DVD: Amazing Grace
In 1972 queen of soul Aretha Franklin, at the height of her commercial success, went back to her roots to record the gospel album ‘Amazing Grace’ over two nights at LA’s New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. Feature director Sydney Pollack, fresh from his success with the award-winning ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ was commissioned to provide a visual record of the concert. Almost inconceivably, the crew failed to line up the sound cues during filming causing the project to be abandoned. Years later, when attempts were made to stitch it together digitally, the release was blocked by the Franklin estate. Now, released some forty-seven years after the initial performance, it feels like a miracle that it’s here.
Hosted by the charismatic Reverend (and fellow performer) James Cleveland, and in the presence of various parishioners (and a visiting Mick Jagger), Franklin, backed by the Southern California Community Choir, delivers a blistering set, including gospel standards such as the soulful march of ‘Mary Don’t You Weep’ to the thumping, almost transcendental, barnstormer ‘Old Landmark’, as well as more contemporary tunes such as Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Wholy Holy’. Save the odd split screen effect, the presentation is unfussy, almost scrappy in parts, but shots of Pollack and his crew frantically scrambling around to capture these scenes of hysteria invests the proceedings with a raw immediacy. Destined to be regarded as one of the great concert pictures, this is a priceless document of a performer finding new purpose in old traditions.
Amazing Grace is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download on 2nd September