It took 47 years for one of the greatest music documentaries ever made to make it to the public. It is here now. Whether you are a die-hard Aretha Franklin fan or just love music do not miss the chance to see and hear “Amazing Grace” on theatrical release in knock down glorious surround sound.
In 1972 Aretha Franklin was in her prime. After winning 5 Grammys and a string of number one pop & R&B hits she wanted to pay tribute to her gospel roots with a live church performance that would stand as her musical testimony to God. That audio performance became the best selling gospel album ever ‘Amazing Grace’ but astonishingly the filmed performance was cast aside due to ‘technical problems’ .
Filmed in the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles by Sidney Pollack over 2 nights to a mix of her fans and church goers the visuals are rough and raw. At one point the choir halts because a glass of water falls onto the mic stand and they worry that it might mean the attendees cannot hear. Filmed long before the reality look was dominant it may have felt unfinished in its time but now it reinforces the illusion of being their live.
What is beyond astonishing is the quality of the sound and of her voice. Listen to every single Aretha Franklin album ever made and there is not a better example of her work than was caught in those two sessions. Intimate, powerful and soaring without any artifice present, other than the church ladies wearing their best Sunday hair, Aretha calls God into the room. People weep. To see Franklin surrounded by churchgoers moved by the spirit as well as the music captures a passion that a pop concert in a commercial venue never could. It is rare and wonderful.
“Amazing Grace” is the eulogy that Aretha Franklin deserved. It is beautiful and unique. She never sold out the voice and heart of the black church to pop and R&B. She embodied what made it special. This documentary captures that unrivalled contribution to musical history in the room as it happened.