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Ciné Sunday: Amazing Grace

After years of languishing in rights limbo, this spine tingling documentary (originally shot by director Sydney Pollack in 1972) that captured the Aretha Franklin recording her gospel album, finally sees the light of day. Despite the decades that have passed, this extraordinary footage, lovingly re-assembled by Alan Elliot, shines more brightly than ever. They say that music has the power to soothe the soul but Amazing Grace, with its raw energy and power, will do that and more – it will make you glad to be alive.

“Transcendent and joyful, we fully understand if you are moved to get out of your seat…”

Miss Franklin, already a star, recorded her first collection of gospel songs live in the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, accompanied by her band of guitar, bass, and drums (the Atlantic Records rhythm section), a church pianist and organist, and the Southern California Community Choir. Over two performances in front of an audience that included celebrities like Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts alongside ordinary folk, the album was created. Dressed in flowing robes, Franklin barely says a word when she’s not singing. What words there are come from the charismatic Rev. James Cleveland, a bear of a man with a voice to match, and her father Rev. C.L. Franklin. There are no interviews, no small talk, no testimonials – the focus here is on Franklin and her songs, drawn from the canon of gospel.

Amazing Grace will be a revelation for newcomers to gospel music or Aretha Franklin, the late great goddess of soul. Shot with handheld cameras, there is an intimacy to this archival footage, allowing you to bear witness to the extraordinary spiritual power of music. Transcendent and joyful, we fully understand if you are moved to get out of your seat, stand up and give thanks or shout praise, because that’s exactly how we felt too.