Movie trailer for the 1973 black documentary, Wattstax. Perhaps the closet thing to “BLACKstock” we’ll ever see. Great performances from Memphis’ Stax Recording artists of the time and an indelible message of unity, self-determination, and respect (and fly fashion).
I can’t be 100% certain, but I’m pretty sure that the chemical pink ensemble (complete with white, patent-leather, knee-high platform boots) that Rufus Thomas (best known for “Do the Funky Chicken“) wears on stage in Wattstax is the same outfit he sports in a Schlitz Malt Liquor commercial from that era. But then again, they were living pretty high at Stax in those days. He could’ve had two suits… or was he wearing a hot pink cape? Hmmm…..
“Killer of Sheep caught the lives of the children with a fidelity to how kids really do fight, play, and cry — and how they can sometimes be cruel simply because they’re so scared.”
— ROGER EBERT
“If Killer of Sheep were an Italian film from 1953, we would have every scene memorized.”
— MICHAEL TOLKIN, SCREENWRITER
This is perhaps my favorite cult classic movie of all. With very sparse dialogue, and a 1950s R&B soundtrack, the film is most telling through the soulful, grey images it engrains in viewers’ hearts: a herd of brown children, running in a dusty, vacant lot, dwarfed by dark, stoic palm trees; or a little girl clinging to a cyclone fence, face hidden by a grotesque rubber mask. Killer of Sheep records mid-70s Watts through Stan, “a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse”, according to killerofsheep.com. “Frustrated by money problems, he finds respite in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a coffee cup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife in the living room, holding his daughter”. One day Stan conjures up one more plan, one more dream… to make a better life for his family, but to what avail?
Killer of Sheep absolutely breaks your heart and rouses your senses, as well.
Produced by the University of California at Los Angeles, Extension Media Center, and Directed by Richard Wells. This is a beautifully raw short film shot in 1971. The opening scene portrays kids, fresh out of high school, but already short on hope. The public domain film presents the first-person experiences of a black teenager coming up in Watts whose brother is in a soul band. He expresses his views on ‘the System’, education, war, drugs, revolution, his community, the Black Panther Party, and the police.
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