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Review: Amazing Grace – “Celebrate the genius of Aretha Franklin”

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Actual footage of the recording sessions of Aretha Franklin with the Southern California Community Choir that produced the most successful gospel album of all-time. 

When Aretha Franklin released Amazing Grace, which was recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1972, the two-night event was documented by filmmaker Sydney Pollack (Three Days of the Condor); whereas the live Gospel sessions became the best selling album of her career, a technical glitch that prevented the syncing of sound and images placed the documentary in limbo.  Unexpected complications arose even when digital technology resolved the issue four decades later as mysterious legal issues with Franklin resulted in the completed project being pulled from film festivals but with her death in 2018, theatrical viewers will now have the opportunity to witness the footage for the first time.

Aretha Franklin’s opposition to the documentary must have to do with the circumstances surrounding the making of Amazing Grace as the footage itself is captivated with her presence along with childhood friend Rev. James Cleveland and choir director Alexander Hamilton; the enthusiasm and dedication of the trio are the heart and soul of the production that features an exquisite soundtrack which maximizes the emotional wallop of Queen of Soul at her vocal finest.  The Cinéma vérité style adopted by Sydney Pollack results in cameramen appearing in frame and shots go in and out focus; however, rather than detract they add to the rawness and spontaneity of the occasion.

Granted there are dramatic moments like when James breaks down during the performance of the title track, Rev. C.L. Franklin wiping the sweat-drenched face of his daughter while she sings and plays the piano, and an emotionally agitated audience member being subdued but the real potent moments are watching the members of the Southern California Community Choir members and Hamilton respond to and enhance the performance of Franklin; she may be the star attraction but is savvy enough to recognize and make use of the musical talents of those around her.  There are some celebrity sightings such as Mick Jagger and a special guest appearance by Gospel legend Clara Ward; however, the real joy is just watching a community come together for two nights to celebrate the genius of Aretha Franklin.

Amazing Grace is in UK cinemas on 10th May 2019.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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