Danny Glover in To Sleep with Anger
Perchance to dream
Spike Lee isn’t the only black American filmmaker to take a hard look at racial tension and cultural change, as Mike Davies found out when he talked to director Charles Burnett about his new movie To Sleep With Anger.
Winner of the 1977 Critics' Prize at Berlin for his debut feature Killer of Sheep. which he followed six years later with the modestly-budgeted satire My Brother’s Wedding. adopted Angelino and UCLA film graduate Charles Burnett has won much praise for his perceptive portrayals of black cultural experience. Critical acclaim, however, is not quite enough to facilitate the leap from the independent sector to Hollywood production, but by securing the involvement of Danny Glover (Mel Gibson’s partner in the Lethal Weapon movies) Burnett was able to finance his latest offering and first studio movie To Sleep With Anger. Based, according to the filmmaker, on the Georgia legend of Harry Man the stealer of souls, and the storyline marries a clash between traditionalist father and modernist son with elements of Blues myth and black folklore. Danny Glover‘s character Trickster, for instance, who arrives in town to stir up trouble and bring those he encounters to a vital crossroads in their lives, is a familiar type from the storytelling traditions of Africa and black America and, as he explains. Burnett was keen to acknowledge
such inﬂuences. ‘I‘m very concerned with black culture‘, he reflects. ‘I grew up in Mississippi before the riots and there was a real sense of community, ofsocialisation, of storytelling. I was shaped by that and I found it very enriching. but there‘s no sense of it anymore and I wanted to reaffirm and celebrate that moment.’
Even so, as the film makes clear in Junior‘s rejection ofhis father‘s traditionalism, the old ways are not necessarily the best. and with the benefit of hindsight Burnett too can cast a more critical eye over his formative years. ‘Growing up in a working class background we were out to survive, we didn’t have the motivation for self-improvement,‘ recalls the 47-year-old. ‘A lot of the myths I was brought up on I see now as hurtful: that too much of anything had a ring ofevil about it; that the best thing a young man could do was to get a high school diploma, get a job, get married and settle down. When I got to college I found that other people were in a higher gear because the values I brought with me prevented me from being aggressive in any way.’
‘What‘s still lacking today is leadership. I‘ve just done a documentary on how blacks see themselves in relationship to other new immigrants who are doing well. The fact is that next to the American Indian, blacks have the lowest self-esteem and the lowest self-perception. The leadership is a lie. It’s not actively making changes as in the days of Martin Luther King because there are no personalities to galvanise around. In LA there’s a black area but no sense of community, everyone‘s afraid of
_ each other, but when there is any
leadership the establishment labels them black extremists and discredits them.‘
Burnett to a certain extent agrees with Spike Lee's vision of a slow-burning radical fuse in Do The Right Thing. but. perhaps surprisingly. it was a recent visit to Britain that forced him to re-examine the nature of racial tension in the US. ‘I was staying in London with a friend in what he said was a black neighbourhood. but when I looked outside all I could see were whites. The point was that the blacks dominated it culturally. In America. a Black. Hispanic or Jewish area will be confined to just that one ethnic group. That kind of segregation creates different perceptions of people and so generates friction between them. It‘s almost calculated to cause tension but it‘s so much a part of our culture that we don‘t even recognise its racial basis.‘
In such a situation, Burnett reckons that To Sleep With Anger can only help to reduce the lack of understanding. ‘It attempts to share experience.‘ he affirms. ‘The audience can see that this isn‘t the Cosby family, but a group ofpeople beset by problems anyone can identify with. You can’t judge. of course, but times and circumastances do make a difference, and ifyou know the reasons why things are done it could change the way you see or act. In the film there‘s no good guys, no bad guys, just characters who lack wisdom. The whole thing is about wisdom.‘
To Sleep With Anger (15) plays Edinburgh Filmhouse/mm Sun 1710 Sat23 Feb.
I December Bride (PG) Debut feature from Thaddeus O'Sullivan set in rural Ireland at the turn ofthe century. Saskia Reeves stars as an independent-minded woman who becomes involved with the two brothers she works for. With Donal McCann. Ciaran Hinds. See preview. Glasgow Film Theatre Tue l9-—Sat 23 Feb; Edinburgh Filmhouse Fri 8—Sat 16 Feb.
I DuckTales: The Movie (U) Disney cartoon fun featuring Scrooge McDuck and companions l battlingwithawicked sorcerer to win possession ofa magical lamp. Edinburgh Odcon and L'CI from Fri 8 Feb.
I Men AtWorlt(12) Comedy-thriller with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez as a pair ofrefuse workers who come across the city commissioner‘s body in a dustbin and find themselves on the run from the mob. See review. Cannons Glasgow and Edinburgh. UCls from Fri 15 Feb.
I To Sleep With Anger (12) Danny Glover stars as a charming Southerner who arrives unexpectedly to visit a family ofold friends. His presence brings further problems for the already troubled household. Acclaimed veteran Charles Burnett directs. See preview. Edinburgh Filmhouse Wed 13. Sun l7-Sat23 Feb.
I Three Men and a Little Lady (PG) Inevitable follow-up to 1987's box office smash. giving Tom Selleck. Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson as the trio of bachelors another chance to get cute with the now five-year-old Mary (Robin Weisman). See review. Wide release from
83 OM )IEHM 92 ENG )IHM
I IThe Griiters (15)
Stephen Frears‘ adaption I (produced by Martin Scorsese) of a pulp thriller byJim Thompson stars John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening as a trio of small-time con artists (mother, son, girlfriend) discovering the dark complexities oftheir relationship. See review. Edinburgh Cameo from Fri 15 Feb.
The List 8—21 February 1991 19