FunAstrology"Respect"; Movie about Aretha Franklin: Let me into your...

"Respect"; Movie about Aretha Franklin: Let me into your life

The biopic “Respect” subjects the life of the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin to a formulaic dramaturgy.

It was only three years ago that a gap in the history of concert film was closed, a genre that was in full bloom around 1970: One year after the death of Aretha Franklin, Sydney Pollack’s film recordings of her most famous concert finally made a musical highlight of the year visible – the production of most successful gospel album in record history. What induced the “Queen of Soul” to keep this audiovisual monument of herself under lock and key for so long? It should hardly have been technical problems.

Even the biopic “Respect” does not find an answer in 147 minutes, although the path of the “Queen of Soul” to the live album “Amazing Grace” plays a central role in it. It doesn’t even address the issues. One could almost say that the South African-American director Liesl Tommy would have taken the film title a little too literally. But at second glance one can only see the seemingly endless ticking off of life stations as a disservice to Franklin. The genre machine smugly works its way through an exceptional artist and subjects her individuality to an inexorable mechanism. “Let Me In Your Life” is the name of one of their albums, and that also applies to the filmmakers’ never really redeemed relationship with their subject.

All just footnotes

Biopics are often wise to pick out defining phases from a vita. This film, on the other hand, spans a very wide range from Franklin’s early fame as a child singer in the gospel services of her patriarchal father Reverend Franklin (Forest Whitaker) to the success of “Amazing Grace” in 1972. In between, many conflicts are raised, but never carried out: A rape as a child (you do not find out anything about the perpetrator), her pregnancy at twelve (not even the name of her first son Clarence is mentioned, she had a second child at 14). Even the mother’s early death is just a footnote in the film.

So it is not surprising that her serious psychological problems, downplayed by the family as “demons”, are not allowed to deepen the drama. Rather, the script instrumentalizes the “evil spirits” of their bipolar disorder for dramatically welcomed crises. Above all stands a different spirit, that of the American dream of success. It even synchronizes Franklin’s political activities in a curious way – without making them seriously an issue. Even the name of the great philosopher and activist Angela Davis is dropped by the film without explaining what it stands for in recent American history.

One is almost surprised that at least Franklin’s musical work receives a little more attention. There are some enlightening scenes in which arrangements and their demarcation from the characteristic sound of the competing soul industry of the Motown label are discussed.

Unfortunately, Jennifer Hudson in the leading role doesn’t really sound like the unquestionably inimitable Aretha Franklin. Mary J. Blige’s appearance, who convincingly embodies the jazz singer Dinah Washington as a controversial diva in a small supporting role, is more pleasant. The episodes of life line up like the tracks of a loveless hit compilation.

But that is also a current media phenomenon: Influenced by the streaming market, there are more and more overlong, but at the same time underfunded films that do not seem intended to be watched in one go. In this case, however, that would be fatal: if you put this film aside after an hour, like a series, you would hardly turn on later. Bad television in the cinema can unfortunately become a trap – it is only out of indolence that you stay seated until the end. As a reward there is once again the real Aretha at the age of 74, as she sings the old Carol King hit for the Obamas: “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”. How far is the film from this ideal.

Respect. USA 2021. Directed by Liesl Tommy. 147 Min.

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