As the world mourns the passing of Aretha Franklin, the fans and followers of the Queen of Soul have been given a gift to help remember this incredibly talented woman. At the height of her career in 1972, the legendary vocalist chose to get back to her gospel roots and record what is credited as the best selling and critically-acclaimed album of this genre, Amazing Grace. What was lesser known about the recording was that the award-winning director, Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) had filmed the live recording over two nights. Then due to a technical difficulty, the project was shelved at Warner Brothers for nearly 40 years. After an extended legal battle and the subsequent death of the singer, this forgotten footage was eventually released as a power-packed homage to Aretha Franklin.
Set in Los Angeles at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, Aretha worked with her friend, the celebrated gospel singer James Cleveland to pull together a live album like no other. With the backing of the Southern California Community Choir under the direction of Alexander Hamilton, the recording went from being a mere recording to one of the most significant events in gospel music.
Pastor Cleveland introduces Aretha Franklin, but instructs the primarily African-American audience to treat this like a church service. As it was recorded and filmed in a church in the heart of LA during the early 70s, the event became an unprecedented spiritual spectacle. The artist was backed by this world-class choir and some of the best musicians of the era. The musicians travelled through songs of Franklin's heritage that seemed to come from down deep in her soul. From songs like Marvin Gaye’s Wholly, Holy to John Newton’s Amazing Grace, each moment turned into a transcendent experience that can only be appreciated upon viewing the film.
Originally the filming was meant to be used as a double feature for the release of the Warner Brothers Super Fly. The audience eventually contained gospel music royalty, Franklin’s father and singer Clara Ward as well as Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones who happened to be recording heir album Exile on Main St. in the city at the time. Unfortunately, Pollack forget to utilise clapboards for each segment while filming which led to technical and editing problem with combining the recording and the video footage. This simple mistake led to the film being shelved for decades until it was purchased by producer Alan Elliott who went through years of getting the film made and the painstaking legal battle to its eventual release in 2018.
For the fans of Aretha Franklin, gospel music and a visual spectacle unlike anything else in theatres, Amazing Grace is worth the wait. Despite being filmed in 1972, this is an encounter worth having in theatres.
Regardless of your faith position, those who can truly appreciate the value each word that each song delivers, this will prove to rival the most memorable church services in history. A film that must be seen to be genuinely appreciated and there is no better place to see it than on the big screen with surround sound. Give yourself a gift this year and immerse yourself in this unforgettable musical experience. A film that will leave you emotionally exhausted, but it will cause your spiritual cup to overflow with satisfaction.
REEL DIALOGUE: Why does music have such a hold on our lives?
'Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.' Herbie Hancock
Aretha barely says a word during the film, but each song she belts out manages to speak into so many of the issues of this world. What is it about music that permeates the soul? It is central to most cultures and celebrated in the Bible, but if it becomes an obsession, it can destroy lives. Amazing Grace manages to show the beauty, the spiritual depth and the impact that this industry can have on people.
How does music hold such power over our existence as humans? What does God have to say about the work of music in our lives? Thankfully God does not leave us wondering, the Bible does have the answers to this fantastic aspect of humanity.
Passages on music: Psalm 104:33, Psalm 95:1, Psalm 105:2, Psalm 150, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, James 5:13
#AmazingGrace #studiocanal #arethafranklin
Official Site: Amazing Grace Movie
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Russ Matthews works for City Bible Forum as the Engaging Manager. He enjoys developing large public forums throughout the city to engage workers with the bigger questions of life. He oversees The Edge and Reel Dialogue.