"It is hard to imagine any one doing a better job within this genre"

Outstanding But Overly Short

(051719) Aretha Franklin is probably best known for her magnificent cover of “Respect” which became the primary anthem for the late 60s/70’s second wave feminist movement. Ironically the song was originally written by and performed by a male, Otis Redding. Nonetheless, she sang it so well that the song became hers in the public consciousness.  Chain of Fools, Say a Little Prayer, (You Make me Feel Like) a Natural Woman and Think are other Aretha songs that have become classics.

Amazing Grace is an outstanding Aretha Franklin music concert film, which displays the immense talent of the queen of soul in her prime. She passed away last August (you might have seen one of the trillion news tributes) and this unearthed concert film from the ‘70s serves as a fitting tribute to her talent.

The 1972 film documents an important occasion in music history. Like many of the all-time soul greats including Otis Redding, Mavis Staples, and Sam Cook, Aretha started out singing in church, then she started performing more secular numbers (soul is gospel with lyrics about human love instead of God).

Franklin decided to record a live gospel album in front of an enthusiastic audience of likeminded believers (as well as a pair of Rolling Stones) at the New Temple Missionary Church in Watts, California (the same area was the setting of the film Wattsstock.) The recording was released as Amazing Grace, named after one of the songs on the LP, and it went on to become the bestselling gospel album in music history. Surprisingly it was also Aretha’s bestselling album ever and it is now considered a classic.

Sydney Pollack, the director of the terrific Tootsie and the over rated Out of Africa, filmed the two-day sessions, and unbelievably the film was supposed to be released on a double bill with the classic pimp antihero Blaxploitation film, Superfly (which contains another of the best soundtracks of the 70s).

However, it was not to be, and the people who worked on the film were never able to synchronize the sound and visuals well enough, so Amazing Grace sat on a shelf until now. Pollack died in 2008, but the possibilities of new digital technology allowed the studio to finally finish the film.

A musical admirer, Carmen McCrae once said of Aretha, “She doesn’t sing she flies.” When Aretha pelts out such classic church hymns as What a Friend You Have In Jesus, Wholy Holy and Never Grown Old (in the film she is often shot in the light covered with sweat) she seems in a positively rapturous trance like state. It is hard to imagine any one doing a better job within this genre, and almost all the singing I have heard in churches, and almost all the current stuff I hear on the radio pales in comparison.

Amazing Grace has some notable celebrity cameos including the Reverend Cleveland; gospel legend, Clara Ward; her father, Reverend C. L. Franklin; plus Rolling Stones members, Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts around the time they were recording Exile on Main Street.

There is only one reason why I did not award the film a full four stars. The length of the film is a paltry 87 minutes. Since I know that over 30 songs were recorded from the event, it is inexcusable that they held back so much potentially great material. Perhaps they are waiting for the DVD release to add more numbers. Nonetheless, after a deliriously exquisite almost hour and a half, I was disappointed that there was not more to see. I could have sat through another four hours.

The film opened in New York late last year for awards consideration, but it just opened in the Chicago suburbs a few weeks ago.

Directed by:   Sydney Pollack
Written by:   Screenplay by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold and Brock Norman Brock
Starring:    Aretha Franklin, Reverend James Cleveland, and C. L. Franklin
Released:    031519
Length:    87 minutes
Rating:    Unrated

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to
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Come see his next poetry show at the Art Colony on Saturday, June 8 from 5-7, 2019 at 2630 W. Fletcher. Just southeast of Belmont/Elston/ California.

AMAZING GRACE ©  2019 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks
Review © 2019 Alternate Reality, Inc.