Aretha Franklin’s two-night performance in 1972, became the most successful, top-selling live gospel album of all time. The Franklin-focused concert-film Amazing Grace is transcendentally beautiful and the close-up shots are wonderfully intimate.
Warner Bros Records hired Sydney Pollack to shoot the process, looking for a mix between a concert film and a making-of. While this is hard to believe, the original crew neglected to slate the shots with clapperboards, necessary for synchronising sound and image. Thankfully, music producer Alan Elliott had managed to assemble a workable cut with the help of modern editing tools, several years after Pollack’s death in 2008. Although Franklin told the Detroit Free Press in 2015 “I love the film itself,” she contested its release. The legal issues have only now been resolved in the wake of the singer’s death, turning what was once a celebration into something more like a eulogy.
This is a film that engages completely with the titanic talent of Aretha Franklin and her soul-stirring two-night performance. The song selection is a mix of traditional gospel tunes with a little Marvin Gaye and Carole King. At the halfway mark comes an astounding rendition of Amazing Grace that is stretched out to nearly 11 minutes. You can almost feel the sweltering heat from the southern baptist church that’s captured on screen. The sweat bullets on Franklin and the enthusiastic choir, who leap up onto their feet in support of her, almost brings this concert-film to life.
This beautiful time capsule most-definitely stands the test of time (five decades to be precise). Elliott’s Lazarus-like resurrection of Pollack’s movie captures both the hive of musical activity and fervour or religious ecstasy that thronged through that church all those years ago.
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