Rocky’s Review

Late in 1971, some unlikely news spread among the Southern California Community Choir in Los Angeles. Aretha Franklin was coming to town to record a live gospel album, and 25 of its members would be backing her up. The group was led by one of the most famous gospel figures of the era, the Rev. James Cleveland, but its singers were local churchgoing Angelenos. Mary Hall, an alto, was 22. "I couldn't believe I was getting ready to sing with the Queen of Soul. It's still one of the greatest moments of my life," she said recently.

     That moment - an electrifying two-night session before live audiences at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts - resulted in Franklin's "Amazing Grace," the best-selling gospel record in history.

     Less known until recently was that the performances were also filmed: a collaboration as ambitious and as bungled as only Hollywood could manage, buried for decades by red tape and a monster technical error. But with the recent release of AMAZING GRACE, we can finally immerse ourselves in the full cinematic experience.* AMAZING GRACE opens in the Rose - with big sound - this Friday.

     A new film with Mary Kay Place is always a welcome pleasure. I think I first became aware of her when she starred in the TV series M*A*S*H and MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN. Perhaps it's her midwestern roots, having been born in Tulsa, Oklahoma that explains her earthy, down-home performances. In DIANE, the directorial debut of Kent Jones, she plays the title character, a widowed, middle-aged woman in upstate New York who displays energetic and efficient devotion to others while she's on the verge of falling apart. "A naturalistic portrait of service and self-sacrifice by way of a quietly astonishing performance by Mary Kay Place." -Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

     For producer Gabriel Sedgwick, the idea of making HAIL SATAN?  began not with an interest in occult rituals, but with an abiding curiosity about the American political system. "I'm Swedish, so the complicated relationship between faith and politics in the United States has always fascinated and mystified me," he says. "That's because I'm from a country where that type of mixture just doesn't exist. Bringing religion into the political arena in Sweden is entirely taboo." "A crowd-pleaser. Wickedly funny, fascinating and niftily made." -Hollywood Reporter

     Our current Community Arts Film Series and the Metropolitan Opera season of live simulcasts comes to a close this weekend. The Met's presentation of DIALOGUES DES CARMELITES has been receiving rave reviews. It begins Saturday morning at 9:00 AM. MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENTplays Sunday at noon. The film will potentially be challenging for some viewers. Had the film been rated, it likely would have received an R rating for disturbing images.    

*Excerpted from The New York Times