Reviews and notes
One of the most heartening recent developments in the world of American film has been the revival of interest in the work of Charles Burnett. At a moment when the term independent film is taken to refer either to midbudget studio projects anchored by Oscar-soliciting performances or to the aimless navel-gazing of under-stimulated hipsters (Speak up! Stop mumbling!), Mr. Burnett?s work is an indelible reminder of what real independence looks like.
His early films in particular also testify to the vitality of a neorealist impulse that has never quite taken root in American cinema. Killer of Sheep
(1977), which was revived last year, and My Brother?s Wedding
, which begins a weeklong run at the IFC Center today, have a sense of place and personality that is marvelous and rare. Shot in South Central Los Angeles, they are full of the rough poetry of everyday experience, and their depictions of African-American working-class life are humorous, loving and honest, devoid of either condescension or political posturing.
A longer, unfinished version of My Brother?s Wedding
[running 116 minutes] was shown at the New Directors/New Films festival in 1983, after which the film faded into obscurity. Mr. Burnett has re-edited it in the meantime and has produced an 81-minute feature of astonishing richness and density. The central character is Pierce Mundy (Everette Silas), a not-quite-young man who works in his parents? dry-cleaning business. Pierce seems stuck on the way to full-fledged adulthood and also caught between his duties to his brother, who is about to marry a doctor?s snooty daughter, and his loyalty to his best friend, Soldier, who can?t stay out of trouble or jail.
Somehow, Mr. Burnett, using nonprofessional actors, tells Pierce?s story in a way that balances melodrama with calm observation. Quite a lot happens in My Brother?s Wedding
, but the story may be less important than the faces and voices of the actors and the subtlety of their interactions. They are involved, with Mr. Burnett and his crew, in a project of making art out of materials and inspirations that lie close to hand. And the result is a film that is so firmly and organically rooted in a specific time and place that it seems to contain worlds.
- A O Scott, New York Times, 14 September 2007.
In 1983, after many long months of shooting, Charles Burnett sent his rough-cut of My Brother's Wedding
to his producers. Ignoring his request to finish the editing of the film, the producers rushed it to a New York festival screening, where it received mixed reviews. With distributors scared off, My Brother's Wedding
was tragically never released. Film critic Armond White called this "a catastrophic blow to the development of American popular culture".
When Milestone first acquired the rights to My Brother's Wedding
, Charles Burnett's one request was a chance to complete his film the way he wanted to almost 25 years ago.
Now, following a beautiful restoration by the Pacific Film Archive and a beautifully-accomplished digital re-edit by the director, My Brother's Wedding
is set to have its theatrical premiere this September at the IFC Center in New York, where Burnett's first film, Killer of Sheep
played for 12 weeks this spring. And just like his initial effort, this is an eye-opening revelation - wise, funny, heartbreaking and timeless.
- Milestone Films 2007.
Weblink: A Film Review by The Lumiere Reader of the Auckland Film Society screening.
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