“She can sing anything … ANYTHING.”
Amazing Grace will transport you in an instant to New Temple Missionary Baptist Church on two very special evenings in 1972: when the legendary Aretha Franklin recorded live her album of the same title, which would go on to be certified double platinum. The film of this event, recorded by Warner Brothers, has never been released before due to technical difficulties associated with it, and it is a rare window into a monumental performance to be able to view it.
The film quality, which is grainy and blurry, is terrible by today’s standards, but it doesn’t matter. Similarly, the camera work is quite bad: the camera shakes, moves around too quickly, and looks like a home video during some parts. But again, it couldn’t matter less. What viewers see is the awed faces of the audience, the sweat beading on the brow of Ms. Franklin as she sings, and the shining vests of the Southern California Community Choir, the group that provided background vocals. We see the face of Jesus on the wall behind the performers, and we watch when, in the middle of the evening, an audience member breaks out into tap dance. We witness the Reverend James Cleveland, his head in his hands and tears in his eyes during the performance of “Amazing Grace.” We view Ms. Franklin’s entrance on the first night, the camera angle giving her an almost regal appearance as she passes down the church’s aisle. What is most important, though is what we hear: one of the greatest voices of modern American music, unfiltered and in her fullest glory.
I don’t think that I can put into words the energy and electricity that is tangible in the moment, and it is a privilege to be allowed in to see it. It’s pretty much impossible to watch this documentary without feeling the insuppressible urge to clap, sing, stand up, and dance, and it did not bother me in the least when I could hear other audience members doing so. It is an emotional rollercoaster ride that is a miracle to be able to ride, and you will likely laugh, cry, and sway with the music.
In my opinion, it is not possible to give this film a high enough rating – eleven out of ten stars would not even begin to describe it. Experience it for yourself while it is still in theaters!