Charles Burnett Calls Forth the Ghosts of the Old World

Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks — Mar 7, 2019


As one of the leading figures of the L.A. Rebellion, a loosely defined movement of filmmakers who were pioneering new forms of African-American on-screen representation in the 1960s and ’70s, Charles Burnett has long been heavily associated with Los Angeles. But as his South Central–set masterpiece To Sleep with Anger illustrates, his style and subject matter have also been influenced by his identification with his family’s roots in the South and the traditions that developed in the black community there before the Great Migration. In Burnett’s sublime portrait of a middle-class family turned upside down by a mysterious drifter (Danny Glover), the director evokes the tensions of being caught between urban life and the mystical beliefs at the heart of rural southern black culture. A new interview program on our recently released edition delves into the story of the film’s making and the inspirations behind it, and you can watch a preview of the piece in the excerpt above, in which Burnett, Glover, and actor Sheryl Lee Ralph talk about how they brought the folkloric elements of the film to life.