Wattstax You might not guess that a film with several disparaging references to "whitey" was directed by the guy who made Willy Wonka : Mel Stuart,… Wattstax You might not guess that a film with several disparaging references to "whitey" was directed by the guy who made Willy Wonka : Mel Stuart,…
DVD Review

Wattstax (2004)

EW's GRADE
A-

Details Release Date: Sep 07, 2004; DVD Release Date: Sep 07, 2004; Movie Rated: R; Genres: Documentary, Musical; Distributor: Sony Pictures Repertory

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.

Originally posted Sep 17, 2004 Published in issue #784 Sep 17, 2004 Order article reprints