Friday, January 8, 2010

#398: Killer of Sheep (1977)

Director: Charles Burnett
Cast: Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy & Eugene Cherry

At the slaughterhouse, Stan rounds up, kills and skins sheep on a daily basis. When he gets home, he is encountered by the people of the Watts district of Los Angeles, including his friend Bracy who is trying to buy a car engine, some friends who are trying to involve him in crime, and his children who are having a hard time finding how to take control of their lives with the color of their skin.

There is no question why this film has been selected for preservation by the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The straightforward filming, with no tricks at all - I doubt the camera even pans at any point in the film - gives a great sense of what it was like in the black community in the 1970's. This was aided by a fantastic soundtrack, using songs from some great names - which is why this film became unheard of until 2007: the rights were never secured for the songs.

Many critics have compared this film to Italian neo-realism, due to its documentary-style filmmaking with nonprofessional actors. This is particularly strange considering it's coming from a poor African-American in a time when styles such as Italian neo-realism simply were not accessible to people in his situation.

While it's remarkable that this film even exists today, I wasn't particularly interested in the film. There's no plot, which is something I just can't get over. Yes, it gave me a very clear impression of what life must have been like then and there, but it just didn't pique my interest. I tried.

Ah, well. For anyone interested in African-American history, this is really a must-see. If you need a plot like me, I'd pass.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • Burnett encountered actor Henry G. Sanders in the elevator of the building where he worked. He immediately asked him to do a screen test for the film, because he found he had an unusual face.
  • Charles Burnett made this film when he was still at UCLA and for a budget of $5000.
  • No permits were obtained in the filming of the movie.

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