Lost in the Movies: Nat Turner & Charles Burnett: video essay on Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property

Nat Turner & Charles Burnett: video essay on Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property

This cross-post was written in October, but delayed until my Favorites series ended yesterday, so that the schedule wouldn't be too cluttered.

It had been a few months since I posted any video essays on Fandor (or anywhere for that matter), but I’m happy to return now with a short video exploring Charles Burnett’s film Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property – obviously very relevant given the recent release of Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation biopic of Turner.

(UPDATE: The Fandor account no longer exists, but the video is uploaded to my own account below...)

(more information & images from the video follow the jump)

During my break, I had other distractions but was also meditating on some of the changes occurring at Fandor, where there has been more of a focus on shorter length, more extensive text, and different cuts for Facebook and Vimeo (I created a short Facebook "teaser" version for this video as well, but ultimately it wasn't used - maybe I'll be able to share it at a later date).

Here is my intro on Fandor Keyframe:

Next week, Nate Parker's long-awaited THE BIRTH OF A NATION will be released in the United States. Surprisingly, the story of Nat Turner - the slave who led a violent rebellion in Virginia that struck fear into the hearts of the South's plantation elite - has seldom been told on the screen before. William Styron's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER (1967) was slated for a film adaptation in the early seventies, to be directed by Norman Jewison, but was scrapped due to controversy. Styron's book offended many African-Americans who felt that he had transformed a black icon beyond recognition, inventing a lustful desire for a white teenager and voicing bitter, racist second thoughts as Turner sits in his jail cell.

That controversy, along with many other incarnations of Turner's legend, is explored in Charles Burnett's film NAT TURNER: A TROUBLESOME PROPERTY (2002), the subject of this short video essay. Burnett's ambitious 50-minute feature (which appeared in festivals before making its PBS debut) mixes fictional and documentary formats. Transcending routine re-enactments, Burnett casts different actors as Turner depending on which author's vision he is depicting at a given moment. Interviews with historians and writers like Henry Louis Gates, Louise Meriwether, Eric Foner, and Styron himself examine the way Turner's image and importance has evolved over the years, depending on the zeitgeist and who was telling his story. Burnett even includes himself in this legacy, revealing behind-the-scenes footage of this very film.

A creative, thought-provoking attempt to grapple with one of the most forceful yet enigmatic figures in U.S. history, A TROUBLESOME PROPERTY deserves a wider audience. It can be appreciated both as a historical essay film and an entry in Burnett's own unique, eclectic oeuvre
I look forward to sharing more work on Fandor in coming months, as well as on my personal YouTube/Vimeo channels. In fact I have another video waiting in the wings that was created even before this one, a formal-political analysis of an Ousmane Sembene movie which I’m very proud of - it will debut next week. And I’m going to be resuming work on the Citizen Kane series as well as resuming some of my stalled YouTube series. With the Favorites finished, a lot of new work is coming soon, and much of it will be video-based.

Update 2018: I have now uploaded this video to my own YouTube channel:


Anonymous said...

Did you ever get around to watching it? What did you think? Can we expect a post on the movie anytime soon?

I don't know if you read my personal review on it, but I was really disappointed with The Birth of a Nation and the more I think back on it, the more I actually find myself disliking Parker's movie. I'm curious what you're thoughts are, but it didn't seem anywhere near incendiary enough.

Joel Bocko said...

I actually never got around to seeing Birth of a Nation. I had been pretty curious early in the year, though I have to admit the preview with its Gangs of NY-style showdown made me a little nervous. From what I've read of the reviews, it sounds like you might be right. I'm sure I'll see it at some point on video; I am still curious how he tackled the subject. Sadly, the bold title choice might have been the best thing about the movie in the end. I missed your review but will look for it now; the discussion surrounding the film still interests me.

Search This Blog