Combustible Celluloid
With: Kirk Franklin, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, TobyMac
Written by: Jon Erwin
Directed by: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some drug material and thematic elements
Running Time: 109
Date: 10/01/2021

The Jesus Music (2021)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Catchy Praise

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Despite some bothersome flaws — it's mainly made for those already in the fan club, and it has a distinct shortage of music — this documentary is nonetheless well-researched and professionally made.

Brother documentary filmmakers Andrew and Jon Erwin trace the rise of faith-based pop and rock movement, from its unlikely beginnings in the hippie movement of the 1960s. Many hippies became disillusioned with drugs and found the church, specifically Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California.

They changed the lyrics of their favorite style of music to reflect their love for Jesus, and a new genre was born, eventually becoming known as "Contemporary Christian Music" or CCM. As bands and performers like Larry Norman, Stryper, Amy Grant, and Kirk Franklin became bigger and bigger over the years, the movement grew into an industry. Despite all this praise, however, the church did not always approve.

Any outsiders that are curious about this genre and interested in a basic course may have to look elsewhere, because The Jesus Music introduces each of its acts as if no introduction were necessary. Moreover, the samples of the music itself are frustratingly short, and it's difficult to get a handle on just what makes these performers different from one another (aside from, say, Stryper's long-hair heavy-metal sound and Amy Grant's radio-friendly pop). Newcomers are sure to be lost from time to time. For example, an important early compilation album that kick-started the movement is given a cursory treatment, as if it were already common knowledge.

On the plus side, the interviewees are all cheerful, interesting folks, and eventually their stories begin to come together. Grant, for example, is very open about her controversial 1999 divorce and the toll it took on her life and career. There seems to be a great deal of trust here. The most interesting part is that, despite singing the praises of the Lord, they are all, or have been at some point, outsiders from the church itself, which routinely disapproved of this new music.

The irony of the church's intolerance seems to have been lost on the filmmakers, but this outsider quality nonetheless makes the interviewees more appealing. Perhaps some other movie someday can provide more information for newcomers, but, for fans, The Jesus Music should be heavenly.

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