02 August 2019

My road has been a little rocky on my way home

As a filmed record of a singing performance, Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace is far from ideal. The camerawork is frequently sloppy, out of focus and intrusive; there are umpteen cameramen but shots are frequently obstructed; Sydney Pollack's largely white crew seems intent on filming the interloping Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts rather than the exuberant audience; and so much of the performance is impinged upon by the mechanics of actually shooting the film. The church setting seems singularly ill-suited to such an intimate performance. And ultimately Pollack's catastrophic error of failing to use clapperboards on his 20-hour shoot meant it was impossible to sync the film with the audio recording, so the footage was never released at the time.

But of course the limitations of the setting are what makes this an utterly legendary concert performance, and one of the greatest achievements of Aretha's career. Without the emotional resonance of the gospel audience, Aretha's performance would merely be her usual peerless excellence. But with that audience urging her on, with the Southern California Community Choir powering behind her, with James Cleveland MCing, hammering away at the keys and even seemingly rescuing Aretha from a wardrobe malfunction, the performance is elevated to the spectacular. And spectacular is seemingly insufficient to describe the range, power and emotion of Aretha's art here; at times it's a thrill just to watch the choir reacting to her seemingly impossible vocal feats.

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