It’s not been a banner year for music docs, with Nick Broomfield’s underwhelming Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love, Seamus Murphy’s downright awful A Dog Called Money and the upcoming – but passable – Pavarotti from Ron Howard. Thank the stars for Amazing Grace.
Named after the seminal gospel album, Amazing Grace is the long-lost concert film that brilliantly captures the late Queen of Soul at the height of her powers. Commissioned by Warner Bros, then young director Sydney Pollack and his crew filmed the live recording of Franklin’s album at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in LA in 1972. Major snag though: the wallies forgot the all-important clapperboard, resulting in images that were unsynchronised with the sound. Due to the synching snafu and other drama, the film was shelved until 2007, when the footage was bought by music producer Alan Elliott, who reworked his purchase. Still, it remained unseen at the behest of its subject, and it’s only after Franklin’s death last year that her family agreed to release the two nights of her performance, here intercut as one. The result is a foot-stomping, uplifting and life-affirming tribute.
Whether it’s the energetic rendition of “How I Got Over”, the Gospel classic “Old Landmark” or the beautifully poignant rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy”, this is a joy for both eyes and ears. We witness parishioners mesmerized by what they’re hearing, an appearance in the congregation of Mick Jagger and the fantastically charismatic reverend James Cleveland, who does most of the talking, as Aretha keeps focused between songs. Her vulnerability and at times hesitance are incredibly touching. The emotional crux comes when Cleveland invites Franklin’s father, the Reverend CL Franklin, to the stage. He celebrates his daughter’s voice and intimately communicates his private conviction that what is happening could very well be musical history in the making.
It’s hard to aptly describe the soulful haze this film provokes, a powerfully personal and unbelievably rousing rush. Pollack and Elliott’s joint efforts have produced a sublime concert film that not only makes you want to relisten to everything Aretha Franklin ever recorded, but also a film stands alongside the likes of Malik Bendjelloul’s Waiting For Sugar Man, Asif Kapadia’s Amy and Tom Berninger’s Mistaken For Strangers as a music doc that truly does the genre proud.
Amazing Grace | Directed by Sidney Pollack, Alan Elliott (US, 1972 / 2019). Starts Nov 28.
Check our OV search engine for showtimes.