Personal Problems

Bill Gunn

In 1979, Bill Gunn teamed up with writer Ishmael Reed and producer Steve Cannon to create what Reed has called “an experimental soap opera,” an exceptional, rough­edged ensemble piece exploring black working class lives in New York City with candor and emotional intensity, featuring powerful performances by artists such as Vertamae Smart­ Grosvenor, Jim Wright, Walter Cotton, and Sam Waymon, with music by Carman Moore, and cinematography by Robert Polidori. Remarkable for its raw early video aesthetics — which often take on a beautiful life of their own — and unpredictable narrative digressions and leaps, this two­-episode diptych has been celebrated as “nothing less than an explosion of the television form” (Chuck Bowen, Slant) and “a startling, totally idiosyncratic work of art” (Nick Pinkerton, Art Forum). Originally intended to air on public television in 1980, it went unseen for many years; the original U-Matic tapes have been carefully restored and the film is now available in its full-­length version for the first time in decades!

So what happens when a group of unbankable individuals tell their stories? Actors who have final say over their speaking parts? A director, who was found ‘too difficult’ for Hollywood? A composer, who would not submit to the formulaic mediocre soundtracks required by the industry? A Black male lead, who was not black enough? A Black actress lead who was not light enough? An actor who had been retired because he belonged to another era? He was a star during the ‘Race Films’ era. A cinematographer who chose art over expediency? An unmarketable male, a roguish charming home wrecker who didn’t look like Clark Gable? Three producers who, having no experience in producing movies, organized a production with the amount of money that Hollywood spends on catering? Maybe less. Some consider the result to be a classic.” — Ishmael Reed 

Gunn, Reed, and Cannon used new technology to walk back a classical genre stricture, and the result is something for which the white film industry never coined a category... Only hindsight allows us to see Personal Problems as it is: another path not taken, a miniature epic of radically compassionate filmmaking.” — Steve Macfarlane, Cinema Scope


English spoken, no subtitles


Restored in its original version by Kino Lorber and re-released in 2018.