Killer of Sheep (1977)

Killer of Sheep

I first heard about Killer of Sheep when Turner Classic Movies were previewing it for what was to become a festival of Charles Burnett films that were to be shown in the following days. Everytime I am subjected to something as fresh as a new film director, I am always interested in viewing the films that will be showcased. On January 21st (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) TCM had Burnett on as a guest and host Robert Osborne interviewed him before the movie was presented (the world broadcast premiere!). What I found interesting is that this film wasn't supposed to be as famous as it were to become. Burnett made the film as essentially a "project" for the school that he was attending at the time. When the film was completed it was unable to be released because the filmmakers "had no secured rights to the music used in the film," however (after all of this time) late last year "the rights were purchased in 2007 at a cost of $150,000." Soon following the film was "restored and transferred from a 16mm to a 35mm print."

The film is about African-American culture in the 1970s. The plot, as stated from Wiki: Movie critic Dana Stevens describes the film plot as "a collection of brief vignettes which are so loosely connected that it feels at times like you're watching a non-narrative film. There are no acts, plot arcs or character development, as conventionally defined.

Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) works long hours at his job in a slaughterhouse in Watts, Los Angeles. The monotonous slaughter affects his home life with his unnamed wife (Kaycee Moore) and two children, Stan Jr. and Angela (Jack Drummond and Burnett’s niece, Angela).

Through a series of episodic events—some friends try to involve Stan in a criminal plot, a white woman propositions Stan in a store, Stan and his friend Bracy (Charles Bracy) attempt to buy a car engine—a mosaic of an austere working-class life emerges in which Stan feels unable to affect the course of his life.

Scene from Killer of Sheep (One of my favorites!)

I knew from the very opening scene of the film that I was in for a real treat. After viewing the film for the first few minutes I was immediately reminded of John Cassavetes-cinema, especially his neorealistic film Faces (which was shot in Cinéma-vérité style of film-making). Before I had any knowledge that this film was compared to Cassavetes I wasn't particularly stunned to find out that Burnett had been mentioned in the same light. Cassavetes, as is it well documented, was once a part of Hollywood where he directed two films and also acted in various features. He essentially became annoyed and frustrated with Hollywood so he quit and started making his own films independently (which really catapulted him as a great film-maker). Faces was a film that was completely unconventional and about as Non-Hollywood as one could imagine (which was apparently his intention). Killer of Sheep is shot in the same style: Documentary-like, Unconventional with peculiar compositions and off-the-wall lingo.

The film is piercing and moving. The Bluesy soundtrack really added an extra-boost towards my interest. Killer of Sheep is one of the best films I have seen in quite a long time, and after a "limited release" and random showings in various theaters across the nation, leave it up to TCM to make certain that America is able to see such stunning films in their restored quality, not to mention the interest that they have with showing "world premieres." A DVD of the film has been released which also includes other films by Burnett, including several shorts (which were also shown on the same night on TCM).

Killer of Sheep was chosen by the National Society of Films Critics as "one of the 100 Essential Films," and in 1990 the film "was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being 'culturally, historically, or aeshetically significant.'"

Also, as has been documented, "the film appeared on several critics' top ten lists of best films of 2007." The list includes #2 from The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; #3 in Premiere; #3 from The Baltimore Sun; #3 from TIME Magazine; #5 from Slate and #10 from LA Weekly. Quite an honor, I feel, for a film that has been basically lying arcane for 30 years!

A must-see film!

Another beautiful scene from Killer of Sheep

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