Rescued from forty-five years in legal and technical limbo, this extraordinary music film capturing Aretha Franklin in full flight deserves your respect – and the biggest screen and sound system possible.
In 1972, twenty-nine-year-old Aretha Franklin, the ‘Queen of Soul’, wishing to return to her gospel roots, chose to record an album live at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles. She was ably accompanied by the top-notch musicians of her regular touring band, the heavenly Southern California Community Choir, conducted by a rocking Alexander Hamilton; mighty Reverend James Cleveland, who taught Franklin piano; and her own father, the great preacher C.L. Franklin. Recorded over two nights, the result was a double album that went on to become the highest-selling live gospel music album of all time.
Although Warner Bros. brought in Sydney Pollack to shoot the recording, audio syncing issues – later resolved by modern technology – and Franklin’s subsequent repudiation of the film led to its shelving for forty-five years.
Neither concert film nor music documentary, Amazing Grace is an electrifying experience of being-there-in-wonderment: Aretha, at the peak of her powers, is a spellbinding, incandescent presence. Her voice transcends, taking the choir and congregation, both in the church and in the cinema, with it, making you want to rise to your feet, dance, holler and weep. Sublime.
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