Amazing Grace: A spectacular snapshot of the Queen of Soul
She’s known by many names and she deserves every one, Miss Aretha Franklin. Amazing Grace is a different type of music documentary. It is a spectacular snapshot that relives a two-evening live recording event from 1972 for Franklin’s titular album. The footage exists at all as Warner Bros saw an opportunity to tape the process and enlisted Sydney Pollack to direct the concert film. Unexplained “technical difficulties” is the listed reason why it was never released. Ostensibly, Miss Franklin was also unhappy with the footage. But as the lyrics go, “I once was lost but now am found”, the event has finally been reconstructed and pours out with the joy, power, and elusiveness of the Queen of Soul.
Aside from the introduction of text placing the concert, there is no additional dialogue, no editorial intrusion to shape the recreation. Franklin’s versions of Wholy Moly, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Mary Don’t You Weep, You’ve Got a Friend and Amazing Grace, fill the film with life. Nothing else is required. Even the space is sparse. The pale blue walls of New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles are bare aside from a painted mural of Jesus Christ above the altar. Behind the podium, the red and white stripes of the flag droop in the corner. The iconography speaks loud.
The intimacy of the event is mirrored in the long shots pulling focus from across the hall. Between songs, the camera zooms in on the unbreakable concentration of the young star. Sweat rolls down her face with intensity. She is backdropped by crowded aisles of viewers. The vivacity of the space, palpable in the air, is matched by the fabulous outfits of each attendant in the room. The swaths of bright colour are exhilarating on screen. The outfits of the First Lady of Soul are equally elegant but more restrained, they expose a shift from the grander outfits she wore later in her career.
Amazing Grace is an experience that can only emulate a fraction of the spirit that was in the church on those two evenings. The crowds and the woman herself grant us a chance to see the beauty and grace and transcendental power of Franklin’s voice. It is a portrait of a moment frozen in the past that echoes on. Amazing Grace is the antithesis of a cradle-to-grave biopic yet miraculously manages to capture the singer’s life and how crucial she was in the lives of others.
Amazing Grace does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Amazing Grace here: