Is the Reverend Ready For His Close-Up?


Was it Andy Warhol who said that in the future, everybody will have a 90-minute documentary produced about them? Or am I mixing up my quotes?

  The Reverend is a film record of Vince Anderson, a big bearded guy with a distinctly Dr. John vibe. He holds weekly rave-ups at a bar called Black Betty in Brooklyn and has done this for twenty years. He sings and beats the hell out of his keyboard, bringing crowds to their feet. His credo is “Get outta my way” because “anything that’s in the way if you hang onto it, it will be destroyed.” 

Mr. Anderson claims to have experienced divine inspiration after bucking picket lines to see Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ. Not long after, he experienced convulsions, which he took to be the music trying to get out. 

He has devoted his life to what he calls “this reverend journey,” bringing gospel music to bars, playing first on the accordion, then piano and electric keyboards. His band, The Love Choir, rocks out his original music—and covers of Tom T. Hall and Daniel Johnston—and keeps the crowd dancing. Recently, Mr. Anderson was the subject of an NPR segment. Questlove and members of TV On The Radio appear in the film.

During The Reverend, ably directed by Nick Canfield, Mr. Anderson talks about falling in love with his girlfriend Millicent, getting married, honeymooning in Coney Island, buying a used accordion at a music shop, and visiting the site of the 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting as one of several invited faith leaders.

All of this feels like the start of something, but it still needs to be the stuff of a feature film. Mr. Anderson brings an undeniable energy to his performances (there is much concert footage), but singing his praises seems premature. Has he done the Lord’s work in remarkable ways? Has he gathered a flock? Not that I can tell. The audience at Black Betty ain’t exactly swooning with religiosity and looks to be on more of a lark, as hipsters will. Even at the Walmart shooting memorial, Mr. Anderson is well-meaning but peripheral.

That’s not to say the film isn’t well made. This is director Nick Canfield’s first full-length feature, and it’s solid. He places cameras well and captures the action of the moment. He, along with editor Paul Lovelace and co-cinematographer Nelson Walker, tells a visual story well. That is until you realize how little you’ve been shown. 

There may be a film here, and one understands the lure of a lively music scene. Maybe put The Reverend aside and let it marinate. Let Mr. Anderson get outta the way and follow his own advice: “Live the life you’re supposed to be living. Just don’t talk about it.”

Maybe the Reverend has to sit tight a little longer to see what reward waits for him.


 The Reverend. Directed by Nick Canfield. 2021. An Observant Films production. 96 minutes.

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