Amazing Grace (not rated)
Amazing Grace is a joyful, uplifting film of Aretha Franklin singing gospel music over two nights in a California church in 1972, when she was 29 years old, and at the height of her popularity. The resulting album Amazing Grace, would become her best-selling album, and is the overall best-selling gospel album of all time. For the album, Franklin added instruments in the studio and overdubbed some of her vocals. This film represents for the first time her original performances at the church.
The film is produced by two-time Oscar winner Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) and Alan Elliot, and has an interesting history. When the concert was filmed, Pollack somehow failed to properly synchronize the video (captured with multiple cameras) with the sound through the use of a clapperboard, a common film device. As a result, the film sat on the shelf, until Alan Elliot worked with a special technical team in 2008, who over a three-week period of time worked to get the approximate 20 hours of film properly synced. After that, another ten years of legal issues, Franklin’s resistance to the film being released, her declining health and eventual death in 2018, kept the film from seeing the light of day. We can be thankful that it has finally been released.Franklin’s performances were filmed at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the Watts area of Los Angeles on January 13-14, 1972. The Rev. James Cleveland, a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, served as the music director. Franklin was backed by the 30-member Southern California Community Choir, directed by the energetic and expressive Alexander Hamilton, and Aretha’s band members – drummer Bernard Purdie, guitarist Cornall Dupree and bassist Chuck Rainey. Throughout the film, you see cameras, camera men, microphones, the camera at times shaking, and images occasionally being fuzzy and then coming into focus. The actually filming of the two performances may remind you of a home movie – some call it ‘fly on the wall’ style. There is nothing special about how the performance is filmed, with a split screen used twice as the only special feature. Franklin, wearing silky, flowing outfits, never speaks to the audience as she sings from the pulpit and piano. The focus is on her amazing voice and her collaboration with Cleveland, the choir and musicians. The film does not have any interviews added, as many documentaries do. Here, the focus is solely on Franklin’s incredible performance, along with some comments from the Rev. James Cleveland, who sits at the piano, and the Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s father. The reaction of the crowd, with their 1972 era clothes and hairstyles, which included Rolling Stones Mike Jagger and Charlie Watts (in Los Angeles to record their classic album Exile on Main Street) is also special, as you see reactions such as tears of joy, clapping and dancing for joy. You will probably experience some of these emotions yourself as you watch this film.
Amazing Grace chronicles two incredible performances of gospel music from Aretha Franklin at a California church in 1972 and gives glory to God. Songs include “Amazing Grace”, “Mary, Don’t You Weep”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, “Climbing Higher Mountains”, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand/You’ve Got a Friend”, “Precious Memories” and more. Highly recommended!