Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Watch This: Charles Burnett's First Film: SEVERAL FRIENDS (1969)


Filmmaker Charles Burnett was born on this day in 1944. Though he was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, his family moved to Watts in South Central Los Angeles when Burnett was a child. Burnett's family was only one of many black southern families to relocate to the Watts neighborhood and the area's south-inflected culture makes itself felt in Burnett's works again and again.

Even as Watts burned in the 1965 riots, Burnett was attending UCLA, learning creative writing. When UCLA's film department began its initiative to enroll more African-American students, Burnett signed up and became part of the movement that was to be known at the L.A. Rebellion. Other noted alumni, many of whom continued to work on each others' films for years after graduation, were Julie Dash, Larry Clark (not to be confused with the KIDS auteur of the same name), Haile Gerima, Billy Woodberry and Jamaa Fanaka.

Here is a film from Burnett's school years called SEVERAL FRIENDS (1969). We can see in it some threads of the same cultural fabric from which his later KILLER OF SHEEP (1977) emerged. At a time when films might feature only an occasional black character, Burnett shows whole groups of black characters talking together about things that concern them. It's all shot in a cinema-verite style with non-actors, on neighborhood streets. It's a remarkable time-capsule of a culture many viewers have probably never seen before.


Several Friends (1969) - A Film by Charles Burnett by forthedishwasher

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