To Sleep with Anger is Charles Burnett’s latest drama of conflict about a contemporary black family mired down by the brooding presence of self-destruction. Full of poetic realism, and rich in folklore and history, it is a tale of the delicate relationships hanging precariously in balance within the three-generational family. Into the midst of this volatile situation comes a man whose presence disturbs the few who can see his true face.
The man is Harry Mention-charmer, trickster and fabulous storyteller. A friend from the earlier days of Gideon’s life, Harry conjures up the Deep South and a dark past. Arriving unannounced with a box full of belongings, he is welcomed with open arms as family by Gideon and his wife Suzie. But Harry is not family; he is an enigmatic stranger whose folklore and mystery divide the family even further. He especially affects Gideon’s two sons, Babe Brother and Junior. While the alienated Babe Brother finds a role model in Harry, junior feels him to be a frightening influence.
Set in South Central Los Angeles, To Sleep with Anger is an intense drama that unleashes a powerful, unsuspecting force with amazing dexterity and unsettling seductiveness. With a pace both delicate and controlled, Burnett creates a drama tight with the relentless sense of danger and an unexplainable feeling that there is wore lurking under its surface. Like Something Wicked This Way Comes, this melodrama touches a chord of primordial fear that makes it absolutely riveting. A visual delight complimented by a superb cast, To Sleep with Anger is ripe with metaphors which effortlessly add to the richness of the text. This film maybe a departure from Burnett’s earlier work, such as Killer of Sheep, in its refined presentation, but it is a no-less accomplished film which reaffirms his unique vision and importance as an independent filmmaker in Los Angeles. –Sundance Film Festival
Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi on April 13, 1944, Charles Burnett moved with his family to the Watts area of Los Angeles at an early age. He describes the community of having a strong mythical connection with the South as a result of having so many Southern transplants, an atmosphere which has informed much of his work.
Burnett first studied as an electrician but soon became bored with the idea of making this his career and went to UCLA, where he earned his Masters of Fine Arts in Filmmaking. There, he was greatly influenced by professors Elyseo Taylor—creator of the Ethno-Communications department—and Basil Wright—the English documentarian famous for Night Mail and Songs of Ceylon. He became fast friends with fellow future greats like Haile Gerima (Sankofa), and Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust), collaborating with them and others on a number of projects. Burnett cites Jean Renoir, Satyajit Ray, and Sidney Lumet (The Pawnbroker) as important influences.
In 1988, Burnett… read more