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To Sleep with Anger (1990)


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So, a thank you to whomever nominated this film.  I'd never seen it before, and it will certainly get a high ranking from me.  It's my first Burnett film; alas, I didn't seize the opportunity to watch Killer of Sheep back when Netflix was a mailing service and it would've been easily watchable.

The film creates such interesting dichotomies between pre-Christian black spirituality (are those Gullah traditions?) and black church practice, between labor and sloth, and the two brothers who are a sort of Cain and Abel.  I suppose it's an allegory/parable/metaphor (or to use Ken's old term, allephory) for allowing resentment to gain a toehold within the daily function of an ordinary family, and the wreckage that results.  

Danny Glover is perhaps at his best-ever here, definitely and successfully going against his usual typecasting.  Not much negative to say, except that the end-credit music (after so much great blues and gospel beforehand) is dated and cheesy.  (Then again, if we're honest, Ozu and Kurosawa didn't always have the best musical taste either.)

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa


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This has been on my to-watch list for years, so I'm glad to have an excuse to catch up with it soon. Just popping in quickly to say that every year, when we brainstorm ideas for Big Ears Festival, I pitch the idea of inviting Danny Glover. His career as an actor has been uneven at best. But he's been an activist producer, supporting filmmakers like Burnett, Apitchatpong, Sissako, Martel, Labaki, and a lot of young African American filmmakers, including RaMell Ross and Yance Ford. I saw him give a Q&A after a screening of Bamako years ago and it was one of those times when I felt like I was in presence of a special kind of wisdom.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Just found out this is not streaming on the Criterion Channel, so does anyone have any advice on where to stream it?

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Hope others catch this for list-purposes. I watched it recently for voting consideration and was struck again at how... odd the film is for its time and context. Darren used the word "wisdom" above, and that captures what Burnett is doing here well. The script is like Jewish widsom lit having passed through a set of religious and cultural traditions. Burnett may be doing a domestic version of whatever Bill Gunn had been doing the prior decade.

I kept thinking about how Burnett kind of unravels or critiques the moralizing work of Woody Allen during the same period, from the perspective of Black America.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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