Part of Music City Mondays.
“One of the most famous films never released” and “one of Hollywood’s holy grails” is now getting a release. Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) may have been best known as the “Queen of Soul,” but she started her stunning career singing gospel music as a teenager on tour and at home in Detroit, where her father was a star pastor. Her 1972 album, Amazing Grace—an extraordinary concert of Franklin at the peak of her powers—was her most successful record, and the best-selling live gospel album of all time. It was recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in L.A.’s Watts neighborhood—home to the gospel legend Reverend James Cleveland—by a team supervised by producer Jerry Wexler and in front of an audience filled with admirers, including Mick Jagger.
What is truly amazing is that this concert—a thrilling performance by Franklin in her prime—was also filmed by Oscar-winning director Sydney Pollack (OUT OF AFRICA, TOOTSIE), but has remained unseen and unfinished for 46 years. Now, audiences will finally see Franklin sing a mix of gospel standards and contemporary songs, including ”Never Grow Old,” Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy,” “God Will Take Care of You,” Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” “How I Got Over,” the title track, and much more.
Although the film was originally planned for release in 1972 by Warner Bros. (on a double bill with SUPER FLY), there were difficulties finishing the film due to synchronization issues. The film languished in the vault for decades. Alan Elliott, a producer and associate of Jerry Wexler, and editor Jeff Buchanan supervised the completion of the film and remastered the soundtrack with renowned engineer Jimmy Douglass. (Synopsis from Film Forum)
“You get both the most lovely gaze a professional camera’s ever laid upon Aretha Franklin and some of the mightiest singing she’s ever laid on you. The woman practically eulogizes herself. Don’t bother with tissues. Bring a towel.” —Wesley Morris, New York Times “...A movie worth seeing and re-seeing and re-seeing again, a testament to the Queen of Soul at the height of her powers, live, in full color, in rich sound, resplendent.” —Dan Callahan, The Wrap “As a document of an iconic musician's skills, the film is essential. But AMAZING GRACE is far more than that: Watching it is a transcendent, spine-tingling, uplifting, utterly joyous experience… The film is nothing short of a revelation, soaring from one chill-inducing moment to another.” —Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR “…[B]ack in 1972, Pollack screwed up. The then-38-year-old hotshot coming off his first Oscar nomination (for THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?), neglected to bring along sound-syncing clapper boards to the church, and ended up accidentally shooting the world's first silent rock doc…’It was frustrating as hell,’ recalls William Steinkamp, Pollack's longtime editor. ‘[The footage] was like a jigsaw puzzle. We had a team on it, and you'd work on it for a while and give up.’ The choir director from the Watts recordings was brought in to try to lip-read the reels, but after months of work, only about 150 minutes of footage had been matched with sound, none of it adding up to a complete, useable song. Deadlines passed as the Amazing Grace album came out in June 1972, selling millions with no synergy. In August, Warner Bros. officially wrote off and shelved the movie.” —Chris Willman, The Hollywood Reporter
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