Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 21
October 12, 1990
Burnett's slow-burning Anger

When African American writer-director Charles Burnett’s To Sleep With Anger was released on this day in 1990, it was technically being deemed his “first feature.” However, Burnett already was well-known for his 1977 film Killer of Sheep and its follow-up My Brother’s Wedding (1983); both films played at festivals like Toronto, Berlin and New Directors, New Films during the early 1980s but never found distribution and were widely looked upon as “lost classics” from the formative years of American independent filmmaking. (Both films were re-released to huge acclaim last year by Milestone Films.) To Sleep With Anger, though, solidified Burnett’s reputation as a highly accomplished filmmaker with its tale of Harry (Danny Glover), a charming troublemaker who comes to stay with a Southern black family and disrupts and destabilizes it by causing unrest among the patriarch’s sons. Combining elements of fable and magic realism, Burnett’s family drama is seen by some as a film about the personification of evil or the devil (Harry claims to have given himself to the powers of darkness), yet film critic Howard Schumann maintains that it is “not about the so-called "Devil," or about the evil in our midst, as some reviewers seem to think. Rather, it is about a paradoxically benign force that can spur conflict and resolution, thereby helping people to grow and move to a new level.”


More Flashbacks
Working Girl Dec. 21, 1988
Working Girl Opens

With Carly Simon's anthemic "Let the River Run" scoring Melanie Griffith's Monday-morning commute from Staten Island to Wall Street, Mike Nichols' Working Girl, which opened December 21, 1988, is an upbeat fantasia celebrating female empowerment, class mobility, and the underlying soundness of our financial system.

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December 21, 1988
Working Girl, a fable of money

Just days before Christmas, director Mike Nichols delivered Working Girl, a new brightly wrapped present of the American dream. If Oliver Stone’s 1987 Wall Street showed the greed and cruelty behind that fueled America’s financial professionals, Nichols' Working Girl gave that same capitalist dream a positive––and feminist––spin. A downtown secretary (Melanie Griffith) steals the identity of her investment banker boss (Sigourney Weaver) in order to sell a sure-fire marketing idea. But rather than being a political fable of the Man––er, Woman––keeping the hero down, like the 1980 feminist comedy Nine to Five, Working Girl was a fable of class mobility. In her New York Times review, Janet Maslin commented, "One of the many things that mark Working Girl as an 80's creation is its way of regarding business and sex as almost interchangeable pursuits and suggesting that life's greatest happiness can be achieved by combining the two," In some ways, the film serves as a counterpoint to Pretty Woman, the 1990 film that should have perhaps switched titles with Nichols' comedy. The film proved a feelgood hit, with the Carly Simon anthem "Let the River Run" going on to win the Academy Award for Best Song in 1989. Significantly, the original title to this stirring track was “The Wall Street Hymn.” While the big hair to big money story hit box office gold, the 1990 TV sitcom spun from the story was fired soon after its broadcast premiere.

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