The Gospel according to Aretha

Amazing Grace documents Aretha Franklin recording her 1972 gospel album (IMDB)

Amazing Grace is a must-see documentary about singer Aretha Franklin that projects an extraordinary commitment to religious faith and devotion, and movingly demonstrates the joy of gospel music for everyone to share. Source: ACOFB.

In this American film, Aretha Franklin records her January 1972 live album, Amazing Grace, in concert format. The film was intended to be released in 1972 to coincide with the album, but was not released until after Franklin’s death at age 76 in 2018. Filming took place over two nights, and the album went on to become the highest-selling gospel music album of all time. It shows Aretha Franklin close to the peak of her power. The movie was awarded the “Best Non-Fiction Film” by the National Society of Film Critics in America in 2019.

The concert was filmed live at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Franklin was accompanied by the Southern California Community Choir, seated behind her, and she sings from the Church’s lectern to an audience that is predominantly African-American. Reverend James Cleveland (a famous gospel singer himself) accompanies her on the piano and also sings; Bernard Purdue plays the drums; Chuck Rainey plays the bass guitar; and Aretha’s father speaks in loving testimony of his daughter. Twenty hours of footage were shot by five 16mm-cameras over the two days to produce the film.

Three features of the movie stand out. The first is the sheer power of Aretha Franklin’s singing; the second is the effect of her singing on her audience; and the third is the quality of the film itself.

This is an extraordinary documentary. It has been made with love and affection for both the music and the singer. It shows Aretha Franklin as a stunning performer. The photography is intimate, and the film captures the enormous power of black-religious music. It communicates gloriously the energy, joy, and spontaneity of gospel music.

This is a must-see documentary about a remarkable singer. The movie stands as a record of a truly great gospel performance. It is a film in which Aretha Franklin barely speaks a word, and she projects incredible artistry through her interpretation of the gospel music that she is performing. It is hard when seeing this movie, not to appreciate the impact of religious spirituality. The film projects an extraordinary commitment to religious faith and devotion, and movingly demonstrates the joy of gospel music for everyone to share.

Reviewed by Peter Sheehan, ACOFB.

Amazing Grace: Starring Aretha Franklin in concert. Directed by Sydney Pollack. Rating G. 88min.

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