By Leah Greenblatt
March 28, 2019 at 01:25 PM EDT
Neon

Nearly eight months after her death, it’s still hard to believe that Aretha Franklin is really gone. Especially when she feels so alive in every frame of Amazing Grace — a concert documentary lost for decades in technical and legal wranglings but finally brought to the screen with every bead of sweat, every spangle, every soul-squeezing note intact.

Shot over two days in January 1972 at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, Grace has no real visual glory: The venue looks dusty, with rows of rickety chairs sometimes only half full; the grainy film stock jitters and swoops haphazardly, like a proud dad recording a college graduation. (That’s actually Oscar-winning director Sydney Pollack behind the camera, though he never finished the project.)

But the humbleness of the setting feels right; this is Franklin’s spiritual home, and her gospel — “Wholy Holy,” “How I Got Over,” “Never Grow Old” — needs no adornment. (The things she can do with one syllable! The “a” alone in “amazing.”)

There’s a cumulative power, too, in seemingly mundane details: the mustachioed member of the choir lost in a high note, his body trembling as a tear runs down his cheek; Mick Jagger clapping in a back pew, an awed grin on his face; Aretha’s dapper preacher father, gently mopping his daughter’s brow. It’s all so immersive that it starts to feel less like a movie than a time machine — the gift of one last grace note from the Great Beyond. A

Related content: 

type
  • Movie
director
  • Sydney Pollack
Cast
  • Aretha Franklin
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