Films you can't miss: Amazing Grace

Eva Mackevic

This long-lost, electrifying music documentary will remind you exactly what made the late Aretha Franklin such a mighty music force…

Concert documentaries are few and far between these days, and even when you do search your memory for some iconic examples, it’s usually such relics as Gimme Shelter or Don’t Look Back that spring to mind. Yet every once in a while, little slices of splendour like Amazing Grace will come along and remind us exactly why they’re more than worth waiting for.

There’s something uniquely special about music documentaries: it’s an insight into the artist’s life like you’ve never seen them before. An intimate glimpse into the little moments backstage that feed and fuel the big ones on-stage which, in turn, go on to become an integral part of the pop-culture narrative; the crises, dramas and insights, big or small, which all build to, and eventually emulsify in the overall experience that is the concert.

Amazing Grace documents Aretha Franklin’s two-day live recording at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts in 1972—a recording which eventually became the highest-selling gospel music album of all time. The footage was captured by none other than Sydney Pollack to ultimately unfortunate results: because of his lack of experience in shooting music documentaries, Pollack made some technical errors which rendered it impossible to synchronise sound and picture in post-production. Hence, the film didn’t see the light of day for several decades to come—until producer Alan Elliot purchased the footage and attempted to sync it in 2007.

And thank goodness he did. Sure, Aretha’s voice is a joy to behold on its own—no revelations there. The sound of it became synonymous with female empowerment, black equality and potent, gospel-powered soul. Complex and virtuosic yet meltingly effortless, sultry and feminine but also explosive and gutsy, Aretha was a powerhouse, ripping into every note like it was the last one she'd ever sing. However, to witness this voice in a small, intimate church, filled with her nearest and dearest as well as the local community members, is a whole other ball game.  

Aretha’s accompanied here by the equally riveting Southern California Community Choir, laying down the melodic foundations for her to bounce off and cheering her on wildly in the background, as well as the vivacious Reverend Cleveland Jackson who leads the whole event and joins her on the piano for a song or two. As expected, Aretha brings the house down, giving it her all in a state of elated concentration, with beads of sweat rolling down her face and smudging her neon-blue eyeshadow, just to be wiped off by her attentive father, watching her perform on standby. A unifying message of music and love, Amazing Grace will undoubtedly have you clapping, stomping and tapping.

Amazing Grace is out in cinemas across the UK now