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Wattstax (1972)

Cast: Kim Weston, Kim Weston, Richard Pryor, more...
Director: Mel Stuart, Mel Stuart
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Studio: Warner Home Video
Genre: Documentary, Music, Music Videos/Performance, Documentary, Music
Running Time: 103 min.
Languages: English
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This is a filmed documentary of a black music festival held on August 20, 1972 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, sponsored by Stax Records and Schlitz Beer. The L.A./Watts riots demonstrated the community's urgent needs to the black show-business community. All the proceeds from the concert and this movie went to charity. Among the better-known performers were Isaac Hayes, The Emotions, The Staple Singers, Little Milton and Luther Ingram. Richard Pryor, at the peak of his form, hosts and provides scatological and satiric comic relief. ~ Clarke Fountain, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

I'll Take You There by DLeonard September 30, 2009 - 10:51 PM PDT
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful
This is an odd yet quite compelling feature. Suffice to say that if the subject matter appeals to you, chances are you will enjoy it, but the content may be unexpected.

In 1972 a concert was held in the L.A. Coliseum to commemorate the Watts riots of 1965 (actually just the capper to a week long celebration). Stax Records, home to many of the best American soul acts, sponsored the event which meant that all the performers were Stax acts and prompted the event to be called wattstax. The film is an account of this concert plus some additional footage, and it is this additional footage that makes this such a unique film.

Here is an incomplete list of what is included in this film beyond the concert footage. A montage of urban churches. Conversations with Ted "Isaac from the Love Boat" Lange and some other TV actors on the black experience. A crew setting up the concert stage. A poorly lipped-synced filmed performance by Little Milton. The dynamic Johnnie Taylor performing in a nightclub populated with folks in outfits that just have to be seen to be believed. Various folks in hair salons/barber shops adding their two-cents about the community and about being a black person in America. A clip of Dr. King's "I have been to the mountaintop" speech. The Emotions powerful gospel performance in a local church. And some very brief but very compelling bits with Richard Pryor just about 3 years before he became a superstar. At the outset I was disappointed that the film did not contain more of the music performed that day. Most acts are only shown for one song, and a few, like Albert King, have their one song truncated. But then it slowly dawned on me that this was done as a rare and colorful portrait of a place most Americans (let alone people of the world) will never ever experience otherwise. And 30 years down the road this has made the film become that much more special.

Additionally, some of the musical performances are truly special as well. The Bar-Kays with their outlandish outfits and infectious groove. Isaac Hayes as the grand finale. The sublime Staple Singers singing with a clarity that is startling. And my personal favorite moment, a show-stopping (literally) set by Rufus Thomas who spends several moments addressing a lone fan who just won't get off the field before finally bringing down the house with "The Funky Chicken".

Care to get a glimpse of the faces, minds, emotions, and music of Watts in the early 70's? Look no further.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.61)
33 Votes
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