Amazing Grace is not the Aretha Franklin documentary I was expecting, but with this concert film being released in the year after her untimely death, we instead get a concert featuring the lady, plus drummer Bernard Purdie, guitarist Cornell Dupree, Bassist Chuck Rainey and record producers Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin.
Director Sydney Pollack filmed the event over two days, and the final result was never finished due to technical problems, and the soundtrack CD also shows we’re missing Give Yourself to Jesus, God Will Take Care of You and You’ll Never Walk Alone. How come these aren’t in the film?
Well, the problems were that after filming this, they couldn’t get the audio and visuals in sync, and so it languished in the Warner Bros vault for several decades. I understand that had Pollack didn’t use clapperboards inbetween takes, which would’ve benefitted the synchronisation if he had. Then in 2007, and as Pollack was suffering from cancer, he sold the footage to producer Alan Elliott who synchronised as much of the film as possible, and tried to release it in 2011, but Ms Franklin put a block on that. As time passed, it was only after her death that he could release the film and with her family’s permission. And those problems meant that some of the content has been lost along the way.
If only someone could go back in time and give digital film cameras to the people of 1972, we would have the whole concert as well as a better picture. Yes, if you’re buying this, you’ll have to bear in mind that the picture is not great. It was shot on 16mm, has a lot of grain in the background and shows that just locking a film in a vault is not the best place for it. However, while those involved will have done what they can, it is what it is. Note that it willl have been shot in 4:3, but the cropping top and bottom to give a now-traditional 16:9 ratio loses nothing important. In addition, there are options for stereo and 5.1 sound, but you’d be hard pushed to tell much difference other than, perhaps, moving some instruments into the rear speakers.
Eagle-eyed viewers will spot The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts in the background at times, as they were in the building to record Exile On Main Street.
I’m not religious and before I started watching this, I didn’t know which songs would be featured. Hence, the opening sequence gave promise as the titles of a stack of her famous hits are shown onscreen, such as Respect, Say A Little Prayer, Natural Woman and Think. Sadly, none of these are on this gig’s set-list. If you’re in the same boat as me, then you’ll be best off just sticking with The Blues Brothers where Ms Franklin makes her mark and there’s just a minimal amount of gospel music in there, but if you’re a fan of her singing this style, you’ll no doubt enjoy it, despite its visual issues, and you can safely ignore the fact that it wasn’t for me, and change the film score to whatever you think it should be.
However, what no-one will enjoy is a complete lack of extras. Not even an interview with Alan Elliott about the process of being this to the cinema.
The full track listing is as follows:
- On Our Way
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
How I Got Over
You’ve Got a Friend / Precious Lord, Take My Hand (Medley)
Mary, Don’t You Weep
Climbing Higher Mountains
Never Grow Old
The main menu is oddly silent, and features Aretha Franklin from the cover, albeit with a bit of ‘animation’ to zoom out slightly. Subtitles are in English only and there’s the bog-standard 12 chapters, although in this case, it’s down to the number of songs in the film, plus one for the intro.
You can also buy the CD of the concert.
Running time: 90 minutes
Released: August 5th 2019
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS 5.1 HD-MA, DTS 2.0 HD-MA
Subtitles: English SDH
Widescreen: 1.78:1 (16mm)
Disc Format: BD50
Directors: Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack
Producers: Joe Boyd, Alan Elliott, Rob Johnson, Chiemi Karasawa, Spike Lee, Sabrina V Owens, Angie Seegers, Tirrell D Whittley, Joseph Woolf
Southern California Community Choir
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.