The Final Insult, Charles Burnett, 1997, 55 min, USA
An exercise of freedom within the confines of cinema, Charles Burnett‘s The Final Insult (1997) follows a businessman named Box Brown — whose name is in homage to Henry Box Brown, a 19th-century Virginia man who escaped slavery by mailing himself inside a wooden crate to abolitionists in Philadelphia, PA, in 1949 — around ’90s Los Angeles, living out of his car, as he navigates an uncertain economic and professional future. “You know, it’s so easy to lose everything; between heartbeats you could be on the streets,” businessman Box Brown explains.
Thematically, the 55-minute feature centers around the precariousness of the social and economic systems of this country, The United States of America, and how quick someone can be homeless, a systemic problem that especially resonates now, given the current circumstances of the world today.
What sets The Final Insult apart from other films is in its hybrid narrative-documentary structure, wherein the film jumps from scripted narrative scenes to real interviews with various people throughout the LA landscape, voicing their thoughts on how a broken system lead to them wandering or living on the streets.
It’s worth noting that Charles Burnett has garnered a number of achievements throughout his career, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship, an Independent Spirit award, and an honorary Academy Award.
Opting for video format provides this 55-minute feature with a raffish aesthetic, which has aged well throughout the years. Burnett’s jaunty and free-spirited unorthodox approach to filmmaking renders The Final Insult a veritable classic of American cinema — especially in the category of features under 60min.
Take better care of all people and society improves for all.
The Final Insult is currently streaming on Criterion Collection’s The Criterion Channel.