To Sleep With Anger (1990, Charles Burnett)

Wow, a helluva good movie, with a lousy presentation by The Pan-African Film Festival at The High. Maybe they should’ve taken a look at the shoddy sub-VHS-quality videorecording they had before making people pay $8 each for a public screening of it.

After liking Burnett’s Killer of Sheep very much, but his shorts and his My Brother’s Wedding not so much, I was kind of anxious about this one, so chose to see it over Sembene’s Ceddo. Currently Anger isn’t out on video, but the moment it’s released, that decision will have been a mistake. Anyway.

Father of the family is named Gideon (heh). Old family friend Harry shows up one day, and suddenly Gideon falls ill and his younger son is threatening to follow in Harry’s immoral footsteps, when suddenly, thanks to some spilled marbles (preceded by Gid’s wife taking a stand against Harry), all is set right again.

Then comes the part that Ebert hated… Harry dies ten minutes before the movie ends, and the rest of the time is spent gradually reassembling the family, talking over what’s happened, and waiting (over a day) for the county coroner to show up. Dunno why Ebert wishes a more commercial rhythm upon an independently-minded film. “All movies should end the same way!”

It’s as if Burnett’s African-American family had become more well-off with each movie. Killer of Sheep they are barely getting by, My Brother’s Wedding they’re poor but surviving, and now they’ve got a nice house and a thriving multi-generational family. Harry is a reminder of the past, but there are reminders everywhere in references to slavery and folklore. The family is drawn in great detail, and the good vs. evil metaphor is clear without being hacky/obvious. Really a shockingly good movie for something nobody talks about and not available on video. Won a Sundance jury award and four independent spirit awards before sinking into obscurity, being replaced by Grand Canyon on the new release shelf.

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