Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack
You are invited to experience The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, record what would become the highest-selling gospel music album of all time. The footage seen in this concert film was shot live over two days at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, Los Angeles in 1972, when Aretha was just 29 years of age and at her Grammy-winning peak. Throughout AMAZING GRACE, she is accompanied by The Southern California Community Choir and a crew of film and sound engineers who capture the spectacular event, all under the direction of late filmmaker Sydney Pollack.
Shortly before his passing, Sydney Pollack handed this documentary project over to producer Alan Elliott, who was given the all clear by Franklin’s family to finally release the film following her death in 2018 and after a couple of legal dramas. Twice, in 2011 and again in 2015, AMAZING GRACE was scheduled for release and both times Aretha Franklin had sued Elliott in order to block this from happening, for her own reasons.
The other hurdle that significantly delayed the completion and release of this documentary were the technological difficulties syncing the audio tracks with the visual print. Taking this into consideration, the personnel that managed to solve this conundrum have done an outstanding job and it couldn’t have been easy for Alan Elliott to sift through twenty hours of well-preserved footage and condense that into a feature that runs for just 89 minutes.
Despite its seemingly brief duration, the overall content of the film had me feeling as though I were a part of an over-extended melodic church service. Albeit, a vocally stunning one, of course! There is absolutely no narration or interviews filmed and integrated to the final cut of AMAZING GRACE. That is completely fine if you’re a devotee of Aretha Franklin, a committed church-goer, or better still, both. If so, mark this down as a must-see film for 2019. However, if like me you appreciate Aretha Franklin’s jaw-dropping vocal capabilities and enjoy her universally recognised songs much more (Amazing Grace is all you’re going to know here folks), then you too will probably feel a little underwhelmed at some point once the novelty has worn off.
Nevertheless, this is the most raw and soulful we’ve probably even seen Aretha Franklin. When she does perform a heartfelt and truly ‘in the moment’ rendition of Amazing Grace, Goosebumps, tears, or both are guaranteed. If nothing else, we can be grateful for the reminder of just how sweet the sound of Aretha Franklin indeed was and always will be.
Moviedoc thanks Studiocanal for the invite to the screening of this film.
AMAZING GRACE is released in cinemas throughout Australia from August 29th, 2019.