My taunting of Katy for complaining about long movies (“long” > 105 minutes) bit me in the ass today. After an hour delay the movie started, and after 2.5 hours I was the first to moan about how LONG that damned movie was.
The project may have been initiated by the country of Namibia, but it says Burnett wrote and directed, so I’m laying the blame at his feet. So what went wrong? The other Burnett movies I’ve seen centered around small communities, so maybe his style can’t support stretching out to epic scale with ten countries and a hundred characters. Katy points out that Danny Glover had the only character with any depth, and Burnett said in an interview that Glover’s character was fictional, a blending of three or four real people, so maybe Burnett has problems with writing history and his strength is in fictionalization. After the recent reissue of Killer of Sheep, every film critic fell over himself to declare Burnett an American treasure, so maybe the combined weights of feeling like he has to live up to his reputation and deliver a high-quality picture, and feeling like it’s his duty to truthfully deliver the story of Namibia to the rest of the world led to too much compromise.
Plot: Young Sam Nujoma grew up in “South West Africa” (aka Namibia), a country governed by nazi… i mean Germans and occupied by South Africa. Sam always dreamed of a free Namibia. He met some guys who also wanted that, and started a political/guerrilla movement called SWAPO. He went to church and met minister Danny Glover. Then he pissed off to the United Nations and stayed there for twenty years, finally returning as president of his newly-independent nation. Yay!
I didn’t realize that Carl Lumbly (who played grown-up Sam Nujoma in a series of fake beards) was also the easily-manipulated slacker Junior in Burnett’s To Sleep With Anger.
Quoting myself in an email:
Movie feels long, and yet each scene feels too short. Tries to tell the *entire* story of Namibia AND of [Nujoma] without leaving anything out, so it’s an epic and a biopic crammed into 2.5 hours. Script feels like a wikipedia article. And story problems aside, it’s full of traditional epic-sounding music, and traditional cutting and camerawork… doesn’t feel like the idiosyncratic artworks that the other Burnett films I’ve seen (Sheep, Wedding, Anger, the shorts) felt like. Disappointing. BUT it’s got some great shots and some fine acting, and the stories of Namibia and Nujoma are interesting, so it was at least worth sitting through. It’s not total crap (like Amazing Grace), just not the great movie I was hoping for.
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.
Wowwww, wonderful movie, lives up to its reputation after I’d had lowered expectations from Several Friends and My Brother’s Wedding. This little masterpiece falls right between those two somehow.
Simply but artistically shot, just follows a guy who works part-time at a slaughterhouse and wants to fix his car and live comfortably with his wife. Things don’t work out that well. Movie not centered on him really, follows some neighbor kids, some friends of his and others nearby. A mostly realistic little neighborhood drama. Don’t know what to say, don’t know what made it so affecting, but that’s why I ain’t no film critic here.
The part where the car engine falls off the back of our hero’s truck had more suspense-and-release than anything in Spider-man 3.
Several Friends (1969)
Just that, several friends. They’re in a car discussing what to do. Eventually some of them do something. Sound isn’t great, movie goes nowhere, looks like a student/demo film.
The Horse (1973)
First one with a “story”, three white guys come to the old farm to have their horse put down, but they gotta wait for the black guy with the gun to arrive first. His son is out in the field taking care of the horse, close-up on son’s face as the trigger is pulled is the final shot. A much better “first film” than the other one.
When It Rains (1995)
Not a first film at all, but a late-career short, about a woman who absolutely needs the rent money and a friend who helps her out by calling in favors all across town. I liked it and all, but don’t see where the Rosenbaum “best short of the entire 90’s” opinion comes from. Guess there’s some jazz structure in there and I don’t know what that means.
Wasn’t expecting this at all. Has a real amateur-theater feel to the acting and dialogue, wasn’t knocked over by the direction or editing, so all I’m left with is the story/moral… which is pretty alright.
Pierce just wants to hang out with his cool friend Soldier, but his family’s bugging him about his college-grad brother’s impending marriage to a rich hottie (with whom Pierce does not get along). Well, Soldier dies and his funeral’s on the same day as the wedding. What will Pierce do? Idiotically, he races from the wedding to the funeral before his bro+girl have walked down the aisle. The wedding ring in his pocket, he doesn’t even make it to the funeral on time. What a douche.
Nothing against marginalized director Burnett’s intentions… making a little film about family and friendship and personal responsibility and “doing the right thing” (some six years before Do The Right Thing), focusing mostly on small things and small events, but the thing struck me as amateurish. Maybe my expectations were high for this one (“Burnett, lost masterpiece director”) and lowered for Killer of Sheep, which I loved a few weeks later.