Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review of Rich Mullins "Ragamuffin" film

I attended the Nashville screening of the new Rich Mullins "Ragamuffin" film last night before a full house at Collins Auditorium at David Lipscomb Univ. 

As a friend of Rich's from '84 to '97, I was hesitant about how I would react to a film about such a complex person who wrestled mightily with fanfare and acclaim. My fears were generally allayed, and for a small budget film by a first-time producer/director, it is pretty good. Most of this is due to the performance in the lead role by Michael Koch, who compellingly captures the creative side of Rich (he is an accomplished pianist/guitarist, and nails Rich's vocal delivery and onstage patter), as well as the brooding, intense side of Mullins' personality.

Some of the drawbacks include: editing weaknesses (it is unnecessarily long at 2 hours and 20 minutes, and somewhat repetitive in several themes); an overly simplistic (and oft brutal) critique of the music biz that deserves more nuance; primitive sets (the recording and radio studios are laughable), and some key characters in Rich's life that were completely ignored. It would've also been nice to see a bit more of Rich's unbridled kindness and silly/impish/downright hilarious sides. But these flaws are not so glaring that it renders the film unwatchable.

To the contrary, the essence of Rich's struggles with an unloving father, alcohol, disappointments in relationships, and loneliness drive the narrative and keep you wondering if/how he would ever find some degree of peace and acceptance. It doesn't give a lot of neat, tidy Christian platitudes or easy resolve. How could it if it were to be honest about the living paradox that was Rich Mullins? So, I give it an A- for effort, a C- for technique, and an overall grade of B- for residual impact it will leave with the viewer. For anyone who was a fan of Rich, or wishes to see faith being wrestled-out with earnest grit, then I recommend "Ragamuffin."

My longtime friend, Bernie Sheahan, wrote this review which gives some further coloring which I agree with...

"I saw "Ragamuffin" last week here in California and was pretty nervous about how I'd react. (Forgot my Kleenex, so I stole a whole roll of toilet paper from the church bathroom!) I knew Rich very well and for a long time. (I'm one of many, and aren't we lucky? Blessed.) He was one of six people at my 25th birthday dinner, in 1982. So when I saw the trailer online, I had a bit of a freak-out. Too weird. I knew David Mullins was part of this, but could they capture him, and how dare they make a movie when he would have hated the thought of it?

"At the end of the film, they had a Q&A session with the director, David Leo Schultz. I hopped right up--"pick me, pick me!" No questions. Just this: "Thank you...Rich was a dear friend of mine...I was afraid I'd yell out or throw things at the screen, but you got him. Thank you for showing the shadows." I said a lot more (you know me; I'm Irish) but in talking to Schultz later on I realized that Rich would have loved him. You will, too.

"As Kathy Sprinkle told me, it's not a biopic. This isn't a chronological, get-everything, History Of Rich Mullins. Don't be upset about not seeing "Rich" in shoes or sweaters, as in his real life, in winter or on hot pavement. Movies are about images. The white t-shirt and bare feet are symbolic, really. I'm sorry if I just just pulled a 'Film as Lit' teacher thing on you.

"The images are lovely. David Schultz did a marvelous job with a tiny budget. He goes from Indiana to Cincinnati to Nashville to Wichita to "the res" along the open roads with color and light that match Rich's musical palette and poetic vision. You'll have to ask him if those are actual locations. I can vouch for a few of them as the real thing. There's one that's surely not, and it doesn't matter, because any countryside four-lane highway will do. That scene is handled with grace and mercy: it's brief, tells little, and moves quickly from dark mystery to sunny memory and life most real.

"You Nashville folk will laugh your head off in some places. There was only so much they could do with a small budget, I guess. No matter. See it with an open heart. Put aside your feelings about the music business, either way (this is, shall we say, less than sympathetic to the "industry" point of view).

"What it does is present the essence of Rich. How he was, as in the title of his brother's book, "an arrow pointing to heaven". Rich didn't want you to "get" him. He wanted you to get God--to be gotten by Him. The director found, in the four years working on the film, that Rich Mullins has some intensely loyal fans. Yup. Some who seemed to almost worship Rich more than God. Rich, shall we say, discouraged that. "Be God's" -- that's how he signed every autograph. Be God's. So it's not that important, really, what I think about how Rich was portrayed in any film. I am a loyal friend, yes. But he never said, "Be Rich's." Even so, I, and all of us who knew him, are a little protective of his essence. As dumb as that may sound.

"The fellow who plays Rich was not an actor but a musician, and he surprised me with his skill and passion. He sounds like him, enough for me to lose myself in the story for much of its length (it's long!) He does the shadows well. And this film doesn't shirk from the dark, thank goodness. He's exuberant, he spins, he gets angry. He's not funny and playful like Rich--it's not in his repertoire, not in his personality. That's OK. He pulls it off well enough that it made me miss Rich. A lot. That's something, considering it's an actor who's singing and playing, talking, saying things like "You like it? You really like it?"

"I like it. I really like it."        -Bernie Sheahan

Listing of all the showings and where to get tix here (once you get to the page, click on the "Events " tab):


  1. Thanks for both of your reviews. As one of many Rich fans who only knew him by radio and album.. until Youtube came around... I appreciated you confirmation that the move was "essentially accurate"... I "wandered into" getting "The Ragamuffin Gospel" about a year ago and have read it twice.

    So much of Rich's life seemed to be are clear reflection of his "Ragamuffin" struggles.. that we all have, if we are honest. i.e. "The Ragamuffin Gospel" puts his and our lives where it should be... only making sense if God's Grace covers us despite our weaknesses.

    Thanks again.

  2. Loved Music,had no Idea of 87 I came to Christ dramatically @20 y/o- from Complete Despair & Dark to the Brightness of the Son. Then God called me to Nashville (I Pinky Swear I'm NOT Musical/in the biz)I Didn't know 2 pretend 2B Perfect; I shared struggles openly-perhaps too so-took God at His Word, Evangelized passionately due to my experience & Prayed the same way. Many folks I met were 4 ever Christians,many worked @Church related Companies & Institutions(SBConvention,David__ Publ.etc.)I remember being kindly referred to as 'A breath of fresh air' by 1 of the folks. I only tried 2b transparent,was passionate about Evangelism & prayer Didnt know that many Feign perfection. Expect us to. I was a Grateful sinner.I too Struggled w/depression & substances, had emotional scars.I related to Chris Mullins experience Like no other! I Wore out copies of his Tapes,was blessed by his work. I feel this film may help me Return to My First Love as well. I've been in Church too long. Love to All.