By Gregory Crofton
“AMAZING GRACE” likely ranks as the most complicated documentary ever made.
Directed by the late, great Sydney Pollack, it was filmed over two nights in Los Angeles’ New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1972. But it wasn’t assembled into a watchable film until decades later by music producer Alan Elliott.
The star, legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin, apparently had no problem with people seeing it. The film never saw the light of day for a different reason — Pollack and his team had failed to synch the film and the audio recording, leaving these audio-visual gems to sit idle at Warner Brothers for years and years.
By the time “AMAZING GRACE” was ready for release in 2011, and then again in 2015, Franklin stopped the proceedings by asking for more compensation than Elliott, the now owner and producer of the film, could afford. (You can read the full back story of “Amazing Grace” in New York Magazine).
But after the singer’s death from pancreatic cancer in August of 2018, Elliott was able to reach an agreement with family members so that he could release the film.
Here are some surprising moments from “Amazing Grace.”
- Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts attended the second night. At one point Jagger appears to be caught in a yawn by the camera before he quickly switches gear to clap and get into the music.
- Learned that clapping is an integral part of gospel music.
- James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir alone are worth the price of admission.
- The choir sings while sitting down.
- The choir director, Alexander Hamilton, has his moves down and is very entertaining to watch.
- Aretha’s father, Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, gets called to the microphone on the second night to give a brief tribute to his daughter. It is a wonderful moment from Mr. Franklin, a Baptist minister from Detroit who also worked as a civil rights activist.
Watch a trailer for the film below: