There can be no doubt that Amazing Grace is a cinematic experience like no other. The ninety minute film documents the recording of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 gospel album of the same name. The highest selling gospel album of all time was recorded in the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, and the indisputable Queen of Soul was supported by the dulcet tones of the Southern Californian Community Choir. Interestingly, the film was directed by Sydney Pollack who was given the task of documenting the recording for television release, but due to technical issues, the footage was never seen…until now.
If you are expecting a documentary about the famed songstress’ life, think again. Amazing Grace does not delve into the complex narrative that is Aretha’s life story. Rather, it is reminiscent of a concert. Yet this is no regular gig. Aretha absolutely takes us to church!
The film begins with an opening from Reverend James Cleveland, he himself a renowned gospel singer, which builds the anticipation for the arrival of the soul icon. She opens with the inspired ‘Wholy Holy’, co-penned by contemporary Marvin Gaye, and we are instantly moved. Her consolidation of notes that defy comprehension leave the audience in awe. This is followed by a string of gospel classics, including ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’, ‘Climbing Higher Mountains’ and the formidable title track, ‘Amazing Grace’.
A highlight is the gospo-pop medley of Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ and the classic ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’ in which the differing genres converge into a truly spiritual awakening.
It must be said that Amazing Grace may not be to everyone’s taste. Yet, a true lover of music will be blown away by the spectacle. It is hard not to be engrossed, not only by Aretha’s sublime talent, but also the joyous rapture of the church-goers immersing themselves in the experience. A completely unique, yet compelling film.
By Rachel Gould