Watt tax (1973)
Directed by: Mel Stuart | 99 minutes | music, comedy, documentary | Actors: James Alexander, Rance Allen, Raymond Allen, The Bar Kays, Andre Edwards, Isaac Hayes, Luther Ingram, Jesse Jackson, Albert King, Ted Lange, Little Milton, Richard Pryor, Mavis Staples, Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples, Johnnie Taylor , Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Kim Weston
For a film full of rousing funk and soul music about black Woodstock, in which black identity and pride are celebrated, the (white) director of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory does not seem to be an obvious choice, but he has nevertheless managed to forge an extremely enjoyable film, which allows us to experience the concert experience vividly and at times presents interesting, funny, and biting opinions; opinions that come not least from the late Richard Pryor.
Pryor contributes to the whole through several very humorous, and sometimes (at the same time) poignant, because truth-based, interludes. He talks about how blacks in California were regularly accidentally shot six times by cops. Explanation: My gun fell down and just went crazy. But as nice as Pryor’s bits are often, and however much he adds value to the film with his presence, he is still somewhat prominent, and sometimes goes on for too long. Part of his time could have been better spent on reactions and opinions from people on the street, or on recording all those almost unanimously rousing or soulful performances during Wattstax.
It is these three combined elements that make the film special. Pryor in form is a joy to watch, but also a regularly speaking Ted Lange (known from The Love Boat) knows how to make great contributions. His stories about the moment he discovered that he was black, through his lighter colored brother, and the time when he first entered a black church and was positively overwhelmed by the gospel singers and the different way of preaching and experiencing religion to be transferred to the viewer. Just as beautiful are the short comments from people on the street about specific themes, ranging from heartbreak (the blues), the differences between (black) men and women, and who is actually wearing the pants, to racial inequality. As a result, the film has become more of a document about black feelings in general than about the Watts riots and their consequences. This is really only mentioned at the beginning of the film. As a result, the film misses some line and destination. At the same time, the film also acquires a broad(er) relevance and scope.
But of course the music is central! We see an impressive selection of talented soul artists from the Stax label at work, performing blues, funk, soul, and jazz, although the label you put on it makes little difference, like Jesse Jackson at the beginning of the film. notices. The women’s group The Emotions performs beautiful gospel music in a church, Luther Ingram makes the women’s hearts in the audience beat faster with his If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right, and Isaac Hayes is brought in like a king by Jesse Jackson, after which he, among others, performs his hit Shaft from the film of the same name. But the most remarkable performance is surely that of Rufus Thomas in his fifties, who, dressed in a pink robe, including pink shorts, gets about half the stadium on the field with his Funky Chicken. However, since this is not the intention, he hears from the security, he fantastically encourages them to take their place in the stands again. There is no need for the police to be involved. With friendly questions and rhymes (don’t climb the fence, because it don’t make no sense, and: He doesn’t mean to be mean, he just wants to be seen) you can go a long way, as it turns out.
So, for anyone who likes soul, blues, funk and everything that swings and moves, as well as being interested in the social situation in Watts around 1970, and wanting to hear the opinions of its inhabitants, Wattstax is a very satisfying musical document. become. Add to this the comical yet striking asides of a well-run Richard Pryor, and you have an absolute must-have in your hands.