Full page view
HISTORY

       The closing credits for Wattstax include the names of all the musical groups featured in the film next to the titles of the respective songs they performed. Isaac Hayes's first name is misspelled “Issac” in the closing credits. Special thanks was given to comedian Richard Pryor, whose comic insights appeared throughout the picture, and to Ted Lange, Elizabeth Cleveland, Raymond Allen, Andre Edwards, Patricia Henley, Eric Kilpatrick, Ernest King, Michael Gibson and "The Black People Who Made Themselves Heard." Although Lange was in the film, it is undetermined whether the other persons given thanks also appeared onscreen. Associate producer Forest Hamilton’s onscreen credit is followed by the abbreviation “H.N.I.C.,” which, according to several reviews, stands for “Head Nigger In Charge.” Production staff crew member Edward Windsor Wright's onscreen credit misspelled his middle name as Winsdor." The film closes with the faces of people interviewed superimposed over an aerial view of Los Angeles.
       As noted in an 18 Aug 1972 HR article, Al Bell, chairman of the Memphis-based Stax Organization made arrangements with producer David L. Wolper to film a 20 Aug 1972 benefit concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum featuring Stax recording artists. A 6 Dec 1972 HR article stated that the Stax Organization produced the concert, a series of Wattstax concert albums and a television segment entitled “Isaac Hayes and the Stax-Memphis Sound,” hosted by Hayes for the The Merv Griffin Show as benefits, with portions of the profits to go to the black community.
       ”Wattstax” was a seven-hour concert sponsored by Stax and the Schlitz Brewing Co. with proceeds to benefit, according to a 22 Feb 1973 ... More Less

       The closing credits for Wattstax include the names of all the musical groups featured in the film next to the titles of the respective songs they performed. Isaac Hayes's first name is misspelled “Issac” in the closing credits. Special thanks was given to comedian Richard Pryor, whose comic insights appeared throughout the picture, and to Ted Lange, Elizabeth Cleveland, Raymond Allen, Andre Edwards, Patricia Henley, Eric Kilpatrick, Ernest King, Michael Gibson and "The Black People Who Made Themselves Heard." Although Lange was in the film, it is undetermined whether the other persons given thanks also appeared onscreen. Associate producer Forest Hamilton’s onscreen credit is followed by the abbreviation “H.N.I.C.,” which, according to several reviews, stands for “Head Nigger In Charge.” Production staff crew member Edward Windsor Wright's onscreen credit misspelled his middle name as Winsdor." The film closes with the faces of people interviewed superimposed over an aerial view of Los Angeles.
       As noted in an 18 Aug 1972 HR article, Al Bell, chairman of the Memphis-based Stax Organization made arrangements with producer David L. Wolper to film a 20 Aug 1972 benefit concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum featuring Stax recording artists. A 6 Dec 1972 HR article stated that the Stax Organization produced the concert, a series of Wattstax concert albums and a television segment entitled “Isaac Hayes and the Stax-Memphis Sound,” hosted by Hayes for the The Merv Griffin Show as benefits, with portions of the profits to go to the black community.
       ”Wattstax” was a seven-hour concert sponsored by Stax and the Schlitz Brewing Co. with proceeds to benefit, according to a 22 Feb 1973 LAHExam article, the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, the Martin Luther King Hospital in Watts and future Watts Summer Festivals. Seats were priced at one dollar. As described in many contemporary articles, the event, which was attended by over 100,000 people, was notable for having over thirty black entertainers and possibly one of the largest predominately African-American audiences in the United States for a concert up to that date.
       As noted in a 27 Sep 1972 DV article, on the day of the concert, twelve crews, which were made up of approximately ninety percent African Americans, filmed the audience and performers. In the “Making Of” documentary on the 2003, 30th anniversary DVD release of the film, cameraman Larry Clark explained that because African-Americans had a difficult time getting production jobs in 1970s Hollywood, the Stax Organization insisted that the majority of the crew members be black.
       A 7 Feb 1973 DV review noted that the film shows the Wattstax concert out of its original sequence, and not all the performances were included in the released film. In addition, the film included several performances outside the Coliseum, including one by The Emotions, who are shown singing at a church; Little Milton, who plays by a neighborhood trash can fire and Johnnie Taylor, who performs in a nightclub. As noted in a 21 Feb 1973 LAT article, Pryor, who provided comedy routines delivered in a bar, as if speaking to off-camera companions, did not perform in the Wattstax concert. Although a 27 Sep 1972 HR article noted that Joe Hicks’s performance for the film was shot at the Los Angeles club then known as Whiskey A Go-Go, footage of Hicks was not included in the released film.
       The viewed print and the original release of Wattstax that had its premiere in Los Angeles on 4 Feb 1973 included footage of Hayes singing “Theme from Shaft ” and “Soulsville,” two hits from the M-G-M 1971 movie Shaft (see above). According to the 7 Feb 1973 Var review, M-G-M won a preliminary injunction against the use of those songs in Wattstax after filing a suit for $1,000,000 in damages. Although M-G-M permitted the songs to be used in the premiere version of the film, the filmmakers were forced to shoot Hayes singing another song in early Feb 1973 and replace the Shaft song footage for general release. According to a 5 Feb 1973 DV article, the replacement song was shot at the Coliseum with one hundred extras simulating a crowd. According to the MPH review, the replacement song was “God Is on Our Side.”
       According to reviews, Wattstax was given an R rating based solely on the use of profanity. Many of Pryor’s narration, as well as the street interviews, were frank discussions about sex, marriage, infidelity, racism, joblessness and discrimination and often used profane language.
       Stax Records was a successful label that began in 1959 and featured black popular music, including gospel, rhythm and blues, funk and soul. By the early 1970s, Hayes, who had been a Stax songwriter and session musician, became one of their most innovative and popular stars. Many of the company's performers were also producers and administrators. The Memphis-based company was a rarity in that it was integrated between not only black and white performers, but also administrators and producers. Stax went bankrupt and closed in 1975.
       Stuart and Wolper had teamed up on several dramatic and documentary films prior to Wattstax , including Four Days in November , about the assassination of John F. Kennedy (1964, see above), and the 1971 children’s classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (see below).
       Wattstax received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Documentary and marked the feature film debut of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. According to a 7 Aug 1975 DV article, Pryor faced a court suit for over $2,000,000 filed by Ala Enterprises Inc., which claimed to have exclusive rights to his material including his material in Wattstax , which Ala claimed was used in the 1971 record album Craps (After Hours) , an Ala Enterprises Inc. release. No further information about the outcome of the suit has been found. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
5 Mar 1973
p. 4570.
Daily Variety
27 Sep 1972.
---
Daily Variety
25 Jan 1973.
---
Daily Variety
2 Feb 1973.
---
Daily Variety
5 Feb 1973.
---
Daily Variety
7 Feb 1973.
---
Daily Variety
8 Feb 1973.
---
Daily Variety
9 Mar 1973.
---
Daily Variety
7 Aug 1975.
---
Films and Filming
Sep 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1972
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Aug 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Aug 1972
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Sep 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Feb 1973
p. 4, 9.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
22 Feb 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Feb 1973
Section IV, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
27 Feb 1973.
---
Motion Picture Herald
17 Feb 1973.
---
New York Times
16 Feb 1973
p. 17.
Newsweek
26 Feb 1973.
---
Rolling Stone
10 May 1973.
---
Time
19 Mar 1973.
---
Variety
7 Feb 1973
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Stax Films/Wolper Pictures production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Concert unit dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Concert photog-dir of photog
Concert photog
Concert photog
Concert photog
Concert photog
Concert photog
Concert photog
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Lighting
SET DECORATORS
Concert artist staging
Concert artist staging
SOUND
Loc sd
Addl loc sd
Addl loc sd
Addl loc sd
Sd consultant
Sd consultant
Concert equipment
Concert equipment
Sd eff
VISUAL EFFECTS
PRODUCTION MISC
Consultant
Consultant
Consultant
Consultant
Consultant
Consultant
Consultant
Consultant
Consultant
Concert unit supv
Concert unit supv
Concert unit supv
Concert unit supv
Concert unit supv
Prod coord
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod exec
Librarian
Post prod supv
Research asst
Prod assoc
Prod assoc
Prod assoc
Prod assoc
Prod staff
Prod staff
SOURCES
SONGS
"The Star-Spangled Banner," music by John Stafford Smith, lyrics by Francis Scott Key
"Lift Every Voice and Sing," words and music by John Rosamund Johnson and James Weldon Johnson
“What You See Is What You Get,” words and music by Tony Hester
+
SONGS
"The Star-Spangled Banner," music by John Stafford Smith, lyrics by Francis Scott Key
"Lift Every Voice and Sing," words and music by John Rosamund Johnson and James Weldon Johnson
“What You See Is What You Get,” words and music by Tony Hester
“Oh La De Da,” words and music by Phillip Mitchell
“Respect Yourself,” words and music by Luther Ingram and Mack Rice
“Lying on the Truth,” words and music by Booker T. Jones and A. Smith
“Son of Shaft,” words and music by Homer Banks
“I’ll Play the Blues for You,” words and music by Jerry Beach
“Walking the Backstreet and Crying,” words and music by Sandy Jones
“Jody,” words and music by Don Davis, C. Wilson and Kent Barker
“Picking Up the Pieces,” words and music by Don Davis, Kent Barker and Fred Briggs
“Breakdown,” words and music by Eddie Floyd, Mack Rice and Rahiem Prince Thomas
“Do the Funky Chicken,” words and music by Rufus Thomas
“If Lovin’ You Is Wrong I Don’t Want to Be Right,” words and music by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton, Raymond Jackson
“Theme from Shaft ,” words and music by Isaac Hayes
“Peace Be Still,” traditional
"(Gimme Dat) Old Time Religion," traditional spiritual
“Someone Greater Than You and I,” “We the People,” “Soulsville” and “I May Not Be What You Want,” composers undetermined.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
February 1973
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Los Angeles: 4 February 1973
New York opening: 15 February 1973
Los Angeles opening: 21 February 1973
Production Date:
August 1972
Copyright Claimant:
Wolper Pictures & Stax Films, Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 February 1973
Copyright Number:
LP41657
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Eastman Color
Duration(in mins):
100 or 102
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

This film documents Wattstax, a benefit concert performed by Stax Records artists at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, 20 August 1973, the last day of the Seventh Annual Watts Summer Festival. The first segment features comedian Richard Pryor explaining that the concert is to commemorate the people who spoke out seven years ago, in 1965, during the Watts Riots. This is followed by aerial footage of the famous Watts Towers, a series of tall spires made of concrete, glass and tile. During The Dramatics' rendition of “What You See Is What You Get,” scenes of daily life in the Watts slums are shown, including footage of the 1965 riots. An interview with a group of black men on the street suggests that the riots were a desperate attempt to communicate the intolerable living conditions of being black and urban to the complacent white majority. After the interviews, Pryor jokes that, although there are laws for pedestrians, there are no laws against police officers shooting blacks by “accident,” as they do often in Watts. The film then shows the stage being erected, dozens of performers arriving and thousands of the predominately black audience members dressed in an assortment of fashions popular in the black community, taking seats in the immense arena. When the concert opens with the singing of the American National Anthem, noticeably few stand. Back on the street, black men casually chat about the American government's failure in the black community. Ted Lange and others then talk about the moment they understood discrimination, often as children when they were first called “niggers.” At the coliseum, Reverend Jesse Jackson takes the stage in an African print dashiki ... +


This film documents Wattstax, a benefit concert performed by Stax Records artists at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, 20 August 1973, the last day of the Seventh Annual Watts Summer Festival. The first segment features comedian Richard Pryor explaining that the concert is to commemorate the people who spoke out seven years ago, in 1965, during the Watts Riots. This is followed by aerial footage of the famous Watts Towers, a series of tall spires made of concrete, glass and tile. During The Dramatics' rendition of “What You See Is What You Get,” scenes of daily life in the Watts slums are shown, including footage of the 1965 riots. An interview with a group of black men on the street suggests that the riots were a desperate attempt to communicate the intolerable living conditions of being black and urban to the complacent white majority. After the interviews, Pryor jokes that, although there are laws for pedestrians, there are no laws against police officers shooting blacks by “accident,” as they do often in Watts. The film then shows the stage being erected, dozens of performers arriving and thousands of the predominately black audience members dressed in an assortment of fashions popular in the black community, taking seats in the immense arena. When the concert opens with the singing of the American National Anthem, noticeably few stand. Back on the street, black men casually chat about the American government's failure in the black community. Ted Lange and others then talk about the moment they understood discrimination, often as children when they were first called “niggers.” At the coliseum, Reverend Jesse Jackson takes the stage in an African print dashiki and, with raised fist, leads the crowd in a rousing call and response speech, “I Am Somebody,” demanding that African Americans be heard and respected regardless of their skill level or economic power. During Kim Weston’s rendition of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the film shows photographs depicting the history of blacks in America, including images of slave ships, sharecroppers, lynching, segregation and several prominent civil rights leaders and entertainers. This montage ends with footage of Dr. Martin Luther King giving his famous 1968 speech “I’ve Been To the Mountaintop.” Back on the stage, gospel singer Jimmy Jones sings a number followed by Lange talking about the loud and joyous gospel singing in black churches being so different from what is heard in most white churches. Next on stage is the Rance Allen Group, who sing “Lying on the Truth,” which is intercut with images of urban storefront churches. In one church, The Emotions, a three woman group, sing “Peace Be Still” to an enthusiastic crowd, while a church member is “saved” by the minister. Back on stage, a variety of artists perform “(Gimme Dat) Old Time Religion” accompanied by a brass back up, followed by The Staples Singers giving a stirring rendition of “Respect Yourself.” Back on the street, interviews with men at barbershops and woman at beauty shops reveal widely different attitudes about straightening black hair or leaving it in a natural afro. On stage, funk group the Bar Kays dazzle the crowd with their white costumes, heavy chain vests and layers of bracelets while singing ”Son of Shaft.” Interviews with people on the street reveal the dilemma of whether to use violence to underscore the community’s need for employment and assistance. Pryor then jokes about the fact that most black men coming out of prison are unable to get work because they only have experience as a “license presser." While blues singer Albert King plays guitar on stage, the film features interviews with men and women about being heartbroken. This is followed by Little Milton’s number about losing his woman and Johnnie Taylor singing “Jody.” After a montage of dozens of black couples kissing and holding hands, men and women talk separately about how they manage their relationships. Returning to the stage, Carla Thomas, in a large afro and flowing gown, sings “Picking Up the Pieces.” In several short interviews, black women talk about managing the house without men and take issue with black men who date white women. One interviewee suggests that white women are easier to manipulate. Back on stage, veteran funk performer Rufus Thomas, wearing an all pink suit and cape, begins his popular “Breakdown.” While the coliseum sign lights up with the title “Prince of Dance,” the crowd steps in time to the music. Soon hundreds rush over the barriers between the stadium seating and the field, including the youngest children, who flap their arms to the sound of Rufus’ “Do the Funky Chicken.” Using gentle humor and rhyming, Rufus convinces the crowd to return to their seats. When one man refuses to go, Rufus says, “That’s a brother alright, but I’ll be damned if he’s my brother,” sending a wave of laughter through the coliseum. Evening falls as Luther Ingram sings a sultry number, followed by interviews with men about keeping a mistress. Pryor then jokes that when black men are put in a police lineup, they so fear the police that they admit to bank robbery even though the charge was actually a fraudulent rape accusation. To introduce the last act of the evening, Jackson takes the stage and removes the hat hiding the face of one of Stax Records’ most famous stars, Isaac Hayes. While the coliseum sign reads “Black Moses,” Hayes pulls off his multi-colored cape, revealing his striking physique covered in a gold chain vest, and sings “Theme from Shaft ” to the rapt crowd. Pryor and others then talk about the complicated handshakes among black men that establish their unity. When Hayes then sings about hardships in the black community, the film features footage of black neighborhood slums. To close the film, Jackson’s “I Am Somebody” speech is repeated over the faces of those interviewed and scenes of Los Angeles. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.