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Amazing Grace


Stars: Aretha Franklin, the Reverend James Cleveland, C.F. Franklin, the Southern California Community Choir. Alexander Hamilton, Bernard Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Cornell Dupree

Director: Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack

Back in 1972 (January, to be exact) Aretha Franklin. accompanied by the Reverend James Cleveland ('She could easily have gone into a studio. She wanted to do it here') travelled to Los Angeles and recorded her legendary double album Amazing Grace over two days in the run-down New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts which, appropriately, had once been a cinema.

In June 1972 the resulting Grammy-winning album which showcased Franklin's unique, still soul-stirring version of Amazing Grace became the best-selling live gospel album ever.

However, the intended film of its making, employing 20 hours of footage shot over two days by five 16 mm cameras, which was due to be shown in a double-bill with Super Fly failed to appear.

The backstory is fascinating.

Warner Brothers hired Sydney Pollack to direct the film.

Unfortunately he had no experience of making a musical documentary and, bizarrely, filmed the concert without using clapperboards, which made it impossible at that time to synchronise image and soundtrack.

The film was shelved.

In 2008, however, a terminally ill Pollack handed over the footage to producer Alan Elliott, who succeeded in creating this uniquely compelling concert film, although Franklin sued to prevent it from being screened at the Telluride Film Festival without being compensated.

However, the 47-year-long wait to see Amazing Grace has been worthwhile. Accompanied by The Southern California Community Choir and Reverend Cleveland, Franklin's renditions of What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Mary Don't You Weep, Amazing Grace, and, appropriately, her final song Never Grow Old emerge as a stunning combination of tribute and sheer musical ecstasy (usually far-from-camera shy Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, rightly reduced to extras, are seen rocking at the back of the church).

Alan Frank

USA 2018. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Colour.
88 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 12 May 2019