When bands have the opportunity to create their first concert film, they usually have one of two options—create some sort of slick and energetic extended music video that gives the viewer a sense of being at the show, or find a way to reveal something more about their identity through the means of film and performance. I think the latter tend to be more interesting, as they try to unveil some of the mystery behind the always elusive creative process and understand the alchemy of sound that emerges from a group of musicians.
Back in January 2012, on the heels of their most creative work yet, Ghost Upon The Earth, the worship collective Gungor started a Kickstarter campaign for a live album/DVD project. Being a huge fan of their work, I readily donated to the project and eagerly awaited the results. Later in the year, their fantastic live album A Creation Liturgy arrived. But no film. So I waited, and waited. The project went through numerous delays, much to the frustration of Gungor and their fans I’m sure. Finally, just a few months ago, the digital copy of Let There Be arrived in my inbox, and it was entirely worth the wait.
I knew it was going to be much more than a typical live performance film when it opened up with Lisa Gungor singing “This Is My Father’s World” in a seaside cave in Northern Ireland, with the ocean swelling in and out to her lilting vocals. This is followed by a series of Terrence Malick-like nature shots over which Michael Gungor poetically meditates upon creation and creativity: “I used to think that creation was something that had happened. Now I see it as something that is happening. Creation is an ongoing process. . . . We’ve been handed brushes of our own. . . . What shall we make?” What’s beautiful about this opening is, despite being a film about a “worship” band, Michael taps into the inherent creative ability of every human being made in the image of God, and we are treated to a montage of dancers, carpenters, musicians, and parents exercising their gifts in small, everyday ways. It’s as if Gungor is trying to make clear at the beginning, “We are all worshipers, and all our attempts to add beauty to the world are an expression of worship to the Creator.”
From here the film naturally and deftly slips into the first of its four movements. Given that so much of Gungor’s music is steeped in biblical narrative and liturgy, it makes total sense that the film progresses narratively through the themes of Creation, Fall, The Bride, and (Re)Creation.
What’s wonderful about this film is that Gungor inhabits the role of artist seriously. It’s not just a collection of live songs. One of the early performances, “Crags and Clay,” deftly moves from the band performing in concert halls, to Colorado mountaintops and European coastlines. A few times I was distracted from the music by the thought, “Oh my gosh, how did they get there?”
There are many other wonderful touches to the film throughout. Poet Amena Brown provides several stirring interludes of spoken word verse between songs. The performances during the Fall movement are shot in a noirish black and white that lends a somberness to the material. During The Bride, husband and wife Michael and Lisa stroll lovingly through the streets of Paris, and sing the love song “Vouse Etes Mon Coeur (You Are My Heart)” along the banks of the Seine with the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the evening background. Perhaps the coolest technical highlight of the film is an acoustic version of “Wake Up Sleeper” that the band performs at a New York City subway stop. We get multiple camera shots from various angles and levels that allow us to hear the band but not see them, even a shot from the street where the music eerily echoes up from the concrete depths.
The performances themselves are fantastic. You can feel the wild, creative energy of the collective emanating from the screen. You also realize two things: these people love what they do, and they are crazy talented (just witness Michael Gungor’s blazing guitar solos).
Ultimately though, this is more than just a visually stunning film of a super talented band. Through Let There Be, Gungor reminded me about why it all matters—why it’s important to be alive, to be human, to create, and to worship. I felt inspired, refreshed, and encouraged, having been once again given a glimpse of the big picture. As Michael puts it at the end:
“There seems to be something living within these stories and creeds that has gripped my soul. It’s as though there are hands wrapped around my very heart, and as much as doubt or scientific analysis tries to wrench the hands free, there is no use. I have been marred by this story of a marred Messiah.
So I keep coming back and listening to the story.”
Let There Be is available at www.gungormusic.com
Chris is an Associate Professor of English at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts, and is an arts and culture writer whose works have appeared in publications such as Tweetspeak Poetry, The Curator, The Molehill, and The Rabbit Room. Chris is also the author of several books of poetry, including his latest collection Winter Poems. In 2018 he helped co-found The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, visiting coffee shops, and poking through used bookstores with his wife Jen. You can read more of his writing at ChrisYokel.Substack.com.