Low-budget docu about singing group the Persuasions is aptly named: They need someone to “Spread the Word.” Pic is an entertaining and upbeat story about four guys (originally five) entering their fourth decade as a singing group that, as one of them ruefully notes, never had a hit song. Although they have a legion of fans — pic’s Boston showing was sold out — the movie, though shot on film, was shown in a video transfer. Very much in the tradition of such docus as “Wasn’t That a Time,” effort should get auds clapping along at fests and specialized urban venues before finding its inevitable home on public TV.
Producer-director Fred Parnes skillfully mixes footage of the a cappella group in performance with the singers telling their stories and, in the finale, getting the audience to come up onstage and sing with them. Time and again, helmer finds just the right way to show off the singers. In one sequence, a trip to the barber shop leads to their harmonizing, with shots of youngsters wondering what all the fuss is about. In another they show the breadth of their repertoire by performing everything from “My Yiddishe Momma” to “Day-O” and “Way Down Upon the Swanee River.”
The emphasis is on performance and personality rather than history, but the background of the group is sketched in, including a touching segment about Herbert (Toubo) Rhoad, the fifth Persuasion, who died in 1988. He was cremated and his ashes scattered off the San Francisco coast. In the film, his surviving partners sing to his memory, framed by the Golden Gate Bridge.
Another member, Jayotis Washington, relates with some bitterness the time he was fired by the group, and the point is made that, though the Persuasions harmonize, they’re not always in harmony. But it is Washington himself who draws the lesson of his story, that it’s part of “the trials and tribulations of the Persuasions staying together.”
Tech credits, especially sound, are up to snuff.