Sunday, February 28, 2016

TV Alert: Oscar post-mortem -- with me! -- Monday morning on Great Day Houston!

I won't be able to stay up too late after Sunday evening's Oscarcast -- because I've been tapped to join in an Oscar post-mortem bright and early at 9 am CT Monday with the lovely and talented Deborah Duncan on KHOU-TV's Great Day Houston.

Hey, there are far worse reasons to wake up early on a Monday.

Celebrate Mavis Staples on HBO

Mavis! -- filmmaker Jessica Edward's marvelous portrait of the great Mavis Staples -- premieres at 8 pm CT on HBO. As I said in my Variety review from SXSW last year:

Gospel music great, rhythm-and-blues icon, civil rights activist and all-around living legend Mavis Staples is celebrated with the infectiously joyful enthusiasm of a passionately devoted fan in Mavis!, a spirited and captivating bio-doc that richly deserves the exclamation point in its title. Director Jessica Edwards adroitly entwines archival material, newly filmed interviews and live performances to create a cinematic portrait quite capable of converting the uninitiated into acolytes, and elevating casual interest to flood-tide levels of respect and affection...

Of course, there’s more to the story of Mavis Staples than just Mavis Staples. Mavis! tracks back to the singer’s childhood in Chicago’s South Side — where her neighbors included Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield — and gives due props to Roebuck “Pops” Staples, her musically inclined father. Drawing on his background in blues and gospel, Pops joined forces with Mavis and her siblings (brother Pervis, sister Cleotha) to form the Staple Singers, the legendary group that sustained a slow, steady climb during the 1960s and ’70s from gospel performances at local churches to chart-topping with mainstream hits like “I’ll Take You There,” “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me),” “Respect Yourself” and, yes, “Do It Again.”

But wait, there's more:

Edwards neatly folds into her Mavis! mash note a fascinating account of how gospel and folk music artists inspired, and were inspired by, the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. Martin Luther King Jr. embraced the Staple Singers as entertainers and friends in 1962 after Pops wrote and recorded the plaintive “Why Am I Treated So Bad,” a heartfelt response to the abuse heaped on African-American children attempting to integrate schools in Little Rock, Ark. Pops in turn was impressed by what he immediately recognized as the pro-integration message of the folk song “Blowing in the Wind,” and reached out to its composer, a young singer-songwriter named Bob Dylan.

Dylan pops up periodically here as a relaxed and forthcoming interviewee, and the equivalent of a supporting player in the Mavis Staples story. Even before he met the family, he recalls on camera, he was profoundly affected by the Staple Singers’ recording of the haunting “Uncloudy Day.” (“That made me stay up for a week, after I heard that song.”) Later, he crossed paths with the Staples during production of a TV special titled (no joke) “Folk Songs and More Folk Songs!” — represented here with an ineffably hilarious clip featuring a boyish Dylan — and he was immediately smitten with Mavis. So smitten, in fact, that Dylan asked Pops for Mavis’ hand in marriage. Mavis recalls that her relationship with the future superstar stopped far short of wedlock. But, she coyly concedes, “We may have smooched.”

Here's a preview of Mavis! (And yes, that's my Variety review blurbed near the beginning. Because as we all know, it's all about me.)