Published on September 12th, 2019 | by Craig Silliphant0
Amazing Grace is the long-awaited, resurrected footage of the Aretha Franklin album recording concert that led to one of the biggest gospel albums in history.
Amazing Grace was a brilliant, live gospel album from The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who was trying something new, by returning to her roots. The album was recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in LA in 1973, with help from the Southern California Community Choir and Alexander Hamilton and James Cleveland. It easily went double platinum and won the Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance. It was Franklin’s biggest selling album and one of the highest-selling gospel albums in history. It’s one of those gospel albums that proves that the right church music can stir the soul of even the greatest of atheists.
The concert was also filmed by Sidney Pollack, meant to be a multimedia release of sorts, but due to errors in synching the footage with the audio, the film was never made. But the footage was revived by Alan Elliot over a decade ago and he worked to fix the technical issues. Franklin sued him several times to halt the release of the film, however, so he wasn’t able to make it happen until after she passed away and her family and estate made arrangements to allow it.
And it’s a great thing that this is finally being seen. It captures a magical time and place, and the remarkable communal experience that music can be. As they move through two nights of concert, you can see how affected the audience is, closing their eyes or raising up their hands, clapping and singing, the holy spirit even moving some of them to dance. From a secular, music history point of view, it’s also very cool to see the footage of Aretha and the musicians playing what you’ve only heard on record with your ears for so many years.
It’s also a lark to catch glimpses of Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts in the crowd. They were in LA to finish Exile on Main St. Some critics have made the supposition that the gospel notes in songs like ‘Shine a Light’ were garnered up from seeing this show.
And of course, at the centre of it, is Aretha Franklin herself. She is beautiful. Her voice is sublime. And even though she is sweating, she is effortless.
It’s usually billed as a documentary, and while that is technically a true term, I’d call it a concert film. There’s nothing in the way of a story or behind the scenes footage. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the film captures what it was supposed to, but it would have been amazing to get more of a glimpse behind the curtain. That said, if you’re interested, you can read the 33 1/3 book about it for a great look at the whole thing.
Just as the album itself was successful, Amazing Grace the film will easily go down in both music and film history, next to movies like Gimme Shelter or Woodstock, as one of the all-time classic concert films.