Movie Review - Amazing Grace (2019)

On June 1, 1972, Aretha Franklin released a gospel album. It was critically acclaimed. It also was certified double platinum. It stands as Franklin's biggest selling album. It also stands as the highest-selling live gospel album of all-time. It won Franklin a Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance. That performance was recorded live on January 13 and 14 of that same year at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir accompanied her. They all performed in front of a packed audience. The filmmaker Sydney Pollack was hired to document that live recording with various cameras.

Pollack's film was set to be released later that year about two months after the album's release. However, technical difficulties prevented Pollack from doing so. Apparently, Pollack didn't use a clapperboard during the filming, which then made syncing the audio to the film nearly impossible. The film was shelved in a vault at Warner Bros. for decades. Once video technology became advanced enough to sync audio to film without a clapperboard, the film was able to be complete, which it was back in 2011. However, Franklin sued the film company blocking the release that year. It wasn't until Franklin died in 2018 that the legal impediment was taken away. The film got its limited release this spring.

This whole thing is basically a concert film where we simply watch Franklin stand at the pulpit in the front of the church with the reverend beside her and the choir behind her. We then watch her sing various songs that would become the bulk of the live album. First, it has to be noted that the Reverend who accompanies her is himself a musician. He plays piano and sings gospel. He's pretty incredible himself. He's the one who introduces Franklin and addresses the crowd in between songs and during intermissions. He's funny and charming, a perfect preacher who's warm and engaging. He's also the perfect hype-man for this event.

However, the main attraction is Franklin herself. I am not a fan of gospel music in particular. Yet, Franklin's talent is undeniable. Her accomplishments and accolades are noted in text on screen prior to her introduction. Yet, even if you had no clue who she was or what her status was as a legend and icon in soul and R&B music, you'd still be very impressed. Her nickname by the time of this live album had already been "The Queen of Soul." If that were not known to you, there becomes no doubt as to why she is so revered. The moment she opens her mouth and sings her first note, I was in tears. Her angelic voice hits you to your core and to your very soul. I cried during her first song and for several various songs after.

It's reinforced in watching the reactions of the people in the audience in that church. She has people up and out of their seats, moved so strongly. People begin dancing in the aisles. They're on their feet clapping and cheering. People get what's referred to as the holy ghost. At one point, one woman breaks down, almost having a fit in the front row, requiring people to restrain and then comfort her. It truly was an experience that really affected people.

Franklin's father was also present and he made comments. There is a cameo from Mick Jagger. It's also an interesting look at the style of people in the 70's. The amount of big hair and particularly of black people with afros is the big note. Franklin is herself gorgeous and despite being hot and literally very sweaty, she does come across as an absolute queen and possibly a goddess.

Rated G for all audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.

Available on DVD and VOD.


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