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Article

Wattstax

Posted on

Wattstax

type:
Movie
Current Status:
In Season
mpaa:
R
runtime:
104 minutes
Limited Release Date:
06/06/03
guest performer:
Issac Hayes, Jesse Jackson, Richard Pryor
director:
Mel Stuart
distributor:
Sony Pictures Repertory
genre:
Documentary, musical

We gave it an A-

You might not guess that a film with several disparaging references to ”whitey” was directed by the guy who made Willy Wonka: Mel Stuart, here immortalizing a hotter brand of chocolate. The occasion was a 1972 L.A. Coliseum concert featuring Memphis’ amazing Stax Records lineup, from then-superstar Isaac Hayes to celebrated dog-walker Rufus Thomas. In a commentary, Stuart says his ”heart fell” when he saw the raw footage (”It was like a newsreel of a performance”), so he sent crews into Watts to shoot interviews for a movie focusing more on the post-riots black experience. The two components don’t completely jibe, but you are getting a great concert film and a decent slice-of-African-American-life doc for the price of one.

EXTRAS In one commentary, Chuck D discusses his childhood Wattstax fascination. In another, Hayes grumbles about how his climactic Shaft songs, now restored, were originally axed from Wattstax by Shaft‘s owners, MGM — a shaft that should’ve prompted a Watts riot right on the studio lot.