Thursday, May 30, 2024

Exclusive: Rare Aretha Franklin Performance Film Directed by Sydney Pollack May Screen in Toronto


EXCLUSIVE The Toronto Film Festival may be announcing this morning a screening of “Amazing Grace,” an unseen performance doc about Aretha Franklin filmed by Sydney Pollack in 1972 in Los Angeles. (UPDATE The screening was announced. Telluride will also show the film. )

I say “may” for many reasons: the film’s provenance is still up for some discussion. Franklin has not wanted it to be released, and has fought it at every level. She may still fight it, that part is unclear.

Alan Elliott, a lecturer at the Herb Alpert UCLA School of Music, told me a few days ago that he he owns the rights. There’s a long back story about how Pollack made the movie, and papers Franklin may or may not have signed 40 years ago, etc. But the main story now is that Elliot managed to get the audio and video synched up of this historic performance, and he’s planning on showing it in Toronto and at Telluride.

Thanks to Elliott, I’ve seen “Amazing Grace.” It runs about 87 minutes and is all music taken from Franklin’s huge bestselling album of the same name. All of the music is spiritual with the exception of an astounding rendition of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”

There’s also a little surprise: Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts sat in the very small audience at the church for one of the filming days. They aren’t seen talking to anyone, or vice versa, including Franklin. But they are very much on camera.

Reverend James Cleveland accompanies Franklin on piano, although Aretha herself plays quite a bit. She’s 30 years old, has already had innumerable hits, and is sensational. At one point, her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, gets up and speaks about her. She’s 30; he’s 57. It’s an incredible historic moment. She is at her greatest height artistically (although she’s pretty damn good right now).

For her own reasons, however, Franklin has blocked this film’s release over the years. Her attorney Arnold Reid got a temporary injunction against Elliot in 2011. In 2012, he told a Detroit TV station that Franklin would have to approve the film’s release. “(You) still can’t use somebody’s name and likeness for commercial purposes without compensating them,” Reid said. “They own it, but they can’t exploit it commercially without her permission.”

So what’s next? Keep refreshing. Franklin is traveling, doing dates in Oakland CA and Las Vegas, and can’t be reached yet.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

Read more

In Other News