Amazing Grace documents the 1972 recording session of Aretha that would become the live gospel album of the same name. It was basically abandoned by Syndey Pollock after some technical issues in the post-production stages. Now it’s been finally cobbled together by Alan Elliott, with some approval by the Pollock and Franklin estates, Aretha wanted way too much money for its release for years, so with her passing last year, it’s finally coming out.
It’s a perfect document of history in the making, unfolding before the viewers’ eye. From her stunning entrance to the final number, it’s a breathtaking performance. It was recorded in New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, and from the get-go the members of the congregation are enraptured by this sermon-like performance that the Queen of Soul gives over the two nights of the recording. Audience members even pass out at the power of the performance. Brian Eno, who is an avowed atheist but a massive fan of gospel music, has said about the possible contradiction between being a non-believer: “Why am I so moved by a music based on something that I just don’t believe in? What I started to think was that one of the things we humans like doing is surrendering.” and “Okay, I’m not in control anymore. I’m going with it.” And that’s a good way to look at the performance, you just have to give control over to Aretha Franklin’s performance, and the band and choir she has backing her.
There isn’t really much else to be said, but it’s a stunning performance and it’s a beautiful film: a touching, moving testament to Aretha Franklin and the haunting, transcendent nature that gospel music sometimes has. Like almost all classic soul/R&B and singers, Franklin’s background was in gospel music, so she was in her comfort zone there as much as she was singing any of pop hits. It merges pop and gospel perfectly, and even starts with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s gospel-infused “Wholly Holy” from the then fairly recent What’s Going On album. Spot Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts on the second night in the audience, truly stunned by the performance.
The Blu-Ray disc doesn’t include any special features, but the film is the special feature with this one.