WE ♥ DOCS
Berlinale 2019: Aretha Franklin's 'Amazing Grace' Concert Doc is Magic
by Alex Billington
February 15, 2019
Lord Almighty this film is magic, just pure musical magic. Aretha Franklin is a goddess. But we all know that already, right? She is truly one of the greatest singers of all time. The moment she opens her mouth and begins to sing, everything else in the world suddenly goes quiet, there's peace and harmony, you can feel this great power of calm and goodness. Amazing Grace is a long lost film from 1972, finally fully restored and released for us to bask in glory and brilliance. I had the pleasure of watching this documentary film at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival, and it's just wonderful. Watching this joyful performance filled me with so much goodness and happiness and all I wanted to do after is dance around the streets all day. Can I get an Amen?
In 1972, after recording 20 albums and winning numerous Grammys, Aretha Franklin decided to record a live album singing songs from her youth being raised by a Baptist Reverend. She setup with her band and a local choir in a Baptist Church in Southern Los Angeles, and recorded live over two nights. Warner Bros sent a crew in to record the entire event, but due to technical reasons (regarding the audio syncing with the video they shot) it was never released. Until now. This taping of the recording sessions was directed at the time by none other than Sydney Pollack. Now, nearly 47 years later, the original footage has been restored and the audio re-mastered and Amazing Grace is this raw footage released as a feature-length concert documentary.
The footage that makes up this documentary is raw and unkempt, which still plays strong because it lets us feel like we're a part of this experience. You can see the microphones and equipment everywhere, the shots fly & bounce all over the place, the cameramen can be seen running around in the background all the time. But it doesn't matter. It's such a tremendously soulful throwback to the 70s. Taking us back in time to this historical moment in music history. There's actually a couple of shots where you can see a very young Mick Jagger in the audience, listening in too. I'm not a religious man, but I could sense the presence of God in her. The way she sings is prophetic, the intensity of her soul that she expresses with her voice is remarkable.
Amazing Grace should (and likely will be) known as one of the best concert docs ever made, mostly because it's so simple and yet so amazing and profound. It's not like any other recording session or concert before it, and they were capturing lightning in a bottle when they filmed it originally back then. It just took another 47 years for it to finally be released for us to experience ourselves. Her voice is so powerful, that at times I just started tearing up when she was singing. For no particular reason, just because she was stirring up emotions within me. That's the power of Aretha Franklin, that's the power of a great live performance, and that's the power of great music. Go experience this doc, see these two nights of gospel singing, and be forever moved.
Alex's Berlinale 2019 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing