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"The Final Insult."

By Ray Pride

MARCH 30, 1998: 

Charles Burnett is one of the great American directors who can't get work at the level of his mastery. From "My Brother's Wedding" to the original version of "The Glass Shield" to last year's involving Disney Channel movie, "nightjohn," which addressed slavery from a child's point-of-view, the Los Angeles-based filmmaker has been a compelling voice. A short he made for French television last year has been well-reviewed, and now there are two chances to see his most recent work, made quickly on video for German television, the under-an-hour "The Final Insult." Burnett's story follows John Box, a middle-aged African-American man in Los Angeles who loses his low-paying job, gets socked by the IRS for tens of thousands of dollars in alleged back taxes, then quickly finds himself spiraling into homelessness, but seldom despair. When Box's junkheap car breaks down in front of splashy-flashy Sunset Plaza and Burnett observes the reactions of actual passersby from a distance, or when he takes a side route to introduce a cheery aluminum-can forager who charms a trio of Korean women with his unexpected proficiency at Korean songs, Burnett slyly, wryly reminds us of what we are missing when he isn't given the chance to make major works each year.

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