Film-Forward Review: [MY BROTHERíS WEDDING]

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Everette Silas, center, as Pierce
Photo: Milestone Films

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MY BROTHERíS WEDDING
Directed, Written & Photographed by: Charles Burnett.
Produced by: Burnett & Gaye Shannon-Burnett.
Edited by: Thomas M. Penick.
Country of Origin: USA. 81 min. Not Rated.
Released by: Milestone Films.
With: Everette Silas, Jessie Holmes, Ronald E. Bell, Sally Easter, Gaye Shannon- Burnett, Dennis Kemper & Angela Burnett.

The revelatory restoration and successful release earlier this year of Charles Burnettís long unseen black-and-white 1977 classic Killer of Sheep has led not only to the restoration and first-time distribution of his second film, 1983ís My Brotherís Wedding, but Milestone Films also gave the writer/director the opportunity to complete the final edit that the original producers short-circuited.

But while Killer of Sheep is an aesthetic and sociological masterpiece about a working manís day-to-day life in South Central Los Angeles, My Brotherís Wedding offers a limited neorealist appeal and insight into Burnettís oeuvre, with some flashes of visual poetry.

The film is schematically presented in two parts, the first half a long, drawn-out introduction to the bored, daily routine of Pierce Mundy (Everette Silas). He works in his parentsí dry cleaning shop and solicitously tends to his older relatives and the mother of his imprisoned best friend, Soldier Richards. His own strong, religious mother (Jessie Holmes, prefiguring Mary Aliceís matriarch in Burnettís later To Sleep with Anger) keeps him on a short leash so he doesnít end up in prison or dead like most of his cohort. He resists the labyrinth of street temptations, such as flirtatious girls (including the directorís daughter Angela Burnett, who was also charming in Killer of Sheep). Throughout these almost ethnographic vignettes of life in South Central, suspicious gray-haired elders keep guns at the ready to intimidate young hoodlums, and Johnny Ace tracks on the soundtrack hearken back to a more innocent time in the community. A porcelain coffee cup so lovingly admired in Killer of Sheep is now symbolically in pieces.

Eventually, we see that Pierceís resentments are fueled by competition with his successful older brother Wendell (Monte Easter), a lawyer marrying into a snooty, very broadly drawn middle-class family. Wendellís fiancťe (played by the directorís wife and co-producer Gaye Shannon-Burnett) is also a haughty lawyer, more gleeful about procedural manipulations than justice.

The pacing, cinematography, and mood changes with the return of, in effect, the prodigal son, Soldier (played by Ronald E. Bell like Sportiní Life from Porgy and Bess). Pierce feels the Biblical admonition to be his brotherís keeper much more for his buddy Soldier than his sibling. But rather than just the simplistic good vs. criminal choices of the blaxploitation films that Burnett rebelled against, the director creatively builds the climax to be much more about Pierce having to find his own maturity between obligations to his family and to his friend.

While the editing in the second half captures the tension of Pierceís dilemma, particularly in a moving, closing montage between two competing religious services, the drama is seriously weakened by the use of only non-professional actors. Sometimes their faces do speak volumes, like the lovely opening close-ups of a singing, harmonica-playing preacher. But for the most part, they donít add enough depth to turn the character types into full individuals. In addition, there are a few beautiful shots of neighborhood vistas and silhouetted bonding rituals between the two old friends, but for long stretches, the film is tedious, even though the film has been cut from its original 115 to 81 minutes. (Both versions will be in the upcoming DVD box set of Burnettís work.) Nora Lee Mandel
September 14, 2007

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