Shot by Charles Burnett for European admirers, beset by problems, unreleased after a rough cut was rushed to festivals. Editing was not completed until 24 years later, revealing a tragicomedy of the highest order, stuck like the protagonist in the shadow of its more successful brother (Killer of Sheep). Burnett's gentle impressionism is fitted into narrative form, founded on Capra, George Stevens, spiritual hymns -- at its center is a 30-year-old worker (Everett Silas), decent but aimless, filled with quiet rage yet content to live with his parents in a poor Watts neighborhood. Dry-cleaning is the family trade, the mother (Jessie Holmes) is pious and resilient and can stare down robbers ("If you got something to do, don't keep waiting," she tells the jittery pair at her doorstep), the father (Dennis Kemper) is rheumatic but can put Silas in a headlock in impromptu wrestling tussles. His brother (Monte Easter) is about to marry a prissy bourgeois (Gaye-Shannon Burnett) who offends Silas' "romanticized view of the have-nots," his stubbornness during dinner with the future in-laws earns him a kick in the pants from his mom ("You want me to hold him while you hit him," the father asks eagerly, echoing a Bill Cosby bit). Inertia is broken by the arrival of a friend (Ronnie Bell), barely out of prison and already in trouble. The score includes Johnny Ace and readings of Psalm 26, the mimed pregnant belly of Killer of Sheep makes an appearance, the earlier film's precious china cup is now cracked -- all of it ineffably sad and comic to Burnett. A film of grace notes and the subtlest mood shifts, where life seems to be either at a standstill or rushing and the hero, fallen between two stools (best-man and pallbearer, family and personal responsibilities), ends up helplessly caught in a freeze-frame. With Angela Burnett, Charles Bracy, Frances E. Nealy, and Sy Richardson.
--- Fernando F. Croce