Hoover St Revival

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

HOOVER ST REVIVAL

4/10

UK 2002 (released 2003) : Sophie FIENNES : 101 mins

Only those of a god-bothering persusasion need seek out this uneven, overlong religious documentary from Fiennes. She’s the sister of the more famous Ralph and Joseph, and you do end up wondering whether the movie – which didn’t make an especially great splash on the international film-festival circuit – would have been theatrically released at all if her name had been, say, Sophie Smith. It’s a fragmentary, impressionistic, unquestioningly adulatory portrait of inspirational pastor Bishop Noel Jones, with detours around the South Central LA neighbourhood where his church and congregation are located.

Jones’ free-flowing, impassioned sermons, while occasionally degenarating into rambling new-age gobbledegook (“There’s an aeon of the cosmos.”), have earned him a (literal?) cult following across America, and this isn’t unpromising subject matter. But the lengthy sermon extracts, and the several interminable gospel numbers shown in full, will make ‘heathen’ audiences feel like they’re stuck in church for two hours (or more).

Perhaps the film might have worked better if Jones hadn’t been shown at all – the sequences inside his Hoover Street house of worship are numbingly repetitive and unpleasant to look at, thanks to Fiennes’ gimmicky stylistic affectation of employing slight but noticeable stop-motion effect for these internal scenes. Keeping Jones off camera would have made him into something of a Hal Phillip Walker figure – the unseen political candidate whose blaring propaganda speeches form the backdrop to Robert Altman’s Nashville.

Fiennes isn’t interested in such ambiguities, however – the closest she comes to criticising Jones is when she shows him having his shoelaces fastened by a devoted assistant. But the absence of commentary means there’s no attempt to analyse the Jones phenomenon – let alone contrast his own wealth (we see helpers packing up ‘greatest hits’ compilation tapes which are sent off around the country) with the economic dire straits of a flock faced with, in the words of one observer, a Hobson’s choice “between God and gangs.” And how perverse not to let the audience know the rather remarkable (and illuminating) biographical detail that Bishop Jones happens to be the brother of iconic singer/actress Grace Jones. Or could perhaps Fiennes be rather jittery about the whole subject of ‘more famous’ siblings..?

22nd July, 2003
(seen 7th June: Showcase, Dudley)

by Neil Young