Reviews:In August 1972, Stax CEO Al Bell put on an eight-hour concert at the L.A. Coliseum featuring his label's major artists-Isaac Hayes, William Bell, Luther Ingram, Jimmy Jones, Rance Allen, Rufus Thomas, Albert King, the Staple Singers, the Bar-Kays. The show was hosted by the pre-presidential-hopeful Rev. Jesse Jackson. Additionally, concert documentarian Mel Stuart shot a rising young comic named Richard Pryor separately, while he riffed sharply on race and related matters in a Watts bar.
Like the show itself, Stuart's Wattstax is thought of as something of a "black Woodstock," and that's an apt description: in both cases the music is wildly uneven and the visuals are time capsule-worthy. Black Los Angeles in the summer of '72 is paradigmatic of the decade's fashion. Simply put, you have never in your life seen so many flares in one place; ditto Afros, polyester, and the colors orange and mauve. Yet the good feeling the concert generated shines even brighter than Isaac Hayes's chain mail. (Hayes himself was shot separately-you'll notice his climactic segment is heavy on close-ups in a way none of the other musicians' are.) Too bad most of the music is fairly pro forma funk; the major exceptions are the Bar-Kays, the Staples, Ingram, and especially Rufus Thomas, who steals the movie when he invites the crowd from the stands onto the Coliseum grounds to "Do the Funky Chicken."