Amazing Grace takes you to church and warms your soul.
The battle to bring this beautiful documentary has been decades long. Spike Lee and his 40 Acres and a Mule production company is amongst the producers behind this documentary seeing the light of day. At a private screening he hosted last year in LA, Lee praised producer Alan Elliott who saved Amazing Grace from languishing in a documentary graveyard.
In 1971, Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul, brought producer Jerry Wexler, her backup singers, and the legendary Atlantic Records rhythm section to The New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts to record an album of gospel music before an enthusiastic live audience. The result, “Amazing Grace”, went on to become the top-selling gospel record of all time, the biggest album of Aretha Franklin’s career, and one of her most beloved works.
Though it almost went unknown that Oscar-winning filmmaker Sydney Pollack and his film crew captured the event on film for Warner Bros. However due to technical issues and who knows what else, the film was never made until now.
Without airs or grace or modern technology glamming up this footage, the grainy visuals still manage to provide so much insight into the world of the Black church by way of African America. We see fashion, we see praise worship how we do it, we see community. We also see a gracious, young Aretha Franklin at home. Comfortable. Singing classic gospel songs backed by the Southern California Community Choir lead by choir director, Alexander Hamilton. Supported by her longtime friend Rev. James Cleveland who’s the kind of reverend that could make a heathen come to church.
A tribute from Aretha’s father Rev. C.L. Franklin gives a glimpse into their relationship. Proud father, respectful daughter a shared closeness. His stern handsome looks daring to betray the pride he feels for Aretha. We also get to see an extremely young Mick Jagger in the audience soaking up the culture …
Honorary mention of one of the church walls emblazoned with a painted mural of a not quite white Jesus, more a bronzed man with straight hair and blue eyes overseeing proceedings. The politics!
Amazing Grace is must watch. It’s an honest moment in our musical history. We are blessed that someone had the foresight to rescue this glorious footage.
Amazing Grace comes to cinemas 10th May 2019.