Friday, 27th December 2019
– Doors open at 7:15pm
The Woodside hotel
The 1970s may have been the heyday of the rock concert film, but the genre was frequently marred by questionable performances and legal squabbles. Whether it’s Led Zeppelin going off the boil in the wrangle-ridden The Song Remains the Same or the Rolling Stones finding themselves stars of an unfolding horror movie in the Maysles’s Gimme Shelter, these movies are fraught with strife. It’s significant that the most celebrated concert film of all, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, captured the Band as they were splitting up, cementing the genre’s long-standing funereal affiliations and serving as inspiration for Rob Reiner’s nail-in-the-coffin mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap.
The story of Amazing Grace, centring on Aretha Franklin’s two-night performance in 1972 which led to the biggest selling live gospel album of all time, is no less troubled. Apparently inspired by the financial success of Mike Wadleigh’s festival behemoth Woodstock, and with an eye on increasingly “synergistic” film/music/TV markets, Warners enlisted Oscar winner Sydney Pollack to direct multi-camera 16mm footage of the 29-year-old Franklin recording her next album at the New Temple Missionary Baptist church in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, with his background in drama rather than music docs, Pollack failed to use clapperboards or markers, making it virtually impossible to synch the resulting picture with the recorded sound. Not even lip readers, who were reportedly enlisted to sift through hours of silent film, could solve the problem.
Instead, the footage languished in the vaults for decades until producer Alan Elliott began working on a reconstruction using previously unavailable digital technologies. Several years after Pollack’s death in 2008, Elliott had managed to assemble a workable cut, only to have his efforts scuppered by lawsuits from Franklin claiming unauthorised appropriation of her likeness. Although she told the Detroit Free Press in 2015 that “I love the film itself”, Aretha continued to contest its release, and the legal issues have only now been resolved in the wake of the singer’s death, turning what was once a celebration into something more like a eulogy.
So, after nearly five decades, does the film stand the test of time? Hallelujah, yes! Despite being both unforgivingly overlit and tantalisingly truncated (this trim 88-minute cut abridges or omits some classic tracks), Elliott’s Lazarus-like resurrection of Pollack’s movie captures both the hive of musical activity and fervour or religious ecstasy that thronged through that church all those years ago.
I’ve often argued that cinemas – at least, the good ones – share a sacred-space status with places of worship. It’s a belief confirmed by the sight of Franklin seated at the piano for a tender rendition of Marvin Gaye’s Wholy Holy, or standing at the pulpit for her soul-shaking delivery of Amazing Grace. On record, that church sounds vast, yet Pollack’s footage emphasises both the compact nature of the congregation (encouraged to swell their voices for the recording) and the intimate size of the auditorium – an intimacy which merely amplifies the songs’ emotional power. No wonder the Rev James Cleveland is reduced to tears, a reaction I guarantee will be repeated in cinemas everywhere.
Mark Kermode, The Guardian
Friday, December 27th 2019
Doors open: 7:15pm
Bookings close: December 26th 2019
Aberdour train station is a 5 minute walk away.
There is car parking to the front and rear of the hotel.