I wish I could say I were surprised by stuff like Betsy Devos’ budget proposal for the Department of Education, the one that zeroes out funding to the Special Olympics, but who could be surprised at this point? And yes, it’s just a budget proposal; it won’t pass any more than zeroing out support for the Great Lakes ecosystem will.
But it says something. Doesn’t it?
I wish I could shut out what’s happening to the country, but that can only happen for brief snatches of time. So I was fortunate to get a couple of tickets to “Amazing Grace,” the long-delayed — like, 40-some years delayed — film of the sessions that produced Aretha Franklin’s album of the same name. It was her gospel album, made after years of pop hits. A return to her roots, two nights of performance at a Los Angeles church with James Cleveland guiding the session and Sydney Pollack filming it all.
Needless to say, the songs are great. The film is imperfect — lots of ’70s technique, which is to say, cut to out-of-focus shot and several-second delay while camera finds focus; grainy film stock; lots of cuts because cinema verité, dude — but imperfect in a great way. Aretha sweats through her makeup, along with everyone else, because gospel music is hard work. There’s a spectacular choir backing her up, and an even more spectacular choir director with the amusing name of Alexander Hamilton.
The film was shelved because Aretha didn’t like it, probably because of all the sweating. She doesn’t look glamorous, but she looks about as taken by the spirit as it’s possible to be. And now she’s dead, and her estate is not so picky, so here we are.
My favorite number was this one, “How I Got Over.” Mainly because of the choir.
It was screened at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the second night of a two-night run. The first night, the Franklin family threw things off by putting a few close friends on the guest list — a few hundred, which meant there weren’t enough seats, which meant a second night was added. We were lucky to get the seats, but it was worth it.
This was actually a Plan B. We were originally going to Extreme Midget Wrestling at some bar. Next time, maybe. You have to leave your Tuesday nights open from time to time, for stuff like this.
Actually, I don’t have any. You can look up Betsy Devos if you like. It’s not going to be a good week for her.