TALK about a long time coming. It has been close to half a century since Aretha Franklin arrived at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, her band and the Southern California Community Choir in tow, to record what became the best-selling live gospel album ever.

The film of the event was meant to mark the album’s arrival, but due to technical reasons, and the inability to reach a deal with Franklin, it was not released. If it had, it would surely have secured a place in the concert movies hall of fame alongside The Last Waltz and Stop Making Sense.

Then again, it is not strictly speaking a “concert” movie. It features none of the late singer’s greatest hits. The atmosphere is that of a church service, devout and respectful though joyous. But as a portrait of an artist paying her dues to the music that moulded her, Alan Elliott’s film, a real labour of love to put together, makes for a breathtakingly powerful documentary.

Amazing Grace was originally filmed by Sydney Pollack, a director on his way up, though Tootsie was a decade away, and even further down the line was Out of Africa, the picture that won him two Oscars. Franklin was already famous, the Queen of Soul no less.

At ease in her role, she floats into the church in a cloud of white silk speckled with silver stars, and proceeds to do her thing, with the help of the Reverend James Cleveland at piano. What a thing it is.

It is a simple set up, the limits imposed by the filmmaking kit of the time. No light as a feather hand held cameras here. No clapperboards either: hence the technical difficulties in syncing sound to vision that kept the film in the can.

Everything else required to make magic is in the room. The choir, led by Alexander Hamilton, make a magnificent backdrop. The congregation, there to provide atmosphere, do their job and then some.In the middle of it all is Franklin, beads of sweat running down her face and neck. There is not much movement, unlike with Hamilton, who is constantly in motion as he keeps the choir and Franklin in sync. Perhaps that is why Pollack shot so much of him. Less understandable is the way the cameras keep picking out Mick Jagger in the audience, as if his very presence was the important thing here.

Far more worthy of precious minutes are the moments when Franklin’s father pays tribute to her. He tells a story about picking up his dry cleaning and Aretha being on the radio. He asked the assistant what she thought. “It’s all right,” she said, “but I’ll be glad when she gets back to church.”

Consider the Queen returned to her throne.