Directed by: Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack
USA, 2018, 87m, Rated G
In 1972, Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin was at the top of her game, having racked up eleven number-one singles and five Grammys. For her next record, she returned to her roots, recording a live gospel album at Watts New Temple Baptist Church. Director Sydney Pollack was hired to shoot the performances, but due to sound issues, the footage couldn’t be synced with the audio, and it vanished into the studio’s vaults, deemed unsalvageable. It became the Holy Grail of lost music films and finally, after 46 years of legal wrangling, technology improvements, and the deaths of both Pollack and Franklin, these magnificent performances were readied for the screen. The result is an extraordinary document. The Queen herself is totally focused—delivering uncluttered, thrilling performances of gospel standards and reimagined contemporary songs. Except for her singing, she remains nearly wordless throughout the film. Instead, gospel legend Reverend James Cleveland serves as M.C., sermonizer, and court jester. An enthusiastic congregation testify throughout, and Aretha’s father—Revered C.L. Franklin—shows up to preach the good book and wipe sweat from his daughter’s forehead mid-song. At that moment, the audience knew that the Queen of Soul—despite her stardom in the secular world—remained first and foremost a child of the church.