Words Mike Beck
“That one time the Queen Of Soul became the Queen of Gospel”
Finally, Aretha arrives on the big screen! Amazing Grace the film has taken a whopping forty six years to get its official cinematic release (2018). Recorded and released in 1972, Amazing Grace became (and still is) the greatest selling Gospel recording of all-time. Not bad for a double-album, and also notable that Amazing Grace was Aretha’s biggest seller overall.
Franklin’s concept was to create music that was immersed in the spirit she grew up with. To achieve that, she chose to record Amazing Grace live in a church, with a band, choir, congregation, plus a limited number of family & guests. Performed at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles, the sessions were also filmed, with the intention of releasing a film swiftly too. So why did we have to wait so long for this?
There’s some interesting gender powerplay present in Amazing Grace. Franklin herself barely says a word, as Rev James Cleveland (musical director) & Aretha’s father Rev CL Franklin seemingly speak on her behalf.
God bless the clapper board, but sadly director Sydney Pollack didn’t use one when shooting Amazing Grace. That glitch combined with legal implications, meant that the film was kept in the can. Fast forward to the recent passing of Franklin, the revolution of digital technology (allowing the syncing of sound & picture), & the sorting of copyright complications, meant that Amazing Grace the film got it’s long-awaited birth.
“God bless the clapper board, but sadly director Sydney Pollack didn’t use one when shooting Amazing Grace”
Shot raw and up close, there’s sweat to be seen, and emotions to be felt. Aretha herself is in fantastic form, as her band, who never look like stealing her musical thunder. Keep an ear and an eye out for soul/funk/RnB heavyweights; Chuck Rainey (bass), Bernard Purdie (drums), & Cornell Dupree (guitar).
Amazing Grace presents an unpolished account of the recording sessions, showing rehearsal segments of the film crew prepping for the day/night shoot. Think somewhere in between the previous; Woodstock (1969) & The Last Waltz (1978) music docos. Not far off fifty years in age, Amazing Grace is a unique step back in time. Make an effort to go see it, as it will remind you that music, like Franklin, is itself timeless.