Lesser known by the mainstream public than New Yorker Spike Lee, Los Angeles-based Charles Burnett is one of the masters of American cinema. Formed within the group of black, independent filmmakers known as the LA Rebellion, Burnett developed a vision which issubtly humorous and veined with lyrical realism, where Lee’s touch is more abrasive. We recommend his 1978 film Killer of Sheep as the film-of-the-week, a poignant debut that continues to resonate 40 years after its making.
Declared a national treasure by the Library of Congress, Killer of Sheep has often been compared to Italian neorealist films like Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves. It was made over the course of a year for less than $10,000 with mostly non-actors. Originally submitted by Burnett as his MFA thesis at UCLA School of Film, it has since been beautifully restored.
"I come from a working-class environment and I wanted to express what the realities were," Burnett said of the film. His documentary-style approach unfurls the story of Stan, a dreamer living in the black Los Angeles Ghetto of Watts in the mid-1970s. He works at a slaughterhouse, and his bloody days start to disturb his world and his mind. However, Burnett manages to balance the brutality of Stan's occupation and the bleakness of his future with moments of simple joys at his home with his family.
Burnett envisioned the soundtrack as an aural history of African-American popular music. Songs by Etta James, Dinah Washington, Paul Robeson, Little Walter, and Earth, Wind & Fire stand in harmony with the film's pitches between hope and sorrow.
"As fresh and observational as it was 30 years ago, Killer of Sheep seems even more universal now. Killer of Sheep is an urban pastoral.... sweet, sardonic, deeply sad and very funny." J. Hoberman -The Village Voice
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