Long- thought lost in a quagmire of technical problems and multiple lawsuits, Sydney Pollack’s documentary ‘Amazing Grace’ finally sees the light of day. Forty-six years after it was originally filmed, ‘Amazing Grace’ is the documentary of Aretha Franklin’s seminal recording of her similarly-titled gospel album.
... Tear-inducing, transcendent, ‘Amazing Grace’ is an life-afirming event enshrined in a call-to-worship.
By 1972, soul singer Aretha Franklin has climbed every mountain anyone could ever conceive of. With multiple Grammys and eighteen albums lying at her feet, she has little else to prove. However, Aretha has her sights set on a more personal goal.
Similar to when Dylan went ‘electric’ in 1965, as Aretha moved away from her gospel roots, there were now dissenting voices who had once cheered her on. So, by recording a gospel album, Aretha would finally “bring it all on home”. Deliberately choosing the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, the setting would be intimate one and yet still reverential. Filled with a mixture of the church’s regular congregation and backed by the Southern California Community Choir, the stage was set for her to set it alight.
From her first breaths into Revd. James Cleveland’s humble microphone, the quality gap between performance and amplification becomes instantly apparent. No longer her father’s erstwhile disciple, when Aretha starts to soar, she now takes the audience with her.
Augmented by the presence of the choir behind her, the quality of the sound quickly overcomes the granularity of the film stock. Wisely left un-enhanced by any noticeable modernity, ‘Amazing Grace’ is her two nights of performance intercut as one. Even when costume changes mid-song, nothing distracts from the talent on display. When Aretha’s vocals start to launch out of the screen, nothing much else really matters. As the camera glances across the audience, even the appearances of Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts barely register a mention, because the real quality of ‘Amazing Grace’ is when Aretha goes off-script.
When the holy spirit of her impassioned vocals starts to take a grip, reducing many of the audience into spiritual dancing, even her stony-faced father cannot resist to grin and gasp in awe. Moving through her registers and lifting up her voice in unbridled joy, her improvised calls and responses to the choir will have you moving, be you saint, sinner or non-believer, her divine energy is unquestioningly palpable.
For a movie whose imagery has been forcibly divorced from its double-platinum soundtrack for nearly fifty years, none of its potency has not been left on the shelf. Tear-inducing, transcendent, ‘Amazing Grace’ is an life-afirming event enshrined in a call-to-worship.
Let it send you.