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Charles Burnett shows 'Nightjohn" at Hopkins on Thursday!

Update: The event will take place Thursday at 7p.m, 110 Hodson Hall. Admission is free. Call 410-516-5048 for more information.

Johns Hopkins is wrapping up last-minute arrangements for the great African-American director Charles Burnett ("Killer of Sheep") to visit the Homewood campus on Thursday, February 10, for a screening of "Nightjohn" followed by a Q&A. I'll update this post with the details.

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"Nightjohn" is a superb choice for Black History Month viewing. Working with the screenwriter, Bill Cain, Burnett added texture and detail to Gary Paulsen's "age 12 and up" novel. He delivered a surprisingly full account of slave life in the 1850's, as well as a potent fable of literacy. Carl Lumbly brings bedrock conviction to Nightjohn, who feels that his people can't begin to know who they are (or what they can do) until they can spell their names. Lumbly makes you believe that this Johnny Appleseed of reading and writing would return to slavery from a free life up North, and risk mutilation for his teaching. And Allison Jones is pleasingly unactressy as Sarny, his twelve-year-old girl disciple. With these two and Lorraine Toussaint (as Sarny's surrogate mother) providing a strong core, Burnett is able to throw the supporting cast some brilliant bits.

For one whole astonishing minute, Bill Cobbs, as a slave called "Old Man," bitterly spits out the alphabet, conveying hidden danger and tragedy in every letter. The scenes between the driven plantation owner (Beau Bridges) and his restive son recall the eloquent tension of the Southern major and his son in "The Ox-Bow Incident," which I mean as high praise.

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