WATTSTAX (1973)

1973 Wattstax (ing) 01

In 1972, seven years after the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Stax records from Memphis held a concert for the good folks in Watts to commemorate the anniversary of said event.

Tickets cost $1 so as many people from the community could attend. Interestingly when Glastonbury had it’s first festival in 1970, tickets cost only £1.

I love these kind of documentary films; Woodstock, Monterey Pop and Festival Express all cut from the same cloth and from the same time and not trying to form any kind of narrative, simply showing the concert interspersed with talking heads from the time. It washes over you and allows deeper access into the time and world in a way that conventional narratives don’t. You get to imbibe it with less guidance and that can e a good thing. Here, it is great.

Starting with a statement from the great Richard Pryor:

“All of us have something to say, but some are never heard. Over 7 years ago, the people of Watts stood together and demanded to be heard. On a Sunday, this past August, in the Los Angeles coliseum, over 100,000 black people came together to commemorate that moment in American history.”

The film contains several sequences throughout the film with Richard Pryor, holding court and speaking on the black experience. Also throughout are scenes of African-American men and women speaking on this same subject.

What it’s like to be black in America in 1972. These are very entertaining and contain an insight into the struggle, real people with real talk. They are the glue with which the film is joined together.

And then there’s the music, some of the greatest musicians of the time on the Stax label come together for this unique concert. Talking of Coming Together, hearing Jesse Jackson’s stirring opening speech, I immediately recognized the sample that Primal Scream had used for their seminal single Come Together.

“This is a beautiful day….”

From Kim Weston’s Star Spangled Banner through to the Bar-Kays, to the blues from Albert King and ending with the mighty Isaac Hayes, this is a film for music lovers everywhere. Like with the other musical docs I mentioned earlier, Wattstax gets to the core of the time, the concert, the people and the mood of the country.

Here are The Emotions singing Peace Be Still in a local church taken from the film:

 

Directed by Mel Stuart, who also directed Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory and was the first cousin of Marvel’s Stan Lee, here he does a tremendous job bringing all the elements together to create a feeling of what it must have been like to be there. One of the four cinematographers on the film was a certain Larry Clark, who went on to direct Kids.

This is highly recommended to anyone who loves the music, the time, the history and the attitude.

Brilliant.

4/5

BUY THE BLU RAY DVD HERE

DOWNLOAD THE FILM ON iTUNES HERE

LA REINE MARGOT (1994)

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Patrice Chereau directs and co-writes this historical French epic melodrama.

Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas and set in Paris in 1572, this tells the story of real characters and events during the reign of Charles IX, specifically the powerplay between the Catholics (the monarchy) and the protestants (the Huguenots).

With such a rich history of the monarchy filled with intrigue, drama, betrayal and murder it stands to reason that the French would do justice to the material.

Catherine De Medici played with scheming depth by Virna Lisi marries off her daughter, Margot (the stunning Isabelle Adjani) to the Huguenot, Henri De Navarre (another brilliant performance by Daniel Auteuil) in order to broker a peace deal but when Catherine organises the St Bartholemew Day Massacre, chaos ensues. Margot, who does not love her betrothed, begins an affair with the handsome soldier; La Mole (Vincent Perez) as political intrigue, plotting and power play ensues.

Cyrano De Bergerac came out 4 years earlier and set the bar high for well-made, historical, French films. The cast are all excellent and are let down by the slightly pedestrian way that the story is told. It comes across as melodrama and reminds one of an historical television drama. When I first saw this in 1994, I was enamoured by the world and the intrigue as well as the acting. Seeing it over 20 years later, the holes become more apparent.

Special mention must go to Jean-Hughes Anglade (Betty Blue, Braquo) who plays the weak king, Charles IX. His journey is by far the most interesting which is due to his powerhouse performance.

If you’re a fan of the historical epic, then check this out, it’s markedly better than most of the recent fare.

3.5/5

BUY THE BLU RAY DVD HERE

DOWNLOAD THE FILM ON iTUNES HERE