One of the best concert films in recent years was shot almost 50 years ago.
In 1972, Warner Bros. hired filmmaker Sydney Pollack to shoot footage of a small, two-day concert event. Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin and gospel leader Rev. James Cleveland put on the show at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. The concert became the setting for Franklin’s classic live-album “Amazing Grace”(1972), also the most successful gospel record of all time.
Surprisingly, at the time of shooting, the successful movie writer-director wasn’t aware that even for unscripted documentary features, you still need the clappers used at the beginning of takes to synch up the visuals and the audio. Because of this missing link, the studio ended up shelving the footage for four decades rather than release it as a TV special as originally planned.
Now, in 2019, we finally get to see an 87-minute edit of the epic event called, just like the album, Amazing Grace. Right before Pollack’s death in 2008, he gave the footage over to producer Alan Elliott to attempt to see if anything could be salvaged from it. After four years of editing and synching, and seven more years of legal battles with Franklin’s team to get the documentary released, Amazing Grace premiered at the Doc NYC festival last year and is now currently in theaters for general release.
What’s great about concert films is that, no matter when they were filmed, they still look incredible on screen. We even get to see some nice shots of Pollack and his film crew setting up and staging the shoot in the first 10 minutes of the film.
As some have noticed in the trailers for the concert documentary, Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts of the Stones were the biggest names to be in the audience for the second day of performing. Though brief, it is fun to see the big rockstars having a blast watching the gospel singers do their thing.
The footage and audio look and sound great in a theater environment, but the real treat is the chemistry between Franklin and Cleveland on stage. An added highlight is Franklin’s father, Baptist pastor C.L. Franklin, giving a special dedication to his daughter near the end of the second show. And since it’s been eight months since Franklin’s death, the release of the feature doesn’t feel like too much of a cash grab either.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.