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Wattstax poster 1973.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Mel Stuart
Produced by Larry Shaw
Mel Stuart
Starring The Staples Singers
Richard Pryor
Carla Thomas
Rufus Thomas
Luther Ingram
Kim Weston
Johnnie Taylor
The Bar-Kays
Isaac Hayes
Albert King
Ted Lange
Cinematography John A. Alonzo
Distributed by Columbia Pictures (1973, theatrical), Warner Bros. (2004, DVD)
Release dates
  • February 4, 1973 (1973-02-04)
Running time
98 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,560,000 (US/Canada rentals)[1]

Wattstax is a 1973 concert film directed by Mel Stuart documenting the Watts Summer Festival. Organized by Stax Records, the concert took place on 20 August 1972 at the Los Angeles Colliseum and featured prominent Stax Records recording artists. The concert was a show of support for Watts, a predominantly African-American community of Los Angeles that had been been ravaged by rioting in 1965.[2] The film was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film in 1974. Stax released a double LP of concert highlights entitled Wattstax: The Living Word in 1972.

The Concert[edit]

With a ticket price of $1.00 for 8 continuous hours of music by major Soul/R&B artists, the Watts Summer Festival drew a crowd of 110,000 people. Performers included The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, and the concert closed with Isaac Hayes, whose 30th birthday coincided with the event.. The Staples Singers performed "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There," both high-charting hits of 1972. Hayes performed the "Theme from Shaft" and "Ain't No Sunshine." Despite the prominence of his name in the film's publicity, much of performance was cut from the theatrical release of the film.

Following the model set by the concert films Woodstock and Gimme Shelter (both 1970), Stuart cuts back and forth between audience and stage, giving near equal time to the crowd. The film highlights politically-charged moments of the event, including the opening performance of the Star-Spangled Banner by Kim Weston, during which the audience remained seated and a rousing speech by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, which brought the crowd to its feet. The film records Rufus Thomas's confrontation with members of the audience who scaled the security fence to climb on stage.

Stuart was dissatisfied wth the concert footage. To compensate for heavy cuts to the musical segments, Stuart added footage shot in and around Watts and hired Richard Pryor to introduce the film and provide comic interludes. The film begins with Pryor's introduction, which is immediately followed by scenes of urban life in Watts (including shots of local landmark Watts Towers), accompanied by the song "What You See Is What You Get" by The Dramatics. The Staples Singers performance of "Oh La De Da" was intercut with images of the various artists arriving by plane from Memphis, where Stax Records was based.

The film's premiere on 3 February 1973 at the Ahmanson Theater in the Los Angeles Music Center, was attended by Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jack Benny, Red Foxx, Warren Beatty, Edgar Bergen and Candace Bergen, Fred Astaire, and Francis Ford Coppola. Pryor, Hayes and Thomas made appearances as well.


In January 2004, a restored version of the film played at the Sundance Film Festival, followed by a theatrical reissue in June by Sony Pictures Repertory. In September 2004, the PBS series P.O.V. aired a new documentary about the concert and the movie. That same month, the movie was released on DVD by Warner Bros., which obtained the video rights when it purchased the Wolper library (Warner's former sister company, Warner Music Group, coincidentally owns the rights to most pre-1968 Stax recordings).[citation needed]


Songs in the film[edit]

In order of appearance:

Other songs in the concert[edit]

  • "Knock on Wood", performed by Eddie Floyd
  • "Lay Your Loving On Me", performed by Eddie Floyd
  • "I Can't Turn You Loose", performed by the Bar-Kays
  • "Killing Floor", performed by Albert King
  • "Angel of Mercy", performed by Albert King
  • "Gee Whiz", performed by Carla Thomas
  • "I Have A God Who Loves", performed by Carla Thomas
  • "I Don't Know What This World Is Coming To", performed by The Soul Children
  • "Hearsay", performed by The Soul Children
  • "Ain't No Sunshine", performed by Isaac Hayes

Production credits[edit]

  • Directed by: Mel Stuart
  • Produced by: Larry Shaw, Mel Stuart
  • Executive Producers: Al Bell, David L. Wolper
  • Associate Producer: Forest Hamilton, Hnic.
  • Consultants: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Tommy Jacquette, Mafundi Institute, Rev. Jesse Boyd, Teddy Stewart, Richard Thomas, John W. Smith, Sylvester Williams, Carol Hall
  • Cinematography: Roderick Young, Robert Marks, Jose Mignone, Larry Clark
  • Edited by: Robert K. Lambert, David Newhouse, David Blewitt
  • Assistant Director: Charles Washburn
  • Concert Unit Director; Sid McCoy
  • Production Coordinator: David Oyster
  • Music Supervisor: Terry Manning
  • Music Recording: Wally Heider, Inc.
  • Post Production Supervisor: Philly Wylly
  • Concert Artist Staging: Melvin Van Peebles
  • Music Conductor: Dale Warren
  • Lighting: Acey Dcey
  • Production Staff: Jim Stewart, Johnny Baylor, Gary Holmes/Mind Benders, Humanities International, Edward Windsor Wright

See also[edit]


External links[edit]