KILLER OF SHEEP (Charles Burnett) Rating: NNNN
This superbly restored print won't stop addicts of plot-driven films from squirming 15 minutes into Charles Burnett's shatteringly sober examination of African American family life circa 1970. But hang in. The film opens on a lullaby, continues like an urban street poem and builds with the force of a hurricane.
Burnett's UCLA thesis film is remarkable. Masterful camera placement, poignant music and minimalist editing keep the pace slow and the urban study on track, skills he later utilized in his 1990 classic, To Sleep With Anger.
Shot in luscious black-and-white 16mm, Killer Of Sheep captures the economically depressed Watts neighbourhood of Los Angeles. The film was made in 1977, between the Watts riot of 1965 and the Rodney King riot in 1992, which together claimed close to a hundred lives.
Burnett deals with African American rage with a cinematic economy that gives his drama an authentic cinéma vérité feeling.
Though Stan, the main character, wants a better life for his family, he can't escape from his menial job in a slaughterhouse. The film is about signal moments: Stan getting lost as his daughter gives him a massage, while his frustrated wife's loneliness and dismay go undetected; Stan leading his wife in a highly charged erotic dance that falters and leaves their desires unfulfilled.
This is a powerful, timeless and unforgettable essay.
(June 23, 26 and 28 at Cinematheque).