Aretha’s “Amazing Grace” Gospel Documentary From 1972 May Finally See General Release
From Shadow and Act:
But what few of us know is that the recording sessions on those two nights in January 1972, at L.A.’s New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, were captured on film by a 4-man camera crew, headed by the late director Sydney Pollack, shooting more than 20 hours of footage.
Now, 38 years later, the footage is being edited and prepped into a concert film for possible theatrical distribution, billed as a film by Sidney Pollack. Interestingly, Warner Bros. once envisioned the film as part of a double bill theatrical release with Superfly! How groovy would that have been?
Um, a film like this rates beyond Superfly. I have no doubt that Superfly has its place in our culture, but it’s a toss-up about how much positive energy it gave to others.
Aretha Franklin is the natural descendant of the late gospel singers Albertina Walker, Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward. After Aretha goes, there may not be anyone else that even comes close. (Whitney, I feel, blew it.) She isn’t just the culmination of all the geniuses that passed through her father’s house. She is a genius in her own right: a self-taught piano prodigy and born singer who picked up everything that was given to her, and turned it into her own.
In 1972, Aretha was 30. She was a long way from the legendary Muscle Shoals sessions that had transformed her from a loser blues singer at Columbia into the Queen of Soul or Soul Sister No. 1 for Atlantic. Some may think that in the early Seventies, she made a few wrong turns trying to “do” Roberta Flack, who became a rival at Atlantic, or allowing Quincy Jones to become her producer–soft-pedaling her gifts. Some people were outraged at her drug use, hinted at in the album, Young Gifted and Black, with the song “Rock Steady.” Suddenly, no one wanted her “hollering” any more. Instead, she defied the critics and went back to her roots, producing a “church” album, Amazing Grace. (Aretha did the same thing in 1987–after her comeback album Who’s Zooming Who?, she did another gospel album, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, which featured Aretha, her late sisters Erma and Carolyn, and Mavis Staples. However, it wasn’t as well-received as this milestone, which shows Aretha at the height of her musical powers.)
Now all this unknown history is coming out, just like the Muhammad Ali documentary, When We Were Kings, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1996. Pollack even saw it as something he should have released ages ago, trying to get funding and distribution for the project several times in his long career, but failed. Producer Alan Elliott is now attempting to organize the 20 hours of footage for a full-length documentary. Only one segment has ever been shown to the public, and that was as part of a BBC documentary.
I hope Elliott has a good film editor who knows how to feel scenes and performances.
Makes yall want to watch more PBS now, doesn’t it?
Nothing yet is set in stone. I would rather that this documentary have a theatrical release rather than a direct-to-DVD release. Direct-to-DVD looks more like someone’s trying to bury it rather than celebrate it. And it is not for any religious reasons that I would want to see this in theatres, but for cultural reasons. This woman is a world treasure. Her voice knows no religion. But stay tuned. Really, stay tuned.