Posted at 2:19 PM on June 15, 2007
by Euan Kerr
For all the rundown squalor, and heartbreaking sadness of the urban wasteland it portrays, "Killer of Sheep" is a thing of beauty.
Shot during weekends around the Watts community of Los Angeles in the mid-1970's the film won a prize at the 1981 Berlin Film Festival. However it's been rarely seen since because of rights problems with the music used in the soundtrack. Now, having been identified by the National Society of Film Critics as being one of the 100 essential films of all time, and restored by the UCLA Film and Television archive, it's in the theaters.
Director Charles Burnett used real people from around Watts to tell the story of Stan, a poor slaughterhouse worker, depressed and exhausted from the strains of everydaylife. He is constantly frustrated in his attempts to get ahead, in his disconnection from his wife and children, and his anger at how some of his friends try to pull him into crime.
Rightly compared with the work of the Italian neorealists, "Killer of Sheep" features black and white cinematography which both captures the action and creates stunning images by juxtaposing faces and places. There's not a whole lot of story here, but it's hard to stop watching as we see Stans life unfold. The scene where he dances with his wife is mesmerizing and powerful. Not many films stand up to repeated viewings, but this hidden treasure is a work we will return to again and again.