Over two nights in January 1972, the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, recorded a live album of music reflecting her gospel roots at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Joining her on the program were Rev. James Cleveland, Cornell Dupree, Rev. C. L. Franklin, Ken Lupper, Pancho Morales, Bernard Purdie, Chuck Rainey and the Southern California Community Choir. The two-record set, Amazing Grace, went double-platinum and became the biggest-selling live gospel music album of all time, winning Franklin the 1973 Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance.
Amazing Grace is also the title of a documentary of the process of making the LP, directed by the great Sydney Pollack. But the 20 hours’ worth of film footage he shot ended up sitting in a vault for decades, because Pollack had neglected to use a clapperboard, and synching up sound with image became too daunting a task. Not until the advent of digital sound technology was Alan Elliott able, in 2010, to line up the visuals and soundtracks properly.
That wasn’t the end of the movie version’s troubles. Franklin sued Elliott twice for using her likeness without permission, preventing it from being shown at film festivals. Only after the singer’s death last year did her family and executors grant permission for the release of Amazing Grace.
And now it’s finally coming to a theater near you, as part of the programming for the Woodstock Film Festival’s 20th anniversary year. Amazing Grace will be screened at Upstate Films Woodstock at 2 p.m. this Sunday, April 28, with a live musical introduction by Simi Stone. Tickets cost $15 general admission, $12 for Upstate Films members. To order tickets, visit http://woodstockfilmfestival.com/events/amazinggrace.php.
Amazing Grace, Sunday, Apr. 28, 2 p.m., $15/$12, Upstate Films, 132 Tinker St., Woodstock, (845) 679-6608, http://woodstockfilmfestival.com