Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday & Movie Review - Remembering a Ragamuffin: Rich Mullins

Miss Laura Woodside & Rich Mullins, May 1993
Not too long ago, my mother found a box of CDs that she'd been holding in safekeeping, back from our 2006 move from North Carolina to Florida.  My husband and I had meant to get it back from her, but it got lost in the shuffle.  Within the box was our entire collection of Rich Mullins CDs.  Pairing that with our recent acquisition of the movie Ragamuffin (bio pic), and we've been on a big Rich Mullins kick lately.  It's brought back back so many great memories of college. I loved going to see him play, and I had a few opportunities to sit and talk with him a bit.  The last time was in 1993 when he came to Wheaton College. I was about to leave on a 10-week mission trip to Bogota', Colombia in association with the Student Mission Project (SMP) and Youth with a Mission (YWAM).  He and his friend David "Beaker" Strasser prayed for me, as well as for the other participants in the program.  And if memory serves, he played on stage for us as well.

A couple of weeks ago when my husband was opening one of those newly-recovered CDs, a photo fell out of the liner notes.  I'd forgotten:  After Rich had prayed for us in 1993, I stayed after to talk and take a photo with him. This is an incredibly unattractive photo of my 22 year-old self, with the extra college weight, frumpy hair and bright green SMP windbreaker, but I don't care.  I'm so grateful to have this picture. There he is, 37 years old, a mere 4 years away from his untimely death.  Seeing this and listening to his music makes me miss him all over again.  I look forward to the hereafter, so we can sit and chat some more.

As a part of the "Rich Mullins Rediscovery" going on in our house, my husband and I also obtained a copy of the recent movie, Ragamuffin, which is a biographical film of the artist's life.  I bought it as a gift to my husband, but we both knew I'd love it just as much as he would. Now that we've seen it, I offer my thoughts on the film.




Movie Review: Ragamuffin

I honestly think Rich would have discouraged any kind of cinematic retrospective of his life, so I cannot say if Ragamuffin would have been something he would have reveled in. That being said, I'm glad we have this film and his remaining recordings to keep him with us in their own way. With this existing media, his memory will go on for years to come.

For those looking for a typical, sanitized Christian movie, Ragamuffin is not that kind of work. It spends quite alot of time focusing on the struggles of Rich's life: His strained relationships with some family, friends and associates, his battle with alcohol, and his frustration with the early-80s cookie-cutter Christian music industry. This cinematic version of Rich is very much the brooding artist, frustrated with the world and the limitations it was trying to put on his art and his faith. Writer and director David Schultz did not shy away from a realistic tone for his script.  Colorful language is sprinkled throughout the movie, which is not a common occurrence in most Christian films.  I didn't find this content to be offensive, but refreshingly surprising.  Schultz was not afraid to portray life in a realistic way.

There was one aspect to the tone of the film that I found to be lacking. Rich was known for his pensive ways, but he was also incredibly lighthearted and funny.  He had such a sweet spirit, from the way he joyously played the hammered dulcimer, to the stories he told his audiences. Take a look at him telling his "Irish Sweater" story.  You can skip forward to about the 3 minute mark, through 4:30 or so:




And my all-time favorite moments with Rich came during his "Screen Door"/"Cups" perfomances. This is such a fun, yet meaningful song, but the addition of the Cups choreography just made it even better.  My husband and I used to do a similar version of Cups in those days, so we really treasure this performance on YouTube.   I'm not sure what year this was, but you can see "Beaker" to Rich's right; the tall guy with the navy blue t-shirt. (Or at least I think that was him, if my memory serves.)




Bio pics are never perfect.  The filmmakers are limited by time, and there's no way to convey every aspect of the subject's life.  I'm sure as David Schultz penned this script, there were many sides of the story that had to be cut in order to keep the running time to a reasonable length.  Actor Michael Koch did a fabulous job-- on a number of occasions I mistook his singing voice for Rich's.  The choice of casting was spot-on.  I just wish the movie could have had a bit more levity peppered through the screenplay.

My overwhelming impression of Ragamuffin was a positive, warm one. It not only shed new light on his life, but it also made me miss him all over again.  During his lifetime he wasn't my favorite Christian musician (that distinction went to Amy Grant, with whom he worked), but he certainly was a cherished one. I think in the summer of 1992 I wore a groove into my Rich Mullins cassettes, as I toted them around in my Walkman at Honey Rock Camp as a counselor.  While not all Rich Mullins fans may agree with the cinematic choices Schultz made, I think it's a must-see for them. And for those who have little to no knowledge of the man, it's also a great testament to the love of God-- how He loves all of us, including us imperfect, struggling Ragamuffins.







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Bio Devotional

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