Aretha Franklin never wanted the 1972 filming of her singing at a Los Angeles church to be released. “Amazing Grace,” shot by Sidney Pollack, has been in the can all these years. When Allan Elliott, son Atlantic A&R man Jack Elliott, bought it in 2008, Aretha hired lawyer after lawyer to stop him. She would never explain herself other than she didn’t want it.
Aretha died on August 16th. So “Amazing Grace” is coming out.
Allan Elliott says he’s reached a deal with Aretha’s estate, represented by her niece Sabrina Owens, to go forward. He’ll show the film at DOC NYC on Monday in New York, and other venues, to qualify for the Oscars. Of course, he’s late, it’s too late for the 2019 Oscars, there’s already a ton of good docs that have been campaigning. But why make sense now?
Aretha got injunctions against Elliott twice three years ago to stop the film from being shown at the Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals. Elliott wrote to me asking if I could intervene. But when I brought up the subject, Aretha was unmoved. She did not want the movie out in public.
Why? Who knows? Elliott sent me a link to watch it, and I did. Aretha sings and plays the piano with a gospel choir. She’s sublime. Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones are in the audience. They are never introduced and say nothing. Aretha’s father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, appears and makes a speech– he was a speechifier–about Aretha. There’s nothing salacious going on.
The release of “Amazing Grace” is a good thing, I suppose, in the long run. It takes the mystery out of the film. Whatever reasons Aretha had for not releasing it are certainly moot now. Her legacy is already safe as the premiere singer of our time. This will only enhance it.