After many dangers, toils and snares, the long-lost Aretha Franklin concert film “Amazing Grace” has finally seen the light, and good Lord is it good.
Filmed over two sessions in January 1972 at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the Watts section of Los Angeles, it captures Franklin at the absolute apex of her power. The colossal accompanying double LP, which didn’t suffer the same fate as the footage, is already justly revered and remains the best-selling gospel record of all time. But to see it is to believe. This is gospel ecstasy.
For a long time, “Amazing Grace” was one of the great unseen white whales of cinema. The film — shot with 16mm cameras by a then up-and-coming director named Sydney Pollack — sat for decades in studio vaults because Pollack forgot to slate his footage, leaving the sound and pictures unsynchronized. He left the mess behind and moved on to make “The Way We Were.”
After Pollack died in 2008, Alan Elliott took over the film, had it synced, and had David Arnold edit it. (Elliott is credited for having produced and “realized” the film.) But efforts to release the documentary were stymied by Franklin who sued the filmmakers to prevent festival screenings in 2015 and 2016. It finally premiered three months after Franklin’s death last year, with her estate’s blessing. It’s now arriving in theaters, 47 years later.
CLICK HERE to read story