems to stem from damage to the source material, but these are very brief and not an overwhelming issue. Considering the limitations in place in the course of this restoration, the results are largely excellent. English subtitles are provided for those who desire them. 

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Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: Director George T. Nierenberg provides a subdued but very informative commentary track in which he discusses his approach to the documentary, the background of the subjects on screen, the privilege of speaking with these people, unexpected developments during filming and much more that gives greater context to the documentary. 
  • Outtakes Of The Barrett Sisters In Rehearsal: A 51-minute piece which features previously unseen rehearsal footage of The Barrett Sisters practicing for a big concert with Charles Pike on piano. There are some incredible numbers and great candid moments between the sisters that really make this worthwhile. 
  • New Interview With Zella Jackson Price: A 17-minute interview with Price conducted by Nierenberg in which she discusses what her life was like back in 1982 before the film, getting national recognition from the documentary, shares memories of The Barrett Sisters, the place of women in gospel music, why she believes Mother Smith wanted her in the film and more. This is an amazing addition that you should not pass up. 
  • George T. Nierenberg Introducing Say Amen, Somebody At The Berlin Film Festival: A 19-minute introduction and Q&A  recorded in February 2019 in which he discusses how Ry Cooder guided him to gospel music as a documentary subject, the various subjects in the film, the conflicting feeling of the subjects towards religion and religious institutions, the editing process and more. 
  • Audio Outtake – Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith Rehearsal: A nearly four-minute vintage audio piece of Smith singing a tune. 
  • Audio Outtake – Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith Interview (5/19/1981): A four-minute audio interview with Smith in which she discusses her relationship with various subjects. 
See also
'Omen (Augure)' Review - Navigating Tradition And Modernity In A Pan-African Symphony

 

Final Thoughts

Say Amen, Somebody is a glorious documentary which takes you into the heart of gospel music in a way that does not alienate those who are not particularly religious. Instead, you are given insight into what role this music plays in the lives of the subjects and how it transcends traditional faith. There are some very progressive notions captured by Nierenberg which helps the film feel timeless and still incredibly vital. Kino Lorber and The Milestone Cinematheque have released a Blu-Ray featuring a tremendous A/V presentation and an excellent assortment of special features. If you are a documentary fan or interested in learning more about the roots of gospel music, this one is an essential viewing. Highly Recommended 

Say Amen, Somebody is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Kino Lorber has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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