Review: Wattstax (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 right now, but he has nevertheless able to forge an extremely enjoyable film that allows us to experience the concert experience vividly and occasionally presents interesting, funny and caustic opinions; opinions that come not least from the late Richard Pryor.

Pryor contributes to the whole through various very humorous, and sometimes (at the same time) poignant, because truth-based, interludes. For example, he talks about how blacks in California were regularly accidentally shot six times by officers. Explanation: My gun fell down and just went crazy. But no matter how much fun Pryor’s pieces often are, and how much he adds value to the film with his presence, he is somewhat prominent, and sometimes goes on for too long. Some of his time could have been better spent on the reactions and opinions of people on the street, or on recording all those almost unanimous rousing or soulful performances during Wattstax.

It is these three combined elements that make the film special. Pryor in shape is a pleasure to watch, but also regularly speaking Ted Lange (known from The Love Boat) knows how to make beautiful 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 religious experience he knows full of feeling to transfer to the viewer. Just as beautiful are the brief 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 the black feeling in general than about the Watts riots and its consequences. This is really only discussed at the beginning of the film. As a result, the film lacks any line and destination. At the same time, the film also acquires a broader (re) 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, who play blues, funk, soul, and jazz, although the label you put on it makes little difference, like Jesse Jackson in the beginning of the film. remarks. 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 want to be right, and Isaac Hayes is brought in like a king by Jesse Jackson, after which he, among others, performs his hit song Shaft from the movie of the same name. But the most remarkable performance has to be that of fifty-something Rufus Thomas, who, dressed in a pink robe, including pink shorts, gets roughly half the stadium on the field with his Funky Chicken. However, since this is not the intention, he hears from the security, he urges them in a fantastic way to take place in the stands again. No police need to be involved. With friendly questions and rhymes (dont climb the fence, because it dont make no sense, and: He doesnt mean to be mean, he just wants to be seen) you will, it turns out, go a long way.

So, for anyone who loves soul, blues, funk and everything that swings and moves, as well as interested in the social situation in Watts around 1970, and who wants to hear the opinions of its inhabitants about it, Wattstax is a very satisfying musical document. become. Add to this the comical yet poignant asides of a well-moving Richard Pryor, and you have an absolute must in your hands.

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