Running length: 1 hour 29 minutes
Admission: $10 – $14
Brilliantly capturing a remarkable performer at the peak of her prodigious power, Amazing Grace is a thrilling must-watch documentary for Aretha Franklin fans.
An unseen 1972 movie of Aretha Franklin in concert recording the most successful gospel album to date was shelved and remained hidden for nearly 50 years.
Amazing Grace, recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles over several nights in 1972, was supposed to be the vehicle by which the Queen of Soul also became the Queen of Hollywood, says its producer Alan Elliott. It was directed by Oscar winner Sydney Pollack. But a technical mistake meant it was impossible to sync the sound and pictures, and the project was reluctantly dropped.
In the digital age, when Elliott realized the film could be repaired, Franklin refused all attempts to get the film released, up until her death from pancreatic cancer in 2018. Her family agreed after her death that the film should be seen.
“On a professional level, Aretha was promised that she’d be a movie star with this film, and her contemporaries Diana Ross and Barbara Streisand go on to make movies, Diana Ross made Lady Sings the Blues and Barbra Streisand does Funny Girl and The Way We Were – with Sydney Pollack,” Elliott explains.
“Aretha Franklin was denied the chance to be a movie star, and that was her whole problem with the release of the movie. She wasn’t against it, she just had very big expectations. Nevertheless, Franklin did see a version of Amazing Grace before her death, “and she loved it,” says Elliott.
“We knew Aretha Franklin was sick with pancreatic cancer, and we agreed that the film was put on hiatus until the family was ready. According to Boyd, the documentary is a “time capsule from 1972”. Modern audiences watching the film see the music star barely speak three sentences in between songs. With few costume changes, Franklin is glistening with perspiration on a sweltering Los Angeles evening. James Cleveland, known as the “King of Gospel” joins her on stage.
“If you watch modern music documentaries, you have all these talking heads who explain it and lead you by the hand through the whole thing, but in this, the music envelopes you, there’s no chat, and her look is in keeping with her sound – live, in the moment, not over-produced, beautiful. It’s a different era now – there weren’t many moments like this after 1972, much less in the second decade of the 21st Century.”