Charles Burnett

The Horse (1973, Charles Burnett)

The Horse plays a little like the end of another movie, like Burnett cut off the first hour and a half and just left the finale. He forces the viewer to distance him or herself from the film’s narrative as much as possible–the characters all know one another, the viewer never gets an introduction.

Burnett opens the film on a very long shot of the California countryside. A car approaches. Until that car shows up, it looks like a painting. Besides the car, it’s impossibly motionless. But instead of the car arriving and bringing the viewer in, Burnett pushes them out again. One watches The Horse always listening closely, always wondering if some detail is too understated.

When the film comes to its conclusion, Burnett has just made the viewer wait twelve minutes and explained nothing. The end makes The Horse even more confounding.

It’s affecting more than successful.



Written, edited, produced and directed by Charles Burnett; director of photography, Ian Conner.

Starring Gordon Houston (William), Maury Wright (Ray’s boy), Gary Morrin (Walter), Roger Collins (West), George Williams (Lee) and Larry Clark (Ray).

Several Friends (1969, Charles Burnett)

Several Friends is in four parts. The first part has nothing to do with the rest, except Eugene Cherry appearing in it. It’s four friends sitting in a car talking. Burnett’s composition is great, but his dialogue is even more impressive. For ninety percent of the film, Burnett’s dialogue is perfect.

It falters occasionally, usually during transition between the unidentified parts. Or when Cassandra Wright is on screen. Though none of the actors are professionals, Burnett gets fine performances out of them–the one he gets from Andy Burnett is phenomenal. But not Wright. She’s awful and she hurts the flow as the film moves from the opening part to the Andy Burnett dominated remainder.

It’s too bad.

Burnett does recover, mostly because he’s got Andy Burnett as the lead. When Charles Bracy shows up, he helps a lot too. The juxtaposition of the men is jarring.

It’s mostly exceptional.

3/3Highly Recommended


Written, directed, edited and produced by Charles Burnett; director of photography, Jim Watkins.

Starring Andy Burnett (Andy), Eugene Cherry (Gene), Charles Bracy (Bracy), Cassandra Wright (Cassandra), Donna Deitch (Donna) and Deloras Robinson (Deloras).

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