The Tribune (SLO) - - Ticket - BY MICHAEL PHILLIPS Chicago Tribune

A mas­sive rookie mistake – direc­tor Syd­ney Pol­lack and his 16-mil­lime­ter film crew for­got to use a clap­per­board syn­chro­niz­ing the sound with the im­age for each new take – de­liv­er­ing roughly 20 hours of footage cap­tured for the 1972 Aretha Franklin con­cert film “Amaz­ing Grace” into a mad­den­ing pur­ga­tory. There it stayed for nearly half a cen­tury.

But now it’s here. For a con­cert movie of straight­for­ward, self-ef­fac­ing tech­nique, “Amaz­ing Grace” de­liv­ers one of the purest, most con­cen­trated blasts of sat­is­fac­tion in a long, long time. Franklin was 29 at the time she recorded the best-sell­ing gospel al­bum in his­tory. For any­one who grew up with the dou­ble al­bum on the stereo, see­ing her record her ren­di­tions of the ti­tle song, Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy” and so many more will bring them closer to what they al­ready adore.

For sin­ful newcomers to the al­bum, it’s 87 min­utes of bet­ter late than never.

Franklin recorded with the 25-mem­ber South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Com­mu­nity Choir, in­side the New Temple Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church, lo­cated in the LA neigh­bor­hood of Watts. Backed by a fourpiece band, Franklin, the su­per-smooth Rev. James Cleve­land (on screen nearly as much as Franklin) and ex­u­ber­ant choir direc­tor Alexander Hamil­ton’s singers split the ses­sion into two evenings.

The sec­ond night brought, among oth­ers, Mick Jag­ger (in L.A. around the time of “Ex­ile on Main Street”) into the church. He’s seen, fleet­ingly, sit­ting in the back; Pol­lack and his crew can be seen in “Amaz­ing Grace” hus­tling, weav­ing around, try­ing to get as close to the mu­sic and what it meant for those peo­ple, in that church, on those nights.

The call-outs, spon­ta­neous bursts of dance and shouts of af­fir­ma­tion from the choir and the au­di­ence, es­pe­cially dur­ing “Amaz­ing Grace” but through­out the en­tire film, serve as a glo­ri­ous re­minder that some­times all a film­maker needs to do is be there, and be awake and re­spon­sive to the tal­ent.

There are a hun­dred lit­tle sto­ries go­ing on in “Amaz­ing Grace,” some un­re­lated to the mu­sic. Bassist Chuck Rainey told the New York Times re­cently that Franklin felt marginal­ized by her own movie, prob­a­bly ow­ing to the screen time af­forded the Rev. Cleve­land (her child­hood men­tor) and, on the sec­ond night, the big-foot­ing pres­ence of her fa­ther, Rev. C.L. Franklin. His im­pos­ing, vaguely pa­tron­iz­ing speech seems to turn Franklin into a meeker, com­pli­ant ver­sion of her adult self.

Even if Aretha Franklin doesn’t dom­i­nate ev­ery sec­ond of “Amaz­ing Grace,” she’s in­dis­putably the rea­son the film ex­ists, and the rea­son it’s so good. Her voice could lift peo­ple straight out of their seats in ju­bi­la­tion; her vo­cal flour­ishes and deep read­ings of the sim­plest, most ele­men­tal lyrics re­main in­com­pa­ra­ble. When she sings “my soul is sat­is­fied,” she’s speak­ing for any­one lis­ten­ing to what she achieved here, in this Watts church with the walls painted var­i­ous shades of blue, like count­less prom tuxes of the era. “Sat­is­fy­ing” doesn’t re­ally do it jus­tice, but it’s a start.


Aretha Franklin ap­pears in a scene from the doc­u­men­tary “Amaz­ing Grace.”

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