Sydney Pollack’s Amazing Grace unfortunately didn’t see the light of day until well after his passing in 2008 and its also late star, ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin wasn’t keen on having the digitally restored documentary screened in 2015. Since she had filed an injunction against the final product.
But, both would be proud of what music maven and film producer Alan Elliott (a Pollack collaborator and confidante) did to salvage what wasn’t synchronized properly with clapperboards. It’s the intimately thrilling Franklin recording of her titular 1972 gospel album over two days in the Watts section of Los Angeles at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. About twenty hours of audio and film was linked up through current technology (whittled down a very manageable runtime) to finally get it out of the vaults (after Franklin’s passing last August). Consequently, her family/estate finally exhumed an incandescent joy out of limbo for good by suppressing lingering legal obstacles.
A richly talented choir (led by one Alexander Hamilton) and band were a part of a woman (having already been a Grammy winner) expressing her genius vibrantly from songs from her childhood. A selection of gospel standards has a graduating magnetism that may peak at the end of the first night as Pollack’s nearing cameras project an aura from the artists, including the charismatic Rev. James Cleveland. Under the lights the power of vocals and accompaniment comes manifested by beads and beads of perspiration.
The rapture includes those blessed to attend the event, mainly family, friends, and parishioners. Baptist minister C.L. Franklin (her dad) is introduced on the first night and wipes her brow as the production doesn’t go without a hitch. Mick Jagger (recovering from heart valve surgery) and Charlie Watts are fortunate to be in the back pew on night two, but will move up during the stirring performance. Even if Pollack and his crew may not have been ideally hired by a major studio at the time to produce something of the ilk of the earlier Woodstock (being greenbacks in the genre) having the director of The Way We Were, Tootsie and Out of Africa occasionally appear to have his technicians line up the next best shot is a surprisingly touching gesture by Elliott to not let the hailed helmsman go unnoticed.
With the solemn remarkable poise of Ms. Franklin the enthusiasm for her craft is so evident that Amazing Grace more than lives up to its moniker, becoming a telling experience with spiritual and transcendental overtones. Her no-nonsense persona seen later on in The Blues Brothers opposite Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi or even during the MTV revolution may not be evident during this indelible recording proficiently reshaped for the chance to witness a woman never more deserving of respect.