Wattstax Movie Review

1972's Wattstax concert was, in no uncertain terms, the black Woodstock. Peace and love, for sure, but based in L.A. to commemorate the 1965 Watts race riots instead of on a New York farm to celebrate drugs, mud, and hippie tunes.

Just as Wattstax the event was a serious social event that just so happened to include a little music, Wattstax the movie is much less a concert film (a la Woodstock or The Last Waltz) and much more a talking head documentary with musical interludes. Depending on your frame of mind, that can be a good or a bad thing. But director Mel Stuart (who made Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory two years earlier) is probably not the perfect person to take a camera into Los Angeles to ask black residents how things have changed (or not) since the riots seven years earlier. There's frankly just not a lot of insight to be gained from the poorly shot man-on-the-street footage.

That leaves us with the concert, which comprises maybe 50 minutes of the film's running time and rarely allows an entire song to get completed. Some of the great blues and soul recording artists are here on display, but there's not enough time to hear them sing. Even Richard Pryor's tired old rant gets more screen time than any of the musicians (although the new DVD offers outtakes with complete renditions of a couple of the songs, plus two commentary tracks). Unfortunately the whole film is cobbled together roughly, and it shows: Wattstax is just not a well-made film, regardless of its good intentions.

Still, sign us up if for no other reason than "Do the Funky Chicken" and Isaac Hayes restored closing number, his Oscar-winning theme from Shaft.


Wattstax Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 1973


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