Starring: Aretha Franklin, James Cleveland, C.L. Franklin
Director: Sydney Pollack
Running Time: 87 mins
Amazing Grace is an American documentary presenting Aretha Franklin and the Southern California Community Choir as they record the 1972 album Amazing Grace at a Los Angeles baptist church.
A documentary in the purest sense of the word, Amazing Grace very literally documents Aretha Franklin’s recording of her album in front of an energetic church crowd.
In that, while it plays out without any real narrative or even deliberate direction, Amazing Grace offers a powerfully unique cinematic experience, allowing you to bask in the glory of an incredible talent, and appreciate the power and meaning of Franklin’s music and the community that came to join with her in song.
One of the things to know first, however, about this film is that it was intended for release all the way back in 1972, but due to technical problems at the time and legal difficulties since, it was only released in 2018.
As a result, while Amazing Grace has the unique and tactile vibe of the 1970s, it’s enhanced by modern editing and storytelling techniques, framing the film first and foremost as a powerful and immersive experience, and not just any old documentary.
It’s not the film to watch to learn about the life of Aretha Franklin, but what it does offer is an enthralling insight not just into how she made her music, but the impact and meaning of her sound to the wider community. As we see her sing into the microphone at full power, the crowd around her are energised and moved with every note, almost as if they are witnessing a goddess before their eyes.
But not only that, Amazing Grace shows us that the participation of the community is what made Franklin’s music so unique, and its meaning so important. While the film details what is effectively a studio recording session, it feels anything but, with a loud, vociferous crowd and a happy, convivial atmosphere as everyone joins in on the album recording, enjoying the music just as if it were a concert or a gospel sermon.
It’s fascinating to see all that play out with barely an interruption from editing or narration, delivering a stunningly immersive experience that transports you right into the middle of an undeniably wonderful collective atmosphere.
Amazing Grace may not be an orthodox documentary, and it may not offer a fascinating portrayal history and fact, but it’s a unique experience that combines an immersive presentation of history with passion and deep meaning, proving an enthralling and enjoyable watch throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5 overall.