How They Got Over

“Archival performance footage and illuminating interviews stand out in this aurally pleasing history of twentieth-century African American gospel quartets that developed a spirit and a style that shaped much of the popular music that came after. One of the best documentaries of the year.” - Sue-Ellen Beauregard, Video Librarian, November 2021

“How They Got Over traces the music from its exquisite jubilee-style harmonies to tugging “smooth gospel.” With a trove of archival performance footage, much of it from the television show TV Gospel Time, and the wisdom to let those images breathe, the film leans into the maxim about showing not telling. Among the highlights: the Blind Boys of Mississippi joined by the Barrett Sisters in a hand-clapping rendition of “I’ll Be Singing Up There” and Inez Andrews pressing hard on the pedal of her wail and prophesying the rock to come.” - Lisa Kennedy, New York Times, October 2021

“The warmth and emotion of gospel music, the on-stage theatrics (switching leads, emotive vocal performances that James Brown would eventually make his signature) combined with reworked lyrical refrains (‘Lord’ changes to ‘baby’) and the addition of drum and bass, would create a new music form and latch itself into popular consciousness. This documentary by filmmaker Robert Clem is a straight-up joy to watch: the music is terrific, it’s well researched and as it’s an aspect of American music that hasn’t really been given its due in documentary film, it greatly rewards the uninitiated. Go see.” - Jarrod Walker, FilmInk (AU), May 2018

“The movie is a deep dive into the exact origins of gospel music. The film takes extensive interviews with quartet members from the thirties and beyond to figure out their exact motivations, and see how the industry got from traveling church troupes to the spectacle of these groups on national television in the sixties. How They Got Over emphasizes just how communal the original gospel quartet circuit was, how it seeped into everyday life, and how all of these people were interacting in the same larger community. “ - William Schwartz, Book and Film Globe, November 2021

“You’d think that there’d be no room for rebels in gospel music. With How They Got Over, a new movie from Robert Clem recently screened at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, we learned, as is usually the case, things are rarely that clear-cut. There’s so much joy and raw emotion, so many characters, so much history and, yes, the occasional rebel in the world of gospel. Not only is it easy for music lovers with an open mind to enjoy (regardless of their personal spiritual beliefs) but it’s actually hard not to love it.” - Brett Callwood, Idobi, March 2019

“Clem isn’t afraid to let the music do the talking, either, playing full archival sets throughout the film rather than clipping them. “I wanted to give present-day audiences a chance to see what this was all about," he says. As they moved into the dance halls, the gospel quartets began to dramatically transform American youth culture. Clem argues this is a vitally important part of American musical history that needs to be shared more widely.” - Stephen A. Russell, Melbourne (AU) Age, May 2018

Big Jim Folsom

“For most People, Alabama is not the first place that comes to mind when the subject turns to progressive, liberal politics, especially on the race question. The reason is that the dark, sinister shadow of George Wallace has eclipsed the radical, egalitarian career of Big Jim Folsom. Robert Clem’s fine new documentary hopefully will give people a new perspective on Alabama’s surprising political past. Folsom was a huge man with huge appetites for ladies and booze. Newspapers, mostly owned by the wealthy, tried to paint him as a rube and a drunk. It didn’t faze Folsom, who paved rural roads, created old age pensions (farmers were ineligible for Social Security) and worked for political and economic rights for Blacks. Wallace rightly sensed that political power would go to those who manipulated the race issue to their advantage. You can’t help but wonder how different Alabama and the nation would have been had Big Jim Folsom been able to keep it together and march the state toward peace and justice during the turbulent ‘60s.” - John D. Thomas, Atlanta Weekly, June 1997

“The film is about lost opportunity, how the state's rural and blue-collar workers - the whites who formed Folsom's electoral majority as they sought a better share of post-war prosperity - found their champion not in the progressive, racially moderate Folsom, but in the clamorous demagoguing of the fist­ shaking populist waiting in the wings, the segregationist George C. Wallace. Clem's film gives one the chance to look at Folsom again and ponder the route Alabama took at its midcentury crossroads.” - Kendal Weaver, Associated Press, July 1996

“Big Jim Folsom: The Two Fares of Populism" is a sympathetic yet compelling portrait of former Alabama governor Jim Folsom. In the face of great opposition from Alabama's elite cotton planters and urban industrialists, Folsom advocated a program of expanded state services, constitutional reform, and greater civil rights for African Americans and poor whites.
Central to this documentary is the comparison between Jim Folsom and his former all, George Wallace. Both men were products of the rural populist tradition of southeast Alabama. Wallace, however, seized on a different "face" of populism -- the politics of race-to further his own political career. The 1962 gubernatorial election was a defining point in the state's racial history because it pitted Folsom's racial moderation against 'Wallace's politics of hate. As evident by the racial conflict that swept Alabama in the 1960s, Wallace's victory had dire consequences for the state. - Library Journal, 1996

In the Wake of the Assassins

“The bullet that killed John Patterson’s father, Albert Patterson, in 1954 inadvertently killed any chance for Alabama to weather the storms of the Civil Rights era. How that transpired is part of the tale Clem tells in his 86-minute film. The border town of Phenix City in southeast Alabama was wide open in the early Fifties; controlled by organized crime and amenable to about any vice imaginable, as soldiers from nearby Fort Benning found out every payday. Longtime resident Albert Patterson vowed he'd clean up the town, but thuggery ruled so completely that the only way Patterson could get traction was to be elected state attorney general, which, against all odds, he accomplished in 1954.

When he started making serious moves against corruption, Patterson was shot down in the streets of Phenix City. In the ensuing chaos. Governor Gordon Persons declared martial law and dispatched the National Guard in to run the town. But the story does not end there. Patterson's son, John, determined to track down the killers, filled out the rest of his father's term in office, and based on his performance, outpolled a young aspirant named George Wallace in the 1958 race for governor. He won by exploiting the race issue, and afterwards George Wallace, who had been relatively moderate on race, declared he would never be “outniggered” again.” - Courtney Haden, Birmingham Weekly, July 2007

“A man of no real political ambitions early on, John Patterson was swept into office when members of the Phenix City mob gunned down his father, who had just been elected attorney general on the promise that he would shut down the “poor man’s Las Vegas” on the Chattahoochee. Bent on revenge, Patterson ran for and was elected attorney general in his father’s place. But corruption was not the issue that caught the popular imagination back then. Segregation was the subject on everyone’s mind, and soon Patterson was deep in the debate. Patterson ran for governor, vowing to keep Alabama free from corruption and the races separate. But it was the race issue that put him in the spotlight and paved the way for his victory. But it was not until I saw this remarkable documentary of Patterson’s life and career that I began to appreciate the difficulties the man faced and how much he accomplished despite them. “- Harvey Jackson, Anniston Star, June 2007

“Clem's film goes on to deal with more than Patterson's fight against the mobsters of Phenix City. It deals with Patterson's association with President John F. Kennedy, a national leader who -- like Albert Patterson -- was killed by assassin's bullets. It devotes time, too, to Patterson's history with segregation. Patterson said he knew when he was in office that segregation could not stand forever, but he thought it best for the state "to fight a legal delaying action." The goal was to bring about change slowly, he said, so that change could come without violence. Gov. George C. Wallace, who succeeded him, and Wallace's segregationist defiance of the federal government hastened the change as it fueled the violence, Patterson said. Filmmaker Clem, who has also made films about Alabama Gov. James "Big Jim" Folsom and Alabama writer William March, believes Patterson may have been slightly concerned how the film was going to come out on the civil rights issues, because he has been on the defensive for years and years. But while Patterson may feel uneasy now about how his segregation-era stances on civil rights issues are viewed, he's unreserved in his pride for the legacy he left in Phenix City. "Phenix City will be the last place that organized crime will come back to," he said. "As long as people are living there who were living there then, they are not going to stand for it." - Mike Brantley, Mobile Press-Register, May 2007