Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property 2 (pls. read prev. post)


We also see literary interpretations of Turner by white writers, but other than a WPA play with black performers, no major literary work by black writers--again, a telling lack that the documentary points out. Ossie Davis asks (he's talking about Styron, but he could be talking about all the versions)--for whom are they interpreting Turner? For the whites? The novel that addresses this imbalance has yet to be written.

Perhaps the most unsettling moment in the documentary is Burnett's re-enactment of a crucial scene in Styron's novel, Turner's killing of the white woman he lusts for. Showing this must have been more than a little painful for Burnett (I'm guessing here, but I think he must have hated Styron's novel), yet he stages the scene with unsettling force and skill, with the suggestion (through the way the scene was staged and shot) of sexual violation, in the way Turner's sword penetrates the woman from behind.

And just when you think you've seen everything, Burnett springs a surprise (skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven't or plan to see the documentary). The murders seen at at the beginning of the documentary are re-enacted, then the camera pulls back to show us Burnett shooting the scene with his cameraman. For the last ten minutes, the same intense gaze Burnett leveled at the various artists interpreting Turner he turns on himself, and we see him questioning his own motives and methods in making this documentary.

All in all, a wonderfully made piece of truth-telling (though I would like to see the two-hour version Burnett originally wanted to make), and--I'm willing to bet even if it's only February--one of the best things I'm likely to see this year.

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