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Charles Burnett Retrospective At MoMA, NYC Starts TONIGHT With “Killer Of Sheep;” Got Your Tickets?

Damn! I totally effed up and scheduled our podcast season debut tonight, completely forgetting that the MoMA Charles Burnett retrospective also begins tonight! And with his masterpiece too, Killer Of Sheep, which I STILL haven’t seen on the big screen, and really want to. I have the recently released DVD issue, but, I think this is a film I’d really love to see in a theater, in all its gritty black and white glory.

Anyway… I already alerted you to this about 2 or 3 weeks ago, so consider this a reminder! MoMA sent out the below press release which details the entire retrospective.

But I’ll break it down for you:

What is it? Charles Burnett is being feted at MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art, here in New York City) with a series titled Charles Burnett: The Power To Endure.

When is it? April 6-25, 2011.

Where is it? At MoMA of course – specifically, the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters.

How much will each screening cost you? $10 adults; $8 seniors, 65 years and over with I.D. $6 full-time students with current I.D.

And, by the way, Mr Burnett will be physically present for screenings happening on the 6th through the 8th. Icing on the cake, right?

The full lineup follows below. As can be expected, Killer Of Sheep, My Brother’s Wedding, To Sleep With Anger, The Glass Shield, and other of his most known films, will screen.

But of most interest to me is Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation, a film I’ve been looking forward to seeing since it played at FESPACO at least 3 years ago. Made in 2007, it played at a few international film festivals, in 2007/2008, but quickly disappeared, without much fanfare. Its running time is said to be almost 3 hours, and some folks I know who saw it described it as “epic.” It was barely reviewed. It never received a theatrical release, and isn’t available on any home video format that I’m aware of (neither Amazon nor Netflix have it). So I’ve been wondering where the heck it’s been sitting and if it’ll even be released So, needless to say, I’m glad it’s going to screen as part of this retro, and you can guarantee that I’ll be seeing it, with my thoughts to follow.

Also of interest to me is a program of Burnett’s short films, made between 1969 and 2007. That should be interesting viewing, and I’m looking forward to that as well.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Charles Burnett himself will be present to introduce some of these films, which is super! I’m looking forward to seeing Killer Of Sheep in glorious black and white, on a large theater screen, because I never have! My viewing experiences of the film have been relegated to DVD.

Anywho… the full schedule follows below. I believe you can buy tickets in advance, so, I’d suggest you do so, because I’m betting some of these screenings will be packed – especially of his widely known films.

Wednesday, April 6
7:00 Killer of Sheep. 1977. USA. Directed, produced, written, photographed, and edited by Burnett. With Henry Gayle Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy, Eugene Cherry. Burnett’s first feature is a harsh Neorealist portrait of Los Angeles ghetto life, vitalized by the kind of humanism that the director valued in the films of Jean Renoir. Hampered by his inability to secure music rights, Burnett finally saw the film go into general release 30 years after its completion. 80 min.

Thursday, April 7
4:30 My Brother’s Wedding. 1983 (director’s cut, 2007). USA. Produced and photographed by Charles Burnett. With Everett Silas, Jessie Holmes, Gaye Shannon- Burnett. This very funny film, which highlights the director’s ironic take on family life, is shot in a straightforward style with naturalistic performances reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. Financed in part by German television, it remained without a theatrical release until 1991, and a version approximating the director’s intentions had to wait until 2007. 81 min.
8:00 To Sleep With Anger. 1990. USA. Directed by Burnett. With Danny Glover, Paul Butler, Mary Alice, Carl Lumbly, Vonetta McGee, Richard Brooks. Burnett continues his dissection of families with a vengeance. His acknowledgment of African American mythology is laced with rich humor and transitions that recall the films of Yasujiro Ozu. Hailed as a masterpiece by numerous critics, the film features a brilliant performance by Glover. 102 min.

Friday, April 8
4:30 The Glass Shield. 1994. USA. Directed by Burnett. With Michael Boatman, Lori Petty, Ice Cube, Elliott Gould. Burnett’s first major studio venture—it was released by Miramax—is a provocative and suspenseful commentary on the efforts of a young black officer to be integrated into the all-white Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In the process, his own values are sorely tested, and most of the police come up short on any scale of justice. 115 min.
8:00 The Annihilation of Fish. 1999. USA. Directed by Burnett. With James Earl Jones, Lynn Redgrave, Margot Kidder. This bizarre comedy pairs the legendary Jones with Lynn Redgrave (the late younger sister of Vanessa Redgrave, with whom Jones is currently appearing on Broadway). The film includes a trademark Burnett wedding scene—this time with an invisible groom—and Kidder seems to channel Beulah Bondi’s performance from Jean Renoir’s The Southerner, one of Burnett’s favorite films. 108 min.

Saturday, April 9
2:00 My Brother’s Wedding. (See Thursday, April 7, 4:30).
5:00 Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation. 2007. Namibia. Produced by the Namibia Film Commission and the Pan Afrikan Center of Namibia. With Carl Lumbly, Danny Glover. This widescreen epic chronicles the rise of Sam Nujoma (Lumbly) to the head of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) in the fight to end the South African occupation of Namibia, and his subsequent election as the first president of the independent country. This David Lean–esque epic, beautifully photographed on location,
showed that Burnett could translate his values and obsessions to a much broader canvas when given the opportunity. In English, several other languages; English subtitles. 161 min.

Sunday, April 10
5:30 The Final Insult. 1997. USA. Directed by Burnett. With Ayuko Babu, Charles Bracy. This video work intermingles fiction with actuality in a poignant confrontation with homelessness. 70 min.

Wednesday, April 13
4:30 Killer of Sheep (See Wednesday, April 6, 7:00).

Thursday, April 14
4:30 The Annihilation of Fish (See Friday, April 8, 4:30).
8:00 Bless Their Little Hearts. 1984. USA. 1984. Directed by Billy Woodberry. Written and photographed by Charles Burnett. With Nate Hardman, Kaycee Moore, Angela Burnett, Ronald Burnett, Kimberly Burnett. Reminiscent of Killer of Sheep, this Burnett-Woodberry collaboration is a low-key portrait of enduring life in Watts. Woodberry, Burnett, and Haile Gerima, director of 1979’s Bush Mama, which Burnett also photographed, were friends at UCLA and shared much of their experience and anger. 80 min.

Friday, April 15
4:30 A Program of Short Films by Charles Burnett. 1969–2007. USA. Since his student days, Burnett has continued to make short films. A complete listing is available at MoMA.org. Approx. 90 min.
7:00 America Becoming. 1991. USA. Screenplay by Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, Charles Burnett. Cinematography by Burnett. Narrated by Meredith Vieira. A prophetic PBS documentary about America’s shifting demographics. 90 min.

Saturday, April 16
1:30 Selma, Lord, Selma. 1999. USA. Directed by Burnett. With Jurnee Smollet, Mackenzie Astin, Clifton Powell, Ella Joyce, Yolanda King, Elizabeth Omilami. This Disney television movie provided Burnett with the opportunity for a deeply felt tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights movement. The film is admirably simple and direct, and the fine performance by Smollet demonstrates the gift for directing children that is evident in so much of Burnett’s work. 94 min.
5:00 To Sleep With Anger (See Thursday, April 7, 8:00).
7:30 A program of Short Films by Charles Burnett. (See Friday, April 15, 4:30).

Sunday, April 17
2:30 Nightjohn. 1996. USA. Directed by Burnett. With Carl Lumbly, Beau Bridges, Lorraine Toussaint, Bill Cobbs, Allison Jones. This Disney television movie, which movingly recreates plantation life during slavery and deals (as do so many of Burnett’s films) with the complications of family, is marked by superb performances. 96 min.
5:30 Finding Buck McHenry. 2000. USA. Directed by Burnett. With Ruby Dee, Ossie
Davis, Ernie Banks, Michael Schiffman. In this Showtime television movie, Davis plays a school custodian who may have been a star in the Negro Leagues. Dee, who had starred opposite Jackie Robinson in his film biography a half-century earlier, comes full circle, playing opposite her husband (Davis) and the great Chicago Cubs infielder Ernie Banks, whose career was made possible by Robinson’s courageous precedent. 94 min.

Monday, April 18
4:30 Selma, Lord, Selma (See Saturday, April 16, 1:30)
8:00 The Glass Shield (See Friday, April 8, 4:30)

Wednesday, April 20
4:30 The Final Insult (See Sunday, April 10, 5:30)

Thursday, April 21
4:30 Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property. 2003. USA. Written and directed by Charles Burnett, Frank Christopher, Kenneth S. Greenberg. With Carl Lumbly, William Styron, Henry Louis Gates, Burnett. Narrated by Alfre Woodard. This PBS documentary explores the differing views on the leader of the 1831 slave rebellion. 58 min.
8:00 Warming By the Devil’s Fire. 2003. USA. Directed and written by Charles Burnett. With Tommy Redmond Hicks, Nathaniel Lee, Jr. Narrated by Carl Lumbly. Episode 4 from the PBS documentary series The Blues. This history of the Blues includes much archival footage of Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington, and many others. In Burnett’s hands, it becomes an autobiographical exploration of his own roots in the South. 106 min

Friday, April 22
4:30 Bless Their Little Hearts (See Thursday, April 14, 8:00)
8:00 Relative Stranger. 2009. USA. Directed by Charles Burnett. With Cicely Tyson, Eriq La Salle, Michael Michele, Michael Beach, Dan Castellaneta. This Hallmark Channel television movie is an angst-ridden drama about passion and tension in a middleclass family kept in line by wise matriarch Tyson. 88 min.

Saturday, April 23
3:00 Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation (See Saturday, April 9, 5:00)
8:00 Nightjohn (See Sunday, April 17, 2:30)

Sunday, April 24
2:30 Warming By the Devil’s Fire (See Thursday, April 21, 8:00).
5:30 Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (See Thursday, April 21, 4:30).

Monday, April 25
4:30 Relative Stranger (See Friday, April 22, 8:00).
8:00 Finding Buck McHenry (See Sunday, April 17, 5:30).

3 comments to Charles Burnett Retrospective At MoMA, NYC Starts TONIGHT With “Killer Of Sheep;” Got Your Tickets?

  • oh YES!!! I highly respect Charles Burnett (the most under-rated Black filmmaker in American history).
    I went to see “Killer of Sheep” a few years ago in a theatre out here in NYC.
    I really should go see “To Sleep With Anger”, another masterpiece of his.

    This guy is in a class by himself.

  • Ditto Shaquan. I’m going to see To Sleep With Anger tonight actually – such great performances from (then) contemporary and classic Black actors and one of Danny Glover’s best too – and My Brother’s Wedding on Sunday, ALWAYS wanted to see the latter. And I know some folks on here down TV movies, but “Selma, Lord Selma” was truly well done and pretty emotional.

  • William Alonso

    The casting,direction,acting in “Killer Of Sheep” by Charles Burnette a long time accomplished director is excellent.It will be a pleasure to see on the big screen at the MOMA.