To Sleep With Anger

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I wrote a piece recently about sensory memory. For me personally I experience sensory memory through the cinema more than any other stimuli. To Sleep With Anger (1990) in particular prompts some sort of sensory association more than any other film. The creaky sounds of the floor boards, the weathered look of the sofa, the clap of the screen door slamming shut, the clothes characters wear, and the sound of a car starting are all specific micro-moments in To Sleep With Anger that conjure overwhelming sensations of nostalgia, warmth and general familiarity. From the film’s opening Charles Burnett has me completely ensconced in the world of these characters.

Like Killer Of Sheep (1978), To Sleep With Anger is about the generational and cultural divides within a family unit. The catalyst for these conflicts in To Sleep With Anger is Harry (Danny Glover), a family friend from the “old days” who has come to stay. It is through Harry that Burnett probes this world, explores what being Black, personally and culturally, means to different generations. Burnett is very much interested in the interplay of these distinctly Black American cultures and how, despite the superficial differences, these cultures are all reactions to a larger oppressive political force.

As much as Charles Burnett is the auteur here, it’s equally a Danny Glover film. I’ve always loved Danny Glover since I was a little kid and I don’t think I have ever seen him give a better performance. The layers and textures that Glover brings to Harry give the character the illusion of a life that extends far beyond the run time of the film. There’s a life to Harry that cannot be contained on the screen.

This film needs more love than it’s been getting. Despite a Criterion blu-ray release To Sleep With Anger is still criminally under seen. Burnett is an amazing filmmaker and I find it truly vexing that most of his work still isn’t available in the United States on blu-ray. Before the Criterion Collection issued the definitive home video release of To Sleep With Anger it was a hard to find title that was really only available stateside on the VHS format. The copy I bought when I was in middle school was on a VHS and on the cover its suggested retail price was $79.99. So I was more than a little excited to own one of my favorite films in a prestige edition.