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