Amazing Grace (2019)
This simple film has a complicated history. Back in January 1972, Aretha Franklin (1942–2018) gave two concerts on back-to-back nights before live audiences at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts/LA. She was twenty-nine at the time, and already a superstar with hits like "Respect" and "Think" (she was on the cover of Time magazine in 1968); but she wanted to return to her roots and sing the songs of her childhood days in her father's Detroit church. The album "Amazing Grace" that resulted from these two concerts became the best-selling gospel record in history. The original plan was to make a movie in conjunction with the album, but for a host of technical and legal reasons the film project floundered and was never released — until now, almost fifty years after the fact. Franklin brought her own band with her. She's accompanied by the local pastor James Cleveland on piano, and backed up by the 40-person Southern California Community Choir. The movie opens with a few textual explanations, but otherwise there is no narration at all, just Aretha closing her eyes behind the pulpit, sweating profusely, and channeling herself through gospel song back to the things that she cared about most. Interestingly enough, Aretha herself sued two different times to prevent the release of this film, but three months after her death, and forty-six years after the concert, the documentary opened in New York on November 12, 2018, and then in theaters in April 2019. And just one heads up: on the second night of the concert there are several cameos of a very young Mick Jagger in the audience.
Dan Clendenin: firstname.lastname@example.org