Bushwick’s Hard Swingin’ Holy Man on the Big Screen: Bushwick Daily
Mix the genetic material of Captain Beefheart with that of an ecstatic preacher and you might find singer Vince “the Reverend” Anderson, in all his Falstaffian glory. For more than two decades, this ordered preacher and gospel musician plied his trade at clubs like Union Pool in Williamsburg and the Bushwick Abbey, the Episcopal Church on Avenue Saint-Nicolas, where he worked as a pastor. Now he’s the subject of a feature-length documentary that plays at Nitehawk in Williamsburg, after a race celebrated last year at Doc NYC in Manhattan.
the reverend is the feature debut of Nick Canfield, who identifies as a deceased Upper West Side Episcopalian and says he once worked as a camera assistant for the late Albert Maysles, of gray gardens celebrity. The aesthetic of “cinema direct” informs the appearance of his film. On the phone, Canfield tells me he’s been a fan of Anderson since roughly the beginning of the Obama administration.
“The music is amazing,” he says. “And it’s, like, a spiritual experience for all of these people from all walks of life, in the most unlikely place to have a spiritual experience.”
Some of the film’s most gripping scenes, however, were not filmed by Canfield, as his film makes extensive use of concert footage from Anderson’s early years in Williamsburg over the past few decades.
A grainy footage shot shows an Anderson wielding an accordion and a friend playing in front striking Domino Sugar Factory employees in a now defunct waterfront bar. (The factory also closed permanently in 2004.) As raw as the pictures are – think Tom Waits without the scathing sarcasm – it shows Anderson seems to be winning over the begrudgingly appreciative tough-guy crowd. The added historical dimension was a deliberate choice for Canfield, he says.
“Yes, [Brooklyn] has definitely changed. I’ve seen Union Pool itself change. So the story of the place and how it changes is part of the film,” he says.
But while Anderson’s audiences may have changed over time, the sincerity of his performances remains the same. In other stage, he leads a new crowd of tattooed millennials in an unapologetically cheerful rendition of “This Little Light of Mine,” at Union Pool. Canfield’s footage shows viewers seemingly caught up in the ecstasy of the moment.
Anderson himself was born and raised in Fresno, California, and grew up playing religious and secular American music and worked as the musical director of a local Lutheran Church at age 12. In 1995, he moved to New York to attend the pioneering Union Theological Seminary, but dropped out just a semester before graduation.
“My artist side started to reborn, I guess you could say,” Anderson told me in a Zoom interview. “So that was it: God wanted me to leave seminary, and that’s when I started playing in bars.”
Although Anderson was never ordained through seminary, he was eventually anointed by a church he founded called Revolution Church, which he started with. Jay Baker, son of Jimmy and Tammy Faye Baker, whose lives were recently dramatized last year Tammy Faye’s eyes.
The church was more of a state of mind than a physical location and met at the back of Pete’s Candy Store, a popular bar and music venue near McCarren Park.
The Church of the Revolution has since folded – the young Baker had moved to Minneapolis to start another church. The weekly show Anderson started there with his band, the Love Choir, moved from Pete’s to Black Betty – now the Commodore – and from there to Union Pool.
In 2009, Canfield attended his first show, and six years later he successfully pitched the idea for a documentary to Anderson and began filming what would become Reverend, which also includes scenes from Anderson’s daily life at home and several talking heads.
Last spring, however, the group returned to their old digs at Union Pool. But in a turn of events, a nearby five-alarm fire in July forced the bar shut down, forcing the group to relocate to Television eye at Ridgewood.
As for the film, Canfield says he is planning a nationwide series of other arthouse theaters and is planning a winter streaming release. A soundtrack album is currently being created from some live performances, an idea which Canfield launched successfully despite initial apprehension on the Reverend’s part.
“He’s always a little wary about being recorded, because he’s such a performer and feeds off the audience,” Canfield said. said. “He preaches on stage. People in the audience come up to him and hug him, and they come backstage and tell him about the losses they’ve suffered, and he talks to them, and you can tell he’s doing a real job in the community.
The Reverend plays Wednesday, Aug. 3 at the Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg; After times can be added there and at Nithawk Prospect Park. Vince Anderson’s band play Monday at Ridgewood’s TV Eye at 1647 Weirfield Street.
Images taken from “Reverend.
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