"To Sleep with Anger"

April 2019

Criterion Scores with a Brilliant Blu-ray of a Neglected Masterpiece

The Criterion Collection 963
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Although African-American writer and film director Charles Burnett has long been active as a filmmaker and is highly regarded by his peers, his work is not well known to the general public, especially white audiences. He’s mostly been involved in making documentaries and dramatic films for television that have seemed to fly under the radar. Now, having seen To Sleep with Anger (1990), I’m inclined to think he’s one of our greatest directors.

To Sleep with Anger was Burnett’s first big-budget film -- in this case, “big” meant slightly above $1 million. It stars Danny Glover, whose profile in 1990 was high due to the extremely popular Lethal Weapon movies, in which he costarred with Mel Gibson. Glover agreed to head the all-black cast for a reduced fee, and eventually became one of the film’s executive producers.

To Sleep with Anger is about family, with pinches of folklore and the supernatural thrown in. As it begins, we meet the stoic Gideon (Paul Butler), patriarch of an African-American family living in south Los Angeles. As he sits still, facing the camera, Gideon’s shoes burst into flame -- he then wakes and realizes that he was dreaming. There’s a knock on the door. Gideon opens it, and there stands Harry (Glover), an acquaintance from the South. Harry glad-hands his way into the family, who accept him with open arms. Gideon’s family is an average middle-class one with a few problems, notably sibling rivalry between Junior (Carl Lumbly) and Babe Brother (Richard Brooks).

To Sleep with Anger

In the most jovial way, Harry begins to implant evil thoughts in the minds of the family members, and brings it to a point of crisis. But when (spoiler alert) Harry dies, the family reunites, stronger than ever. Throughout, these characters and events are depicted with superb acting and directing.

Burnett goes for deep, rich, realistic color, and Criterion’s 4K digital transfer brings it all vividly to life -- so vividly that I wonder how deep the colors might have been had the delivery medium been 4K instead of Blu-ray’s 1080p. The Dolby Surround 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio transfers are as good as any, leaving nothing to be desired.

The three extras are all worth watching. Of Family and Folklore features interviews with Burnett, Glover, Sheryl Lee Ralph (who plays Linda, Babe Brother’s wife), and associate producer Linda Koulisis. In the breezy, informative, hour-long A Walk with Charles Burnett, the director talks with fellow filmmaker Robert Townsend as they stroll through some shooting locations Burnett has used for several of his films. Burnett seems to be the kind of wise, mild-mannered man you’d love to have over for Sunday dinner and, afterward, conversation on the front porch. In a short video tribute to Burnett produced for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Awards ceremony in 2017, Burnett receives his award with humility and sly humor. There’s also the text of an essay by film critic Ashley Clark.

To Sleep with Anger

Criterion’s superb transfer makes a great case for this obscure film. To Sleep with Anger deserves more kudos than it received when it was released.

Be sure to watch for: A kid next door practicing his trumpet, with disastrous results. When he finally got it right, I felt like cheering. The instrument’s sound, too, is vivid, underscoring the quality of the film’s sound design.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

More SoundStage! Videos

  • SoundStage! InSight - Rockport Technologies Lyra Loudspeaker (November 2019)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Sonus faber Olympica Nova at World of McIntosh Townhouse (October 2019)
  • SoundStage InSight - Rockport Technologies Past, Present, Future (September 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert: Basics of Solid-State Class-AB Amplifiers (Episodes 1-5)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -  Paradigm's Dual Voice Coils (July 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Audio Research's CD6SE and CD9SE CD Players (May 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Phono Stages - 1) Why You Need One (April 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Phono Stages - 2) Cartridge Types (April 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Phono Stages - 3) More on Cartridges (April 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Phono Stages - 4) Settings (April 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Phono Stages - 5) Internal vs. External (April 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Phono Stages - 6) External Entry Level to Extreme (April 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Record Care/Cleaning - 1) Hundreds of Thousands of Records (Mar. 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Record Care/Cleaning - 2) Handling Records (Mar. 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Record Care/Cleaning - 3) Record & Stylus Brushes (Mar. 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Record Care/Cleaning - 4) How To Use Record & Stylus Brushes (Mar. 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Record Care/Cleaning - 5) Spin Clean (Mar. 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Record Care/Cleaning - 6) VPI (Mar. 2019)
  • SoundStage! Expert Record Care/Cleaning - 7) Kirmuss Audio (Mar. 2019)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)